Lori Thatcher

Writing and Thinking about writing

The New House and the Lesson of the Pump

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My grandfather owned a large piece of land in Montague Center, Massachusetts, in an area that people called the Montague Desert. The land had been part of an ancient delta that flowed into Lake Hitchcock, a lake that formed when the glacier receded and the melt water was blocked from flowing into the ocean by the terminal moraine. The delta sorted the soil so what was left was white sand that looked like it belonged at the seashore.

We loved playing in the sandy dunes that stretched behind my grandfather’s house, sliding down the sand piles and dreaming of grand expeditions. When I was four or five, my father began building a house on part of the land my grandfather owned. It was down the road and around the corner from the farmhouse where we had lived with my grandfather since I was born. It had a field and some woods and was bordered by a forest adjacent to and owned by the state Fish Hatchery. It was a wonderful place for explorers.

The house was a modest ranch house meant to be a two-bedroom but with an added wall that segmented one of the bedrooms into both a tiny cubicle for my brother and a slightly larger room for my sister and me to share. I didn’t mind sharing a bedroom with my sister, it meant I could get into her stuff, and at least the house had a bathroom.

For as long as I could remember, our bathroom had been a small wooden shed out behind the barn. In freezing weather it was a pail in the upstairs hall which magically was empty anytime I chose to use it. My husband David says that I had the last outhouse in the state of Massachusetts but it’s hard to check that out.

Before he began building the house, my father built a tractor shed and dug a well which he topped with an old cast iron red-painted hand-pump. If we were thirsty we could pump cold water into our mouths, splashing it all over the rest of us too. After we moved in, that well would run dry almost every summer and we would spend time each evening taking jugs in our truck to the cemetery in the center of town and filling them at the faucet there.

The pump would be gone by then, but when it was there, I loved pumping as fast and hard as I could and that was the downfall of the finger that slipped into the gap between the handle and the base that day. I ran up to the house screaming and gushing blood. I climbed through the front door where there wasn’t yet steps and into the living room where my father was installing the oak floor. He looked up when he heard me crying but immediately looked down at the drops of blood spattering on the bare planks and yelled “These are unfinished boards. Get out of here!”

I was sobbing so hard, I couldn’t move. I think he realized then how bad it was, scooped me up and stepped out the front door.

The rest of my memories of that day are a blur: The hospital, the big bandage on my finger, and the shattered fingernail.

My parents didn’t make a big deal of it and must have not told me that I couldn’t use the pump anymore because I was back pumping water the next day, getting my bandage wet, but keeping my fingers far from the treacherous gap.

Long afterwards, I would show everyone the neat scar, “From where I cut my finger in half.”

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