Can You Dig It, I Did.
As I grew, our basement grew as well. My dad and mom, Carl and Sybil Beck bought a small house along Route 711, between Indian Head and Normalville, Pennsylvania. It had only a partial basement. The rest was a crawl space. The basement was large enough for a coal bin, large coal furnace, and a water heater. Mom found room for a wringer washer as well. The running water for the house came from a spring about 200 yards away.
As my parents needed the space, my dad chiseled and cut an opening in the cinder block wall. I helped my dad dig by hand, the heavy clay dirt. He used an old, iron wheeled wheelbarrow to haul it up and out of the cellar or when he got closer to the outside wall he threw the dirt onto the wood planked bed of an old truck. The house didn’t have an inside bathroom, but a privy instead.
One thing I do remember was the digging. It seemed that digging filled much of my youth. In my preadolescent years my hands were filled with a pick, mattock, and a spade. When Dad decided, at the prodding of my mom as sure, to build an indoor bathroom, I helped to dig the pit for the septic tank and the drainage lines.
My brother, Ken and I had to help dig another water line to bring water from the springhouse into our home. The old water line had been corroding and the water pressure was lessening for about a year. It was a daily chore. Dad would assign a certain amount to be dug out and expected it to be done. One day he came home and was upset to see we hadn’t made his assigned quota. After chewing us out, he went to do what we hadn’t finished. What he found was a huge flat rock. It was almost 18 inches thick and the size of a dining room table top, extending over two feet beyond the sides of the ditch. He tried to break it with a sledge hammer. When he couldn’t break it, his solution was to dig under it and pass the plastic pipe beneath it.
A small stream flowed behind the house and Dad would have us dig out the silt that would fill it in the spring. We would spread it on the one side to prevent it from flooding onto his lawn at the winter thaw. Dad loved to have his lawn mowed and neat.
When Dad added on a garage, we dug the foundation for it, actually, for two garages. One had to be torn down because of flooding from road run off. It was a time when the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation sometimes failed to grade the berm and water would travel down the driveway and into the garage.
We had to help spade the garden and weed. That wasn’t the bad part. It was spring and it was cool. I liked it more than using the hoe later in the year to get rid of the weeds in the hot sun of summer.
In the winter, the summer tools were put away and the heavy scoop shovel came out. It was used to throw coal into the furnace, shovel out the ashes, and to remove snow from the walks and the driveways. Removing the snow wasn’t as bad as where I live now. Our parents’ home was partially sheltered in a valley and drifts were rare. What remained to shovel was the depth of the snowfall.