Tuesday, November 30, 2010

System failure

Saturday, a delayed Thanksgiving. A house full of family, with a friend or two tossed in for seasoning. Great  smells in the kitchen as every pot and pan in the battery is brought into play for the grandest meal of the year. Dueling cooks bumping into each other. (Sips of this and that, of course.) Serving platters and bowls being rolled into service as mouths water and we gather ourselves to make the gradual move to the end-to-end tables set up in the dining room.

Then, from a wandering soul interested in the underpinnings of 18th Century New England houses, “Hey, there’s a leak down here.” And indeed there is. A waste pipe is cracked, and water is flowing over boxes full of old financial records, onto the floor of the cellar. Urgent call to plumber, and the water slows to a trickle as faucets are closed and most of us sit for the meal. I consult below with Wayne, who does his best for nearly an hour but admits defeat. The problem isn’t just that the very old pipe is cracked, it’s that the line is plugged, and his snake is too small to handle the job. We need stronger medicine. As he packs up, he hands me the phone number for American Rooter.


Short break at the table before Rooter Man appears, to bump his magic mechanism laboriously down the long stone stairway and we begin again. Rootings, interspersed with two more brief moments attacking my plate, and increasingly earnest chats with Justin as he begins to realize he isn’t the answer either. “I’m pretty sure your septic tank is full and it’s just backing up,” he says. Magic words on Thanksgiving, with a dining room full of banqueting house guests.

I am befuddled. The tank is serviced on a conservative schedule.* Nonetheless, an urgent call goes out to the septic company. But it’s Saturday evening by now, and we get no callback from their emergency contact system. (I learn Monday that “sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”) We’re left high and dry. Very dry: No showers. No dish washing. No flushing. We’re lucky to have one toilet and small bathroom sink that drain into a different tank, but that’s it for eight adults and a two-year-old.

A, clearly understanding the priorities of the situation, washes the wine glasses in the bathroom sink, thereby confirming yet again that my daughter married the right man. Paul carries what seems like dozens of laundry-basket loads of dirty dishes and greasy pots and pans across the yard to wash in his kitchen. Everyone acts with heroic aplomb.

Much to my surprise, people don’t bolt first thing Sunday morning, leaving  just a streak of rubber and a whiff of exhaust smoke in our driveway, and we have a remarkably cheery few hours through breakfast and lunch before they have to depart. I’m grateful for this kindness, but can repay it only weakly as they leave: Kiss, kiss. Hug, hug. Shake, shake. Wonderful to have seen you all. Come back when we can offer you a shower and a place to pee.




* And this turns out not actually have been the problem. The old cast iron pipes carrying material out of the tank and into the septic field had lived their useful life and chose the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend as their end date. As I sit here writing this on Tuesday, I can see that the septic guys are just finishing up with their backhoe, which has cleared, not only the system but, inevitably, much of the garden. (They actually moved and replanted a holly bush for us—twice, since my first idea was not so hot.) And Wayne’s back in the cellar, replacing that cracked pipe. So be assured that when you visit I now can offer you a shower and a place to pee. Wine glasses are never an issue.



4 comments:

Lou and Phyllis LaBorwit said...

Emergency handled with New England calmness.

On the positive side, what a great story to tell at future Thanksgivings!

We are well and hope to see you in Scotland once again.
Lou and Phyllis

Mark Alvarez said...

Hi, Lou and Phyll. Glad things are going well. You know, it was exactly that thought (“this is going to be a really funny story someday”) that kept me from running upstairs and hiding in my closet.

Scotland’s always on my mind. See you there in 2012, I hope.

Katherine said...

We all STILL had a wonderful time!

Mark Alvarez said...

You are a kind woman, Kate!