Tag Archives: Home Repairs

Courage at Twilight: Moving Pieces

Mom and I started a puzzle. 500 pieces.  It came in the gift basket delivered by the caroling young women from church.  It is a pretty puzzle of a nature scene, in the mountains, tinged with the scarlets of early fall.  Warm and pleasant, a reassurance during our freezing dirty-snow urban winter.  Mom separated out the edge pieces and starting making matches.  I managed to frame the border during a Father Dowling mystery episode (which I handle so much better than NCIS for the 1990s absence of violence and gore).  During a dinner of creamy chicken vegetable soup, Dad obsessed about the bitter cold and how during their first winter here 24 years ago a pipe burst in the basement for lack of insulation (the contractor’s helper had run out of insulation and had left the pipe exposed and the contractor now had to come back and fix the pipe and fix the ceiling and fix the wall, plus add the insulation that would have prevented the whole disaster) and how this year he did not have the strength to wrap the house hose bibs like he has done every year before and how they were exposed and how he hoped they would not freeze and crack and he wondered how far into the house zero degrees could penetrate and could zero degrees reach the basement pipes and burst them again?  Seeing no point in discussing the matter, I dressed in a heavy coat, strapped on a headlamp, and left the house armed with a stack of thick rags, plastic shopping bags, and neon-green duct tape, trapsing through deep snow to wrap the faucets—we all hoped this precaution would be sufficient, noting that the faucets were already anti-freeze hose bibs.  “You have set my troubled mind at ease,” Dad smiled thankfully.  Needing to rise at six the next morning, I said good-night at ten and bent to bed.  But I often wake at 12:30 in the morning to the sounds of Dad’s effort to transfer from the stair lift to the wheelchair, and Mom’s efforts, in her long cotton nightgown, to push the chair to the bed, Dad helping what little he can, and their talking, and sometimes their bickering over him issuing instructions she was already following.  I can tell from the tone if my help is needed, when I throw on my bathrobe and respond.  So long as he maintains his night-owl lifestyle (granted, he no longer reads until three in the morning), I cannot be the one to help him get to bed.  A routine of caregiving until 1:00 a.m. then rising at 6:00 a.m. daily would destroy me, probably in only two days’ time.  Thankfully, the CNA assists Dad in the mornings after I have left for work.  She knows to use the wheelchair to get Dad from the bed to the shower, to use the heavy-duty seated-walker to get him dried off and to the couch for dressing and to the stair lift to descend for breakfast and a day’s reading.  That is what he can do: read and read and read.  And too quickly the time comes to prepare another dinner worthy of them and the legacy they leave, perhaps lemon chicken on a bed of pesto couscous, or Hawaiian chicken on a couch of coconut rice (my favorite), or stewed spicy chicken and dirty rice, or, on occasion, beef franks sliced into canned pork and beans.  The puzzle beckons after dinner is cleaned up.  I stare at 500 unconnected pieces, feeling totally intimidated, knowing I can never find two matching pieces in that chaotic morass of 500, then somehow forming the border and slowly fitting together the interior, until the puzzle is done, and I am astonished and wondering how it happened.  So many pieces.  So many moving pieces.

Courage at Twilight: Things Break

“I’m cold,” I heard Dad protest to Mom, who suggested he put on something warm.  I retrieved his sweatshirt from his office/bedroom and helped him find the arms.  Mom draped a crocheted blanket over him.  Normally, Dad, when cold, would ask the leading rhetorical question, “Should we turn on the fireplace?”  But the fireplace quit, despite the pilot light still burning—I was glad I smelled no gas—so we guessed a bad switch.  Out of fear of dying unpleasantly, I do not tinker with gas plumbing or electrical wiring, so we called Adam’s HVAC, who can come in two weeks.  Warmed up and growing hot, Dad cast off his blanket and shuffled to his office to write an email to a grandchild.  Sitting in his office chair, it suddenly sank on failed hydraulics to its lowest setting, and he could not get up from the chair without help, and I could not repair the chair.  While I baked cored apples filled with brown sugar, Splenda, and butter last week, I noticed the oven not heating well, and saw a molten metal bubble forming on the element.  When the box from Amazon came, I switched the breaker to “off” (that I will do) and installed the new element, though the old wiring needed coaxing to fit the new leads.  And I twisted and bent my glasses, because I put them on my bed and sat on them squarely.  Things break.  Sometimes they can be fixed.  Dad’s new physical therapist, Jerry, came one evening with his New Zealand speak to do therapy, and I learned why therapists order, “Up up up!” when having Dad stand, so that he engages his hip flexors and quadriceps so he can stand tall and take full steps and not a mere forward-leaning controlled-fall shuffle.  Jerry was gentle and patient and caring—I am always grateful for gentle, patient, caring people, in any profession.  But later Dad complained to me about how weak he was, that this was his worst day since he left the rehab center a month ago.  Such pronouncements sag my spirits, and I fret over any number of imagined impending crises.  Yeah, things break.  I pushed Dad in his wheelchair into the chapel Sunday morning—we were late, and I felt unhappy about being late—and Dad waved like teen royalty on a parade float as many congregants waved and smiled at him as we rolled down the aisle to the front handicapped pew.  If his legs will not work, the wheelchair works wonderfully well.  But I did not wave or smile—I was just the driver.  My mayor’s mother passed away unexpectedly from a random blood clot lodged in her heart, and I expressed my genuine condolences with a little ornamental pepper plant looking like a bonsai Christmas tree with tiny red lights.  I had known my boss’ mother, enjoyed meals and jokes, and I liked her and felt sad she was gone.  Old people go, frequently, and I came home that night with renewed gratitude for my parents, an increased measure of tenderness and patience, for they are sweet and loving and generous, and I have them still.  Things break, and we fix them, when we can, and continue onward.

