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A farmer’s work is never done – even in death…
at least that is what I like to joke about when I tell people about the old farmer who lived in my farmhouse several decades ago. I’m fond of telling people that he still roams the halls of the two and a half story farmhouse. During the waning days of 2004, something happened that made me think, at least for a moment, that my joke wasn’t a joke after all.
By all accounts, Bill Buck, the farmer who lived in our house many moons ago, was a big, tough, hardworking man.
He tended to his cows in a barn that long ago crumbled into the earth, leaving little more than the stony foundation and an occasional cow skull and rusty milk can. I’ve heard so many stories about Farmer Buck that I feel as if I know him. No disrespect to the long-deceased farmer, but when a door that somebody apparently hadn’t closed all the way, suddenly flings open, I just tell the kids not to worry, Farmer Buck is just coming in from doing his chores. Or when I misplace something, instead of accepting blame, I cast blame on the old farmer for moving it, probably where it should have been in the first place.
Over the years, I’ve put an immense amount of time into remodeling our big, two-and-a-half-story farmhouse, but most people who have remodeled an old house will tell you, even after putting thousands of dollars into it, it’s almost impossible to stop all the air leaks. This is particularly true with houses that have field stone or granite foundations.
Come the season’s first cold snap, I’m always running around searching out and plugging air leaks. But no matter how feverishly I search, every year an air leak escapes my annual inspection. More often than not, the unseen leak is located right near a water pipe. Water pipes and cold winter air don’t mix. The combination means frozen pipes and no water, which equals me sputtering as I sometimes spend hours locating, then unfreezing, the pipes before they burst.
On exceptionally cold nights, to combat this problem, we do what many other people who own older homes have learned to do in Vermont’s northern most frontier keep both the hot and cold water running a bit, just enough to keep the pipes from freezing. It’s not the most economical method, especially because of the cost of producing the hot water, but it beats the aggravation, and sometimes expense, of frozen pipes. But each year, at least once, usually in the early days of the cold season, we forget to keep the water running. My wife and kids are all too familiar with the sound of waking in the morning to my sputtering as I clunk down the cellar stairs with a flashlight in one hand and a hair dryer (to thaw the pipes) in the other.
During the first cold snap of the season, back in December, everybody was snug in their beds, except for my daughter, Emily, and me. We had decided to burn the midnight oil past our typical wintertime bedtime of 8 p.m. She was watching TV while I was dozing on the couch, when we were startled to our senses by a loud clatter of pans striking the kitchen floor, and the sound of water rushing into the sink. We dashed to the kitchen and found the mess, and the water running from the faucet at full stream.
Shutting off the water, we tried to figure out what had caused the racket. Was the commotion the result of one of our mischievous cats (who know better then to get on the shelves in the light of day)?
Or was the ghost of Farmer Buck as tired of hearing my complaining about frozen pipes as my family is?
If so, did he decide to take preventive action himself by turning on the water to stop the pipes from freezing so he wouldn’t have to listen to me?
Considering that the faucet handles require turning, not a lever type in which a marauding cat could have accidentally pushed down on it to start the water flowing, I still scratch my head about what really happened that night. For now, I’ll just credit that old long gone farmer for giving me a not so gentle reminder that winter is here.