Flupp! Muddy waste pops up from the drain.

The blacktop wends in hairpins and snaky twists as we descend through the fog of the Shenandoah mountains on US-33. Through the gray haze we can make out Germany Valley, green and grand and lovely, to our left: a pattern of sunlight cuts us a generous wedge of lush mountain. As our rented Mitsubishi exits the clouds, the mountains turn to valleys filled with milk cows and five-wire sheep fences and cockeyed power poles and dilapidated, collapsing barns. The sign says, “Welcome to Franklin, W.Va.,” and they sincerely mean it.

I have blood here. Everyone in this town, me included, is descended from Ambrose Meadows. During the Civil War, Ambrose was shot by Northern troops while praying to God. His house was burned, his wife and children turned into the cold.

Not a damned thing has happened in Franklin since then. The Appalachian mountains can only be passed on single-lane highways and there are no airports within two hundred miles of this town. Generations of mayors have come and gone from Franklin over the past hundred and fifty years, each one promising to bring economic prosperity to this tiny city. Still, the all-night diners close at 8:00 p.m., and the front doors of the Victorian ladies remain unlocked.

The pamphlet, “Walking Tour of Historic Franklin, W. Va.,” has this to say about the Candlelight Inn: “Walter and Jessie O. Wilson Bowman built their Victorian house soon after their marriage in 1908, and their initials are carved into the stone foundation.” It’s three stories of China dolls and ornate carved furniture and sweet musty bedspreads, sprawling smugly on Main Street of this small town.

We checked into room 1 late last night. A blonde doll beamed down on us from a high mantel. Our host, Kim, greeted us this morning with waffles and coffee. “I’m off to pick up my grandmother at Dulles this evening, so unfortunately I won’t be around tonight,” she said. I settled in to doing some serious work on the Rocky Horror video.

After a few hours I took a break. As I flushed the toilet off room 1, it backed up. My wife found a plunger and I took a few plunges at it: no luck. We called Kim, and Kim called Ed, and Ed called Forrest; Forrest brought a pipe snake. Forrest began snaking out the ancient sewer system embedded within the stone foundation. He hit a snag, we heard a dark barnyard sound and the toilet regurgitated gallons of sewage into our room.

We picked all our stuff off the floor in one large motion and sprinted into room 3, on the second floor. Ten minutes ago, after the plumbing equivalent of a double bypass, sewage is now flowing sensibly again at the Candlelight Inn. It’s midnight at the Candlelight and, with the exception of the dried sewage on the bathroom linoleum one story beneath us, all is well.

Except for one small thing. There’s this hurricane about four hundred miles southeast of us and closing. The state of West Virginia has already declared a state of emergency and, while those gorgeous mountains will shield us from the worst of Isabel, we’ll still get several inches of rain tomorrow.

Rain backs up sewers.

One thought on “Flupp! Muddy waste pops up from the drain.

  1. I am descended from Ambrose Meadows too. I’m the daughter of Cyrus Welton Colaw, whose mother was Mary Meadows, one of Ambrose’s twin 3-yr-old girls who were forced out of their home with their mother and baby brother while the Yankees burned the house down. They sat on a mattress putting out cinders from the burning house. Mary married David Colaw. What a horrible day in our families’ histories when the execution style murder and the house burning happened all in a single day! The other twin girl, Phebe, married into the Byrd family. Nice to meet you!

    Ruth Colaw, California

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