Thomas Wills has lived in a house just off Cedarville Road in Aquasco for 40 years. In that time, he and his wife Rosa have raised six children, all of whom have left home to start their own families.
For a family with an annual income of less than $8,000, derived from Social Security payments and Mrs. Wills' occasional jobs, they have done well. They helped send two of their children to college and a few years ago did a substantial amount of remodeling work on their house, which was built in 1940.
But they have never had indoor plumbing. The only source of running water on their three-acre plot is a rusty brown pump about 15 yards from the back door. Each morning, Rosa Wills goes out to pump the day's water for drinking, washing and bathing.
The small white outhouse about 70 yards from their back door does not flush, has no heating and no light. On occasion, it gives off a strong odor.
One night three years ago, Thomas Wills, 56, used the outhouse while a snake curled up in a corner near his feet. Wills is blind and did not know the snake was there. Had he been able to see it, he might have jumped, aroused it and been bitten.
"The snake must have just laid still," said Wills. "I was really shocked when my wife found it in there a few minutes later. I don't know what I could have done anyway, even if I had known that the snake was there."
Wills, crippled by polio since early childhood, walks on crutches that he wielded as if they were extensions of his body. He knows his three-bedroom house and the large yard area around it step by step, much of it knowledge acquired since 1974 when a severe case of diabetes took his sight.
But even after 40 years, Wills said he sometimes finds it difficult to get along without indoor plumbing: "It gets kind of rough when it's cold outside."
"The pump water doesn't usually freeze up, but it's always a challenge getting up the courage to go out into the cold to get some water for the house," he said. "We don't always have to walk all the way to the outhouse because we keep a night bucket in the house, but we have to empty the bucket sooner or later. It's just a question of when you want to go outside.
"After a while you just get kind of used to it," Wills continued. "This is all I have ever known and I've learned to survive without plumbing."
But some of Wills' friends who have indoor plumbing don't understand why it has to be that way.
"I don't care what nobody say. This is ancient living," said Charles Hawkins, who treats Wills as a father. "This man has lived in Prince George's County all of his life. He's a taxpayer and has raised six children. Why does he have to live this way? People lived like this years ago, but hey, this is 1980.
"Suppose this man falls and breaks his leg on his way to the bathroom or pump because of something somebody put out in his backyard. Will he have to lay out there until somebody finds him?
"His wife sometimes works as a substitute (teacher) and she can't be here with him all the time," continued Hawkins. "He needs a bathroom and running water in his house. Hell, that's something everybody ought to have."
Wills has tried to get help from the county to put plumbing in his house but has failed because of the cost and because his land could not pass a state-required percolation test. Land upon which a deep well and septic system are to be placed must be capable of absorbing a certain amount of water and Wills' land has failed the test several times in the last three years.
Construction of a sand pit beneath the deep well and septic system to increase the absorption rate would make the project meet state health standards, but the county Community Development Administration office had trouble finding the $16,000 the entire project would cost. Present county regulations place an $11,000 limit on grants to individuals.
With the help of a $5,000 grant from the Farmers Home Administration, however, the county will now be able to begin work on indoor plumbing for the Willses. If all goes according to schedule, the family should have their plumbing system by summer.
"Me and my wife are looking forward to the time when they finish up the system," said Wills. "It's gonna make a real difference for us, because everything would be right in the house. It's gotten really rough over the last three years because we knew there was a chance we could get plumbing, but it was always a little bit out of our reach.
"It's been real frustrating sometimes. I mean we've never gotten this close (to getting indoor plumbing), "he added, a look of uncertainty suddenly crossing his face. "Maybe it won't happen this time either, but me and the wife are awfully hopeful. Maybe this is really it."