We have a chest freezer in the garage, and we discovered this morning that it must have crapped out yesterday. The freezer was 30 years old. It happens. We loaded up some garbage bags and tossed the food into a dumpster on someone else's property. It was icky, and it brought back far ickier but way funnier memories of a freezer we had to dispose of in Maine.
My mother-in-law, El, lived alone in her small home in northern Maine. We were living in South Carolina, but my husband, Dale, spoke with her frequently on the phone. One day she called and said her big chest freezer "down cellar" had broken. Dale told her to throw everything away, unplug it, hose it out and leave the lid propped up. He would figure out what to do with it the next time we visited.
She came to visit us once or twice, but it wasn't until two, possibly three years later, that we returned to Maine. El had fallen and broken her pelvis. She was moving to an assisted living facility and decided to sell the house. We went up that summer to get the house ready to put on the market.
Dale and I arrived at about the same time as his two sisters. Sister #1 somehow gravitated to the basement and saw the freezeer. The lid was shut, so she did what you would do. She opened the lid and threw up.
El apparently ignored my husband's advice and just let the freezer sit there broken with a pile of melted slop inside. For two, possibly three years.
No one knew what to do. No one went back in the basement, either. Sister #2 made a few calls and then the siblings went to run errands. I stayed behind to brood.
They hadn't been gone long, when the doorbell rang. It was a kid who looked to be about 19 years old. I think his name was Billy. Seriously.
You the folks with the freezer?
Yes, um, you know what the problem is?
It's pretty gross.
I've been thinking.
And I think I got a solution.
Billy said he was a volunteer fireman, and he borrowed some equipment ... a respirator, a submersible pump and an extra-long garden hose. The first thing he said to do was open all the windows and gather up any spare fans to blow the air outward. Dale and the girls returned, and we all went to work. Pretty soon we had that place buzzing like a windfarm.
The next step was draining the liquid. Billy put on the respirator. He took the submersible pump and the garden hose to the basement. I'm still not exactly sure how this part worked because I was upstairs in the fetal position. Somehow the hose and the pump got connected, the other end of the hose went out through a window and they dragged it to the edge of the yard, where the liquid would spill into an adjacent field. Then he started pumping.
Within minutes, it reeked. The entire street smelled like one giant sewage leak. I peaked out the upstairs window, where I could see that people were pulling over, getting out of their cars and sniffing, sniffing. Could they detect the source? I sat there for a long time waiting for the police.
Billy continued to pump until all the liquid was gone and then pumped fresh water and bleach through the hose. I, personally, would not be touching that hose again, but Mainers are of hearty stock.
Then six big guys showed up with 5-gallon pails. They dumped all the rotten food into the pails and took it away. I do not know where it all went, but I'm pretty sure whatever they did wasn't legal. Then Billy hosed out the freezer itself with fresh water and bleach and pumped all that out.
The big guys came back, and they removed the lid from the freezer and dragged that up the narrow little stairway that leads to the kitchen. Somehow, they managed to get the freezer up those stairs, out the door and into a truck. They said they would take it to the dump. We happened to know from experience the dump was only open part-time and was already closed for the day.
I came down for the farewell. No one said a word as we stood in the driveway and happily waved goodbye. I'm pretty sure they dumped the freezer somewhere just not the dump.
Finally, a new guy shows up, and it turns out he's Billy's uncle. He's the big Kahuna and Billy and the boys are sub-contractors. He has come to collect his money. We're like, ouch, how much is it?
That was a lot of work.
Yes, we understand.
That was nasty.
It's going to be pretty expensive.
Yes. We appreciate your help.
Is $200 OK?
We gave him a handsome tip and pretty much anything else he wanted. We let him look through the house, and he saw a lot of furniture and stuff he could sell.
Take it! It's yours! Thank you! Thank you!
The rest of the trip was uneventful. The smell went away in a few hours, and the next day someone came and bought the house. His mother passed away not long after that. We still go to Maine now and again, and the sisters come to visit us. We might have a drink or two and laugh about the freezer. Of course, it's equal parts hilarious and horrifying.
Bottom line, nothing from the freezer tonight. We were sitting around thinking about what we might have for dinner. Dale said he could eat chili.
Yeah, too bad we lost that.
Not the chili.
What do you mean?
I saved the chili.
Nah, it'll be fine.