I’ve been wondering for months how I was gonna write this entry. Let’s see how it goes…
Ah, my grandparents’ old house. If I close my eyes I can still drift back and see the sights:
The attic, with funky old linoleum on the floor and well-camouflaged doors in the wall near the stairs, where my grandpa had ingeniously created easy access to some storage space.
The painting-studio-slash-spare-bedroom where my brother would take the bed and I would get the cot. Once, maybe 20 years ago, I had a momentary but very real illusion that I was a young boy, back in that room, looking down out the second-floor window toward Hope Street. I was there for a second; I’ve never time-traveled like that before or since.
The dining room, crowded quarters when 10 people showed up for Thanksgiving dinner, but filled with the wonderful smells of roast turkey, potatoes and dinner rolls.
Great memories, all … but we’re not headed to any of those places this week.
We’re, um, going outside.
That extended even to the house’s least sexy or celebrated operating system, the cesspool, which makes occasional appearances on the calendar throughout the 1960s and ’70s.
1107 Hope Street was indeed equipped with a cesspool — a covered-over underground waste pit — not one of those newfangled septic systems with their fancy leaching fields.
My grandparents were not ones to spend money on system upgrades if they did not perceive an urgent need, or were not forced. And that’s how they navigated all the way into the 1970s with the most primitive of wastewater treatment technologies.
(That was also how they reached the 1980s with an electrical wiring system that wouldn’t support the simultaneous use of a ceiling fan and a toaster. But I’ve told that story already.)
My parents can still recall the location of the cesspool. It was maybe a little more than halfway back on the rear lawn, off to the side near a garden and some trees, and noticeable by its slightly sunken appearance and the perennial lushness of the green grass above it.
(My father also recalls that the washing machine at 1107 Hope Street, which was located in the kitchen, drained directly onto the nearby driveway rather than into the cesspool to save precious wastewater capacity.)
I couldn’t find a picture that conclusively showed the cesspool. But, based on my parents’ descriptions, I did come up with this.
The header for my grandpa’s calendar in April 1970 carries reminders for both “EARTH DAY” and “DRAIN CESSPOOLS.”
If he made any connection that the earth might be better served by a more modern and sanitary waste disposal system, the calendar does not record it.
Eventually, the city of Stamford made the decision for him. His calendars in the spring of 1975 record the construction of a municipal sewer line along Hope Street:
And, while I don’t know the exact date that the old cesspool was retired, it appears that 1107 Hope Street entered the exciting world of 20th-century waste disposal on a balmy spring day roughly a month later.
Of course, old cesspools don’t magically disappear when they’re no longer used. They pose threats of collapse if not properly filled in.
The big slab of land across the water from Stamford has a particular problem with abandoned cesspools, for some reason. Several Long Islanders have died over the past decade when old cesspools suddenly caved in beneath them — a singularly hellish way to go, I would imagine.
Although it is not my problem, I kinda hope the developer who built condos on the 1100 block of Hope Street in the mid-1980s sought out and dealt with any and all old cesspools on the properties.
It would be a shame — in more ways than one — if the attic and the spare room and the dining room were all gone, but the cesspool was still there.