A funny song from my childhood has become a pretty good descriptor of two-person farm maintenance. Usually it’s still funny; sometimes it makes me, us, feel one half step away from crazy.
It’s a sing-songy conversation between husband and wife as they navigate never ending tasks:
“There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Martha dear Martha, there’s a hole in the bucket, dear Martha, a hole.
Well fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, well fix it dear Henry, dear Henry fix it.
With what shall I fix it, dear Martha?
With a cork, dear Henry…
The cork is dry, dear Martha…
Well wet it, dear Henry…
With what shall I wet it, dear Martha?
With water! (her rage building)…
How shall I fetch it? …
With a bucket…
(extra long pause while Henry takes a deep breath, because we all know what’s coming)
There’s a hole in the bucket…”
So you see, of course, the never ending loop of repair and provision and discovery, and then repair and frustration and connection-between-all-things-broken and, again, discovery and repair. The ongoing consultation between husband and wife kills me.
Truthfully? I have always felt like Dear Martha was a bit cruel to her Dear Henry, with her exasperation at his inability to grasp obvious solutions, just as he seemed helpless and maybe vapid, not very manly traits to a girl who grew up with a Bob Vila Dad and then married Clark Griswold who is fond of chain-sawing all the newel posts.
After some years on these nine acres, though, I see Martha through a slightly more compassionate lens. She is just insane from all the never ending work, that’s all. She probably used to be a softer, sweeter, more helpful wife. The conveyor belt of projects that are never singular and independent of several other mandatory projects, well, they take their toll. That’s all. I also see Henry through a more protective lens. Maybe he always saw clearly the next five steps but was so overwhelmed he could barely speak it. All he could do was reach out to his Dear Martha and hope she would not kill the messenger.
In this house, for the song’s purposes, I am Henry and he is Martha.
Also, worth noting, for some weird reason, I remember being ten years old in Fort Towson, Oklahoma, and singing this song, imagining Martha and Henry living under water. All the way under water, like at the bottom of the ocean. In the blue-green dark. I get the symbolism now. Somehow, my little girl self knew.
One day I said to Handsome, hey babe let’s re-grout the upstairs bathroom. He said sure. I was probably ovulating, which bodes well for my powers of persuasion. That led to a full on shower stall redo in our master suite, which meant we needed to move our hygiene operations downstairs for a few days. This revealed some needed repair to that guest bath, and it seemed like a good time to also paint those walls and rearrange artwork and, sure, a new shower curtain and support bar and area rug. Also, man, we want a true piece of furniture in there, not rickety shelves, so let’s see what gorgeous sets we can find that would bring us some tables that look good with the leather couches. A month later, we have re-grouted the upstairs shower and do not recognize the formerly pink guest bath.
Similarly but much more dramatically, once upon a time something near our chimney was struck by lightning, which blah-blah-blah caused a serious water leak. It flooded our downstairs carpets and foam padded laminate flooring, inspiring us to rip it all up and live on concrete. Which we painted blue but did not seal. This caused a tidal wave (in keeping with the water theme) of interrelated projects, none of them small.
Then there was the time at the peak of summer heat and humidity when I needed one skinny little garden gate adjusted because it wasn’t shutting smoothly. Well, that turned into relocating a clothesline, reconfiguring the surrounding fences, eliminating one other wide gate, and, you know what? We need more concrete for parties.
New concrete means ripping up the decking, and that wood can be repurposed, so let’s sort it out into piles. Burn what is unusable. When the ashes are cool they go in the compost. But only once the compost bins have space. So empty those as soon as possible! And also make use of the contents, don’t waste it. Balance it all with green materials and manure, so it’s good for the gardens. Not pure ash. But if you add to the piles while the bachelors are watching, they will eat your okra so put up a protective rope or something. Quick.
And no, giving them a round bale of free choice hay will not, actually, keep them from breaking into the hay loft. So be ready to fix that gate soon.
Also, my sprinkler died (more with the water theme, in case you are keeping score).
Schedule some time for a pipe to burst in the attic (another score for the water gods). Because I secretly wanted the kitchen pantry a different color anyway, and this is an excellent time to repaint. But only after his stitches get removed from sitting on a power saw while making plumbing repairs. And, obviously, we can do all of this more easily once the pickup is working again, because we probably need something huge and unwieldy form Home Depot anyway. Or more hay. Or, something. It should work out just fine.
Babe, do we want goats?
Just fix it, Dear Henry, Dear Henry.
Just fix it, Dear Henry, Dear Henry fix it.
Whatever type of property you manage, I am confident you experience your own version of the hole in the bucket song, and I sincerely hope that most of the time you, together with your corresponding Martha or Henry, find ways to tackle it all. Peacefully.
Hang in there.
Please be kind to the messengers in your life.
Say no to goats.