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Appalachian Service Project MAG
I knew it was going to bebad. I hesitantly pushed open the door that was already ajar, but expecting theworst in no way prepared me for what I confronted.
For a moment, I wasblind from the sudden transition from sunlight to darkness. As my visionreturned, my nose was assaulted by the pungent stench of rotten food, body odorand human waste. I remained silent, attempted to hold my breath and, with all mypower, fought my urge to gag. There were no rugs on the plywood floor. Empty soupcans, beer bottles, cereal boxes and milk cartons were scattered in heapsthroughout the kitchen and into the living room.
There were no pictures,no paintings, only the crushed remains of flies, spiders and mosquitoessplattered on the gray walls. In the corner, I spotted a rat making its waytoward a bag of moldy bread. A brown and gray plaid couch, the springs andstuffing spilling out of its cushions, was the sole piece of furniture.
Slumped and motionless on the couch was a small, feeble man in a whiteT-shirt and olive khakis. His hair was brown, lightly dusted with gray. Hisposture was poor, his skin wrinkled, and his breathing was labored and seeminglypainful. He looked 70 years old, but was only 52.
This was Ted (at leastthat's what I'll call him) and this was his trailer. I could barely believe thatone could live in such a state: no electricity, no plumbing, no family orfriends. Ted slowly looked up at me and I smiled, placing my hands in my pockets(I do that a lot when I'm nervous).
"Hi, Ted. My name isCaitlin," I said, extending my hand. Ted returned the gesture, and we shookin silence. He sat there, staring and holding my hand for what seemed aninordinate period of time.
"So what do you think of all this? Prettyneat, eh?" I tried once more to get a response.
"You'reperdy," was all he said. I was stunned.
"Thank you," I saidin an effort to be cordial.
"You're real perdy. I mean it. You gotany sisters?"
"Just one. She's older."
"I betshe's perdy, too. How old is she?"
"Uhh, 19. She's incollege." I tried to change the subject. "Boy, it sure is hot and humidout there."
"How tall are you?" Ted asked.
"I'mfive foot five, I think."
"You're perdy tall for a girl, ain'tye?" he asked, looking me up and down.
"No, I don't think so.I'm just about average," I replied, uncomfortably. "Well, I'm afraidI've got to go now, Ted. It was really nice talking with you. I'll be back alittle later, okay?"
"All right. Bye," he said sadly,with that drawl.
I stood outside in the sun and replayed the scene inmy head. At first I was angry, then sad, then confused. I decided the encounterwasn't something I could analyze right away.
Beginning my work outside, Ilocated the 75-pound roll of vapor lock (thick black plastic used to preventground moisture from destroying the underside of a house). It had rained theevening before, and the mud and clay from the mountains had washed over the roll,leaving it filthy. It was so slippery that it was hard to carry to the side ofthe trailer. Once there, I used my pocket knife to cut the plastic to themeasurements of the base of the trailer. This was the easy part. Installing itwould be something else, since the trailer was just two feet off the ground. Iwould have to crawl along on my stomach, unfolding and spreading as I went. Itwould be a slow and tedious project.
As I lay beneath the trailer, wet,muddy and sweaty, with cobwebs stuck in my hair, I started to gag. I took ahandkerchief from my pocket and covered my nose. I called out, "Remind mewhy I'm under here?"
My friend got on his knees and replied,"Because you're the smallest person here, and you're the only one withoutarachnophobia or claustrophobia."
I spread the plastic, cutting andtaping it as I went. About 30 minutes had passed when my leader bent down to seehow I was doing. "I can't thank you enough for doing this, Cait. We reallyappreciate it. Let me know when you get three-quarters of the way down,okay?"
"Because Ted has been draininghis waste under his trailer from a hole in the floor. I don't want you down atthat end."
"I was wondering why it smelled so bad!" Iyelled. I continued to make my way down the trailer and three hours later reachedthe sewage, covered with white lime powder (another work group had attempted tomask the stench). After crawling out from under the trailer, I collapsed. Igasped deep breaths of the clean air, lay on the ground, ignoring the fact that Iwas in a giant puddle, and cried.