During the holidays, my wife and I visited relatives and, as a result, caused the failure of their septic system. It could handle four people, but not six. It stopped working Christmas Eve and continued to baulk for many long days. The consequence is that I have a deeper appreciation of septic systems.
It has lead me to create a plan-of-action. The most important piece of the plan is designating spots for each guest and family member to use as emergency facilities around the perimeter of the house.
Locations should not be so far away into the woods that a guest will become disoriented during a nightly visit. However, should they become lost, they should be instructed to stay put. Dashing aimlessly about, possibly stumbling into someone’s else spot while that someone is there using their spot, or wandering onto a neighbor’s land is never good. Their best strategy, while staying put, is to use their cell phone’s GPS to get themselves pointed back toward the house or, if that fails, use the cell phone to call the host or hostess for directions.
Warn them, too, that they may hear rustling in the woods. They should ignore this. The mountain lion, the only animal that regularly preys on humans, is not plentiful in our part of the world.
By the way, there is nothing more astonishing than to hear someone call out your name amidst the darkness of the forest with, “Ed-is that you?” Avoid doing that. Each guest should be issued a flashlight with fresh batteries and a full roll of toilet paper.
Assign individual spots and show everyone how to get to their spot. Signage and maps are helpful.
Expect to have some guests to prefer a pail in their room to trotting out in the snow during our long December nights. I checked Emily Post’s Etiquette but could not find any reference to pails or chamber pots in rooms.
However, I did find this: “Notwithstanding the advertisements in the most dignified magazines, a discussion of underwear and toilet articles and their merit or their use, is unpleasant in polite conversation.”
So, I’m thinking that chamber pots should be discouraged on account of their unpleasantness. You can say you read it in Emily’s book. If you have nearby neighbors, call them up and wish them Merry Christmas. Then ask them to refrain from shooting at guests in the woods or having them arrested by the sheriff. Be frank with your neighbors. It is better to suffer a little humiliation over the phone than to have to post bail for one of your guests.
Invite your guests to find humor in the situation, but do not over-invite them. Three times on the first day is about all you will get away with. When you get into your fourth day, prayer may help. In the Catholic tradition, Saint Anthony is the saint of lost causes.
Locate spots for privacy. During the day if someone should say, “I think I will go for a walk,” do not invite yourself along. Discourage others from inviting themselves along by saying, “I think Bob needs some time alone.”
Watch for dehydration among guests and members of your household. Some of them will think that, if they do not drink anything, they will not have to go outside. This could be serious. Pretend you know something about medicine and insist that they drink lots of fluids.
Lastly, leave frequent pleading messages on the Roto-Rooter guy’s voicemail promising extra remuneration–including freshly baked Christmas cookies-should he choose to respond in an especially timely way.
Rhinelander District Library director Ed Hughes is available at (715) 365-1070.