The best photo opportunity of the week presented itself in my downstairs bedroom closet yesterday --- and darned if didn't occur to me that I should have grabbed a camera until a half hour after the moment had passed. That means I missed the chance to spin a yarn about this house being a stop on the underground railroad.
Not that anyone would have believed me (the house is only 20 years old), but I could have tried.
This all started the summer before last when two guys from the Chariton Water Department knocked at the front door, told me they needed to change out the water meter and asked to go to the basement.
So I had to explain the facts of life --- there is no basement; the house sits atop a crawl space. It is a cadillac among crawl spaces, high enough to stand upright in, thoroughly insulated, vented, vapor-sealed and all the rest. But crawl space none-the-less.
And the only access is a trap door in the floor of the closet in the downstairs bedroom --- totally invisible under layers of padding and carpet unless you know where to look. In short, it would have been the perfect place to conceal fugitive slaves --- had it been built 150 years ago.
I told the water guys that it would take a day or two to get ready for their descent, since the closet would have to be cleared, and they seemed dubious. So I invited them in to look, opened the closet doors, we looked in, they turned pale, then turned tail and ran, saying, "uh --- call us when you're ready."
I don't sleep down here, so the closet has been used for storage; lots of storage.
More than a year passed, then last week there was another knock on the door and a different set of Water Department personnel --- this time, it seemed like a good idea to make an appointment and finally get the job done.
So I spent the equivalent of a full day clearing that closet --- the biggest challenge was the big old battered trunk that had accompanied my paternal grandmother to new homes, boarding school, Simpson College and elsewhere after the untimely death of her mother condensed her belongings into it while her father, my great-grandfather, acquired a trophy bride some 20 years his junior named Maude and headed for Wyoming to ranch, drink, gamble and carouse.
But I was ready yesterday afternoon when the water guy returned with a ladder (it's a long way down), flashlight, tool kit and new water meter --- and he got the job done quickly and efficiently; a credit to the Water Department.
It was a tight squeeze, mostly because it was a fat ladder, but he was relatively young, limber and not overweight. I'm still kicking myself, however, because I didn't get a shot of his upper half emerging from that trapdoor in the closet floor.
The trap door's back in place, the carpet down again and I've promised myself that I'm going to be more careful about what I cram in that closet from now on. Of course everything that had been there is now sitting in the upstairs store room --- and it was already hard to find a path through that mess. So there's still work to do.
Everyone in Chariton eventually will receive one of these fancy new meters that transmits its readings, as I understand it, to personnel who drive slowly by. So the days of meter-readers who walk from house to house are passing --- and that seems like a good thing. What can seem like a pleasant task when the weather's decent can turn nasty when temperatures drop toward or below zero and snow starts to fly.