Frost Free

"What are you doing tomorrow?” I asked. 

My wife replied, “I don’t know, nothing special. What do you have in mind?” 

“I thought we could spend the day moving into a nice condominium, complete with a crack maintenance staff who will keep everything in working order with no help or input from me.” 

She didn’t say yes, but she didn’t say no either. 

I’d spent a significant part of my day replacing the frost-free faucet on our house. 

For those of you who don’t live nine miles from the north pole, here’s the deal. Here on the prairie, we bury our water lines eight feet deep in the ground or they’ll freeze and break.   

Yes. Eight feet. 

Once you get the water into your house, sometimes you need to get it back out again. For instance, for watering flowers, because not only do the temperatures regularly get to thirty degrees below zero, they also reach 100 degrees above, with no rain for a month at a time. 

A regular faucet will just freeze and break when winter comes – water expands, metal does not. So, to avoid having the basement fill up with water from burst pipes when spring finally arrives, what you do is install a frost-free faucet. The faucet hooks into the house plumbing about a foot inside the building and is designed so the water is supposed to drain out of the cold parts without causing damage. 

“Supposed to.” 

In my experience, what happens is the special faucet still freezes and breaks just as often as a regular one. The only difference between them is that the frost-free version costs twice as much. Samuel Johnson said second marriages are the triumph of hope over experience. I don’t know what he would say about me installing my fifth frost-free faucet. 

The house faucet had frozen and broken, again, and watering the flowers involved stringing a couple hundred feet of hose across the driveway from a hydrant by the shop. The process wasn’t all that handy, so I’d set aside a few minutes to put in a new faucet.   

We put a new furnace in last fall, and the additional plumbing created an interesting barrier to my own plumbing project. I’d also lost some floor space, so the step ladder opened only about two thirds as far as it was designed to, which added a fascinating bit of instability and gymnastics to an otherwise routine plumbing job.   

After I finally penetrated the copper pipe obstacle course, I discovered that while I thought I was replacing a half inch faucet, it was three-quarters. So, out from between the floor joists, down the ladder, sixteen steps up to the main floor, 287 feet to my shop (not that anyone’s counting), search through a box of spare parts for an adapter, back down the stairs and back up the ladder. Repeat about five more times than anyone would consider reasonable. As I wrote in a column about twenty years ago, the only reason the President has enough time to run the country is because he doesn’t own the White House, he’s just a renter. If he owned the place, we’d be in a war with Canada, because he’d be too distracted by the weeds coming through the mulch.   

It’s good to know that some things never change. 

After nearly fifty years of living in one place, it’s a little weird that I can look out my window to the east and realize every tree I see, even the big ones, were planted by me. 

Well, me or the squirrels. 

All the buildings have my blood and sweat in them, and even though the house is original, I doubt my great-grandparents would recognize it.   

And I like that. I like that this place is as much ours as any piece of real estate can be, that’s it’s better than when we arrived. If I got hit by a truck tomorrow - or fell off a step ladder - the apple trees and grape vines would still flourish, the shelter belts would still harbor wildlife, and the farmland would be markedly more productive than before. But baby, there are days when the thought of getting up in the morning without an ever-growing to-do list seems appealing.    

In all honesty, I have had days like that, and I’m terrible at handling them. An open day makes me twitchy. So, I suppose I’ll keep plugging along, tweaking the greenhouse a lot more than twerking to music, and I’m okay with that. 

I just want someone to design a better faucet.  

Copyright 2021 Brent Olson