Courage at Twilight: A Straight Hedge

“I’ll tell you what’s on my list,” Dad announced.  (1) He wanted to mix a few tablespoons of cement to fill the cracks where mortar had fallen out of the brick mailbox pedestal when it capsized.  (2) He wanted to trim new growth from the juniper hedge where the twenty-foot-tall trees, covered in powder-blue berries, had begun to infringe on the public sidewalk.  (3) He wanted to hoe the remaining weeds out of the flower garden—the deep-rooted entwining morning glory grows a foot a day.  (4) He wanted to clean the sidewalks of dust and sticks and leaves with his two-stroke blower.  “I’m not saying these jobs are for you,” he insisted.  “I’m just telling you my job list for myself.”  Of course, I knew his body would balk at these jobs, except maybe the mortar.  With a free hour, I went to work with the DeWalt hedge trimmer and carefully, slowly, carved a clean new vertical line against the sidewalk edge, taking care not to leave bulges and not to carve out concave curves.  My critical eye searched out and eliminated defects Dad might detect.  The aromatic trimmings filled a thirty-gallon garbage can.  A smiling walker came along just as I finished the job, and she thanked me.  Then the hoeing and weeding and sweeping and blowing.  Dad, meanwhile, set to on the mortar.  An overturned garbage can served as a stable palette for mixing mortar, a camp chair his painter’s seat, and the grass his paint box with the tools and ingredients arranged.  He mixed and scraped and mortared and rubbed, perfectly able and happy to do the job, and I did not hover, though I admit to watching from my upstairs office, writing.  The new mailbox is in, though Burke had to cut off the back, remove a two-inch ring, then reattach the two pieces of the box with duct tape to insert into the hole.  The old capstone is sledged to pieces and in the city garbage cans, and the new stone installed.  Dad finished the job and sat long in the sun, slathered with SP100, gathering strength for the great labor of standing up from a chair.  I checked the hedge again today just to make sure it was still straight, and exhaled my relief.  In the flower bed, three little ice plants had surfaced, having survived last month’s ice plant purge.  These I transplanted to two orange crocks, where they immediately set to blooming, and I cannot wait until they spread and overtop the rims and cast their bright blooms to the sun.  The blooms begin close as the sun begins to set and the sky dusks.  Excuse me for a moment: I can see Dad needs my help getting up from his chair at the curb.

Dad filling chinks with fresh cement.

 

Rescued ice plants that make me very happy.

