Living Small—Part 3

Renae Brabham


Living small part 2 left off with me on the I-95 following our home to it’s final resting place 1 hour away.


The semi-truck wheels slung mud onto my windshield from the bog down we just left on the flooded Santee. I switched on my windshield cleaner and wipers to remove the muddy remnants of the 1000-year flood of Charleston and it’s surrounding communities. We are on our way to a sister tributary, another river that had been just as flooded, the next river to kiss the sea, the Edisto. My nerves couldn’t take the ride behind the little box home and I sped ahead of it.  


I was waiting for the movers at the road. I told them that it was boggy as heck. They gauged it and told me that they had one shot and needed to know exactly where I wanted it dropped. I guided the first 18-wheeler with my hand to back up. The crew knew they didn’t have much time to play since the wheels were sinking already, they started throwing heavy concrete blocks around like Nerf balls underneath. The cab released the load and started spinning out, we had deep ruts in the yard for a while. 


When they pulled out, it was a hot mess. We had no steps, the previous mover (that ripped us off) dropped our front porch off on the land and left it twenty feet from where the home is sitting now. Little use to us, Don and I aren’t builders, but we have Googled our way through a lot of projects lately. 


We got the electric company to give us temporary power on the land so that we could use a generator and tools. We tackled the steps, it took us most of a day to do what a carpenter could do in three hours. But you know what? We know we did it right and we finished it. We left that land tired and quiet many a day for the ride back to Mt. Pleasant. 




During the hardest part of these trials, I am sure those silent rides had questions for both of us. What the hell are we doing? We have a good business, a nice suburban life and convenience at our fingertips. But the truth stared at me in Don’s worn and creased brows that would furrow themselves further if we didn’t get off of this track. 


I drove down a long dusty road that led to the Edisto River one day. My soul needed water, still water. I sat on the cypress-studded bank and cried. I cried because my house didn’t look like the pictures I took of it as it sat on Santee River, a quiet little cook house with a nice front porch.


I cried because I could see tires below a home that was once covered with beautiful river rock stone and a porch that once held a swing and rockers now sat like a frigging monstrosity apart in the yard. I cried because we were killing ourselves to recoup the money we gave to someone in earnest. 


Even though I am in part three of this series, I can tell you that every single second of that pain and worry and sacrifice was worth it today.


I don’t know that we knew where to start when we drove out to the home. Don pulled a piece of the carpet away from the center ridge to see if there was damage from the storm it sat in. We kept pulling, it felt good to pull it out, that dank dark carpet. The rest of the day was kind of like shedding skin, we ripped out the ugliness of the last few months and threw it into that monstrosity of a porch that sat outside. From that moment on I knew that the porch would never be reattached.  


During this transition time, I was talking to a friend and told him that we were moving into our place, come-hell-or-high-water, by Christmas. High water had already come and hell felt near. But, I meant it. Even Don asked me repeatedly, “Are you sure about this?” We won’t have water yet, we are 1-½ hours away from our jobs.” 


“No, I am ready.” I replied. 



The week of the move, Christmas week. We nixed the professional moving company to use a young man I met during the worst part of our moving fiasco. He mowed the land while we weren’t there and was going through a challenge of his own. He called to say that he had lost one of the movers and there was now a crew of two, but they could do it. I didn’t notice until hours later that the other mover was limping. He broke his foot the day before! They played games with each other most of the day. Laying snake skins they found in the shed in each other’s paths.  


That first night was eerily beautiful. The big California King bed, the biggest thing in our small home was both familiar and not, we slept a little tighter together, Snowy and Don and I in our new home. We died to the world, I was so exhausted I could have slept in a foxhole in Vietnam. 
Well, the part I told my friend about “hell-or-high-water,” was partly true. Although we had power, we had no running water.



It was the last week of December, I called and vetted both well and septic servicemen. Scars from the earlier thievery had us leery. The most-recommended well technician was booked out for six weeks. Challenges were met accordingly.



We put out buckets to catch rain water for toilet flushing and bathing. Offers were numerous from friends to stay at homes, or bathe, etc., until we were set up. Except for a few occasions we declined appreciatively. 


Our mantra every single day was, “Do the next right thing.”  


I gleefully looked forward every morning to our one luxury. Daily ground and percolated coffee beans. We brushed our teeth minimally with ice cold water. Each night we would boil water for our bird baths, but the thing we missed the most was the continuous flow of water on our bodies. I would go to either my sister’s or my niece’s once a week. Don wasn’t as eager to participate but was missing the running water himself. 


On a rare warmer night (48 degrees) in January, Don asked me to boil a little more water than usual, he wanted to feel the water run over him as he washed. 


You haven’t lived until you’ve stood on a back porch under a full moon and poured water over your naked husband. The white bar of soap glowed in the moonlight. I waited by with a large towel to cover him. Don would heat water on the days I didn't go to my niece or sister's to bathe and wash my hair.   




Our heat came from a few electric heaters. They kept us quite toasty. It would be months before our A/C and heating units would be connected. We worked hard and encouraged each other day and night, striving to make sure the load wasn’t more than either of us could bear. 


New Years Eve, 2016. It was 82 degrees! I searched the house for my old church fans. It was a quiet day in the woods. That evening, almost the very second that the sun fell over the tall pines and the darkness crept in, I was jolted to my feet. What the hell? Armageddon?? An explosion shook the ground.  Don mused, “Guess the country boys idea of fireworks is to shoot propane tanks?”  



Shotguns rang out in the distance along with a few bought fireworks. Happy New Year to us!!  


Right before bed time we heard the tapping sound of water on the roof. We ran to get the five-gallon buckets in place at the eves of the house. We are using six gallons of water a day, for flushing, cooking, cleaning. It rained for three days, it filled those five buckets continuously!  

Our evenings after work were very quiet and peaceful. An old grandfather clock tick-tocked louder than I ever remember it before. Our big flatscreen TV sat quietly, a black abyss in the living room. We read a lot, talked a lot, laughed a lot. 


I hand-wrote chapters of my book. I had to re-write them later, they were dark, like a spewed demon flying from the depths of my soul. They had to come out to make room for the good that I wanted to replace it. About three weeks later Direct TV installed the little dish that brought the world into our four-square, just in time for the Superbowl. Those must have been some strong prayers Don! We found the TV to be loud at first, intrusive even. 



Internet was not quite as quick. I admit that I leeched off of other servers when we would go to populated areas. 


And then one day, almost eight weeks after the day we moved in, a truck pulled in the yard with lines and a pump for our well! Let me tell you, when they tapped in and that geyser of clear cold water shot fifteen feet into the air, I was one happy girl. I was dancing inside but actually wanted to go stand under it. 

I am grateful, actually, for the time we had in those hard weeks. They were necessary for the appreciation Don and I have for what is normally taken for granted. I’ll leave you with a line from Living Small IV. 

“I turn this knob, and water flows all over my body.” Don Brabham.


A few Living Small country revelations.

Deer are a different color here than they are at the coast.


Un-lessen is a word. In a sentence it goes something like this. “You need to buy mo of that un-lessen you want to come back soon.” 


We won’t ever need fire-starter again. 


Turkeys don’t like their picture taken. 


I can brush my teeth with 4 ounces of water. 


Dollar General is the grocery store.


There are two types of wine/arsenic for sale in my town. Wild Irish Rose and Mad Dog 20/20. Un-lessen you drive a half hour to the big town. 


You can get a speeding ticket for going 38 in a 35. 


Deer are outnumbered by coon dogs. 


Entire houses can be consumed by woods. 


Rust is the new red. 


Gizzards and livers are sold at gas stations.


Quiet is quieter. All is well.