I learned a very important lesson a few weeks ago, and I’m here to share my newly-acquired wisdom. Ready? Here it is: Only fools take sewers for granted.

My nugget may not, I admit, go down in the history books like other well-worn aphorisms. But it doesn’t make it any less true.

It was a Wednesday night and for the past three days, our laundry room was flooding any time we flushed a toilet, took a shower, used any kind of water. After plumbers couldn’t find a problem, the fiancé decided our septic tank must be full.

Full of ... yep, that’s right.

So on the morning of my day off, the septic tank men arrived. With — and I thought this was strange — a back hoe. I met them cheerfully and told them I was looking forward to them getting things fixed.

I noticed I was not greeted with as heartfelt a smile as I gave. In fact, they looked a little concerned.

“So, any idea where the septic tank is?” one asked quietly.

“Well, my ... fiancé seems to think it’s over in that patch of grass that’s darker than the rest,” I said, savoring the word “fiancé” in my mouth like a lozenge.

The guy nodded and headed to the back hoe. Admittedly, I was shocked to see major earth moving equipment driving across our lawn. So were the landscape guys who maintain the golf course that backs onto our property.

The sewer men started digging. Very quickly, there was a yawning hole in our yard. But the septic tank was nowhere to be found.

“Well, we know one thing,” the back hoe driver said like a comedian. “It’s not there.”

I started to get a little nervous. Surely they had some way of tracking these things.

But it turns out — other than a metal stick they poked in the ground and a piece of copper wire whose ends apparently move toward one another if they get close to something underground — they didn’t. They could just try to reason things out judging from where they thought plumbing lines should run out.

This type of narrowing-down process, I quickly realized, would never work with our house. Whoever built our home had an incredibly wonky sense of logic — with door knobs strangely inserted, heating vents that lead nowhere, porches that aren’t quite square.

But the men persisted and proceeded to dig another hole by the patio door. Soon, there was another fresh, orange mound sitting beside a fresh, new hole.

The men didn’t find the tank, but had managed to find the gas line, which they’d neatly cut by accident as they dug.

It was at this point I started to panic. First, I had no idea how to turn off the gas or even where the gas, what is it? tank? pump? even was. Second, I was pretty sure gas is explosive. Third, we were now without plumbing and heat.

So I ran inside and called my quasi-father-in-law. Who, savior-like, came right over.

But pretty soon, he was as confused as the sewer guys and we had another empty hole in our quickly deteriorating yard.

Unfortunately, quasi-father-in-law took this opportunity to tell me maybe I’d been using too much toilet paper when I, I kid you not, wiped.

Two things happened next. One, the fiancé called with the name of the home builder and, two, reinforcements had arrived from the sewer company.

So I called the home builder and very, very politely asked him if he happened to remember, from 20 years before, where our septic tank was located in our yard.

“I’m pretty sure that home has two septic tanks,” he said as my heart squeezed.

He thought one of them was near the chimney.

So, with little other recourse, the back hoe started plowing away at a flower bed. After they’d dug a 15-foot hole, the men struck something.

A smell.

Which I can only explain by describing the looks on the men who’d happened to arrive on the 14th green at exactly the same moment the smell wafted south.

They all cocked their heads, nostrils helplessly flared, eyebrows scrunched. And then, the inevitable nose pinch.

Suddenly, it was all incredibly funny. And as my quasi-father-in-law started explaining “solids float to the top rather than sink to the bottom” in a septic tank, I broke out laughing.

In the end, they found and cleaned the septic tank. Turns out we only have one. And we now have very specific directions taped to the fuse box as to how to find the undesirables.

Staff writer Tara Kaprowy can be reached by e-mail at

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