Courage at Twilight: Handyman Gabe

Gabe came over on Saturday just as I was rolling out the pie crust dough for quiche shells. He watched me roll the dough onto the rolling pin, unroll it over the quiche pan, and tuck the dough carefully down into the pan.  “I want to bake!” he declared.  “I want to bake banana chocolate chip muffins—with you, Uncle Roger!” like we had done once before.  “I get the bananas!”  No matter how cheerily bright his eyes shone, I could not pivot to baking with him after spending an hour mixing and shaping the dough, and preparing the quiche mix.  And the raw shells had to go into the preheated oven, right now, for seven minutes filled with aluminum foil and ceramic baking beads, and three more minutes without.  He retrieved a green mixing bowl and placed it on the counter, letting me know he was ready.  “Nope,” I begged off, empty of patience and tact.  “I’m not starting another baking project.”  Gabe looked crestfallen.  “But look at all this extra pie dough,” I offered him a ray of hope.  “We can make cinnamon pie-crust cookies.”  I showed him how to roll some of the buttery dough into a ball, press the ball onto the cookie sheet, and poke a depression into the cookie with his thumb, followed with a spoonful of Dad’s cinnamon-Splenda mix.  Gabe was a pro, and soon had most of the dough formed into cookies, which we baked after the quiche shells came out slightly browned, partially baked—they would compete their bake with the ham, cheese, egg, and cream filling.  When I had arranged the hot finished cookies on a plate, Gabe ran up expectantly for one.  “Nope,” I stopped him.  “Before you eat a cookie, you need to take this plate and serve everyone else a cookie.”  The four-year-old, surprised by this important responsibility, took the plate first to Mom, then to Dad—Gabe’s great-grandparents—inviting them to take and taste one of his cookies.  He looked enormously proud and pleased.  The cookies were quickly consumed, and he brought me the empty plate, wearing a big smile.  “Good job,” I praised.  “Now, come with me—I have another job for you.”  Dad had purchased a new showerhead, and had asked me to install it.  Gabe carried the crescent wrench up the stairs into the bathroom, while I talked him through how to change a showerhead.  I removed the broken showerhead and hose, and told him they needed to be thrown away.  “Can I throw them away?!” he asked hopefully.  The deed happily done, I hoisted Gabe up in my left arm, joining my right hand with his small hands to thread on the new showerhead, over a strip of Teflon tape wrapped tight.  “Turn it good and tight,” I instructed, and he did.  I turned the water on, and Gabe pressed his face against the glass where the water pounded.  “Now, go tell Grandpa.”  Gabe raced down the stairs and reported to Dad that the he had thrown Dad’s old showerhead away and put the new one on—and it worked!  I felt pleased at his sense of accomplishment.  “What are we going to do with the rest of the pie dough?” I asked him.  “Do you want to make a strawberry pie?”  He nodded eagerly, and I helped him shape and roll the dough.  His dad helped him spoon strawberry jam into the center of the circle, then bring one side of the dough over the jam to form a semicircular turnover.  I sealed the edges with fork tines, and slid Gabe’s pie into the oven.  When the turnover came out, nicely browned, Gabe glowed.  He let his pie cool, then cut it and took pieces to Mom and Dad, and Sarah and Tracy, who raved and praised, much to Gabe’s delight.  “You did a lot today, Gabe,” I reminded.  “You made cinnamon pie crust cookies, you put on a new showerhead for Grandpa, and you baked a strawberry pie!”  “Thank you, Uncle Roger,” he sighed, self-satisfied, knowing he had learned important new skills.  “Next time,” I offered, “let’s bake banana chocolate-chip muffins.”

(Pictured above: Gabe’s strawberry pie.)

Courage at Twilight: A Snake in the Bowl

Water covered the floor of the tiny half-bath, overflowing from the bowl.  Dad had bailed and bailed to fill a five-gallon bucket, and had plunged and plunged until he was spent.  “Don’t go in there,” he commanded Mom and me from his recliner.  “I am going to fix it.”  We acceded, but I drove to Lowe’s for a coiled plumbing snake.  He tried and tried to feed the snake into the fixture, but it kept flopping incorrigibly out.  Finally, he called to me, unable to rise from his knees, with nothing for leverage but the bowl.  I wrapped my arms around his big chest and hoisted until he was vertical.  “Dad, let me try,” I offered.  “This is my home now, too, and I am part of the family.”  He consented reluctantly from his convalescence.  I struggled and struggled with that incorrigible splashing snake.  The coil advanced no more than a few inches during 30 minutes of effort.  I did not do anything Dad had not already done, but the water abruptly drained from the bowl, and I was able to pour in the five gallons of blackwater.  How nice it was to flush and watch the water swirl down, rather than up and over the brim.  We cleaned and disinfected the toilet and the floor, and then the bucket and even the snake.  We both hope to never need that belligerent snake again, but have found a place for it in the garage, just in case.

(Reader, please do NOT bring up this episode with Dad.  My life and happiness depend upon it.)

Courage at Twilight: Time for a New Roof

After the big rains, a prodigious paint bulge in the vaulted ceiling plus rain gutters filled with shingle grit prompted a roof inspection, and revealed the need for a new roof. A herd of elephants, it seemed, started tromping overhead at 6:00 a.m., shoveling the 25-year-old shingles to the ground and driveway dumpster below.  Somehow Dad managed to sleep through the racket—not Mom and me.  The crew covered the curtilage with tarps, protecting the bushes and shrubs, and catching shingles and nails.  The sun heated the tarps to such a degree that they burnt to brown the tops of every bush—Dad cut off the dead tops with his electric hedge trimmer.