Thursday, January 15, 2009

Strangers in the Bathroom

The House on High Street, continued. The entire series is indexed here.

Early one morning that first summer, I was standing in my bathrobe in the kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee and moodily kicking at the kitchen floor "hill" with my slippered foot. Suddenly, the door of the bathroom right next to the kitchen popped open and a strange man stuck his head out. "Mahning, deah," he said in a lovely old New Hampshire accent, "Could I trouble you foah a bandaid? My pahtnah heah has cut his fingah." 

It's a measure of how life on High Street had already changed us that I didn't even scream, although I instantly thought of that old TV commercial where the lady opens her medicine cabinet and finds a talking head inside, making some sort of pharmaceutical recommendation. Nope, we were getting used to workmen just showing up all over the place, and on their own schedules. The two in our "bawthroom" that day had arrived before dawn and, not wanting to trouble us, had just climbed in through the window that they had punched out the previous day, prior to breaking up our bathtub and tossing it out (just like the "B" family had tossed out their belongings). 

What was once a birthing room long ago had been turned into a bathroom early in the 20th century. I always thought that it was large enough to hold a dance in. Good thing, too, as it was our only bathroom, and contained the connections for the washer and dryer, as well. However, the bank was having its way with us and, according to our agreement, the bathroom floor was being torn out immediately so that the beams underneath could be replaced. The fixtures were old and leaky and were being replaced as well. 

Our facilities that summer were unique, and segregated (unfashionably, I suppose) by gender. The girls were to use the porta-potty that we had put in one of the warren of tiny rooms in the upstairs back hall. The boys were sent out to the woods, although in some instances were allowed use of the porta-potty, especially when they complained about mosquitoes. Showers were taken in the warehouse shower several miles away at Beez's place of work. We would line up with our towels and shampoo, and the head of the family (whoever it was that day) would be responsible for running the timer and calling out " 'Nuff water!" after four minutes.  

Back to the bathroom. Once bandaged up and functional again, our workmen continued tearing out and ripping up. There was quite a stir later that afternoon when they opened the bottom of the exterior wall to get at the bad beam. As they later told us, more than a dozen snakes leapt out, causing all the workmen to run away. They eventually came back (the workmen, not the snakes, I hope), but not before telling their various relatives and friends around town about their experience at our house. 

As stories will do in small towns, this one made the rounds. Weeks later, at some community supper, an acquaintance asked me if I had replaced my clothes dryer. I was puzzled as to why she should think this was necessary, but everything became clear when I heard how our "14 snakes in the wall" story had morphed into a tale of  "a 14-foot rattler found curled up in the clothes dryer."

The following winter I was standing on a ladder in the bathroom, getting ready to make some repairs to the old-fashioned horsehair plaster--a new talent that I was fast developing. I noticed some almost transparent material packed in behind one of the broken hand-split lathes. Carefully drawing it out, I excitedly called to Beez that I had found some kind of antique insulation. When he trotted up to share in my discovery, I had just about pulled the whole fragile object free from the wall. We were horrified to realize that I was holding a snakeskin in my hand. Apparently the bathroom snakes had been using our wall for a long, long time, and they had crawled up at least a good six or eight feet above ground level. 

I decided, pretty abruptly, to quit work for that day and hopped off the ladder, leaving my tools behind. It was time for a nice sherry beside the fire in The Pretty Room. Maybe it would help me to forget.


the7msn said...

I am so enjoying this story. I'm wondering how many years it took before you could look back on all of this and laugh. I think I'd still be having PTSD over that snakeskin.

Judy said...

I had snakes in my old farmhouse, too, and I am scared to death of them. Unlike you, I would have screamed like a banshee when that man walked out of my bathroom. Great story.

Sylvia K said...

This story gets funnier every day! and I agree with 7msn, it must have taken years to be able to laugh about it! Thanks so much for sharing the laughter and snakeskin in your life!