In 1943, World War II was in full swing. Just weeks after my birth, my father was drafted into the Army. To make ends meet, my mother and I lived with my grandmother until my father’s return in 1946. Now a family again, my parents moved out of my grandmother’s home into an apartment. Within a few years, my father had an opportunity to purchase an acre of land in Walton Hills, Ohio. The land bordered the southern end of the “Emerald Necklace,” a county-wide park system encircling Cuyahoga County’s entire border. It would be many years later that my father’s hard work and savings facilitated the construction of a home on the lot. At the age of thirteen, I moved out of the inner city of Cleveland and began a wonderful chapter of my life.
Our home was small—a one-bedroom, one-bath home with a kitchen and living/dining room. The home had a full basement and a nice staircase leading to the attic. The attic space would become my bedroom. It had an unfinished pine floor and insulation neatly stapled into the rafters. There was one small heating duct that went into the space and two attic vents that whisked away any of the heat during both the summer and the winter. I never remember these times as particularly hard. There were a few snowflakes in my room in the winter, but it was here that I learned to love a thick comforter when sleeping. While austere would be an appropriate description of my surroundings, I spent all my free time in the park behind my house. So to fully understand the significance of my father’s lesson taught to me, I need to explain the topography of the land.
Behind the home was Sagamore Creek. The creek ran through the park and carried quite a bit of water. Over the generations, the creek became a stream and then a small river, eroding a deep valley into the shale stone that made up the structure of the land. The valley was several hundred feet deep. As my father built the home, most of it himself, there came a time when we needed to address running water, and in the country, that meant a well. With shale rock just five feet below the ground, drilling a well was going to be costly. The first well was drilled about 100 feet down. However, the drilling had to stop. My father was out of money, and the water supply was insufficient for a family of three. It would be these following years that I would learn the meaning of the adage, “Forget the blush and share a flush.”
Over the next several years, my father would put all of his extra savings into two more wells. One was over 300 feet deep. Each well-drilling expert kept telling my father that we had to drill deeper than the bottom of the valley to find water. It seemed logical. You live on the edge of a big hill, so you need to drill down until you are no longer on the hill but down to the normal level where there is evidence of water. Each additional well was also dry. The drilling finally stopped because the money ran out. So what was life like without adequate water—something we all take for granted these days?
For years, I watched my father, who worked in Cleveland, drive to his mother’s home and fill up two five-gallon containers of water each day. Somehow, we managed to cook, clean, and bathe with the ten gallons of water that were brought to the house daily. It was exhausting for my parents, yet I hardly noticed the inconvenience. I was now approaching 16, and I could see my father still struggling to solve the water problem. So this is where the lesson began to manifest itself. Giving up was never an option. He began by going to the Cleveland Public Library, where he found that U.S. Geological Survey maps had been created, documenting the underground water structures of the United States. These maps included Walton Hills, the place where our home was built. My father spent days and weeks studying the information, concluding that the experts, the well drillers, were wrong about where the water was located. It seems that underground streams were abundant in the area and only about 25 feet below the surface. However, they were small and random, sort of like the capillaries in our bodies. To pierce one with a 6-inch well was not only impossible, but the steel casing just drove right past the streams and went past them, sealing them off. For all of those years, could it be that water was right below our feet?
Well, now comes a lesson on taking risks, but this time based on one’s research and knowledge. My father purchased five concrete culverts four feet high and five feet in diameter. He stood one on end behind the house, jumped inside, and started to dig. As digging would continue, the culvert would sink into the earth, thus forming a well. As one culvert would reach the level of the ground, he would use his car to pull over the next one and stand it on end. One culvert at a time, a well was being formed. But after the first culvert was 5 feet down, the real significance of the task unfolded. Remember the shale rock? Yes, my father hit shale. So like any obstacle, he adjusted his thinking and overcame the problem. Every weekend through the summer, he would rent a large commercial air compressor and a jackhammer. My father and his brother-in-law, my wonderful uncle Alex, would work all Saturday, every Saturday, taking turns in the well. They would break up the shale, and shovel it into a bucket. With a pulley and rope, I would pull up the rock, dump it in a wheelbarrow, and haul it about 300 feet to the backyard where it was dumped out. Yes, there were many, many months of all-day sessions. There was that summer vacation when I worked in the well too. Sundays were no different. Tons of rock all had to be jackhammered out and removed.
Then came the day! My uncle Alex was on the jackhammer when he broke through into a stream of water. The well filled up so rapidly, that we barely got him out of the well along with the tools before the water rose 10 feet. From that day on, there was never less than 800 gallons of pure spring water in the well. I cannot imagine how my father felt at that moment. So much money lost on wells, so much time spent hauling water, so much worry about his family’s well-being, so many prayers, and the absolute joy that he, with the help of his family, finally solved the problem. To overcome what seemed like an insurmountable challenge, he was willing to learn, take risks, and trust that there was a solution right under his feet. So how about that lesson that I learned? In my life, I have had many challenges too, asked or hired many experts, only to be “left high and dry” by their advice. My father taught me that I can exhaust myself, by “drilling past the answer to many a problem.” His lesson was that faith, hope, perseverance, hard work, and knowledge can go a long way to overcoming insurmountable odds. He taught me that humility is good, giving up is bad, never to stop learning, that hard work is one of life’s joys, not a burden, and that your family is truly a blessing. Even though my father is gone now, it is amazing how he keeps on teaching me so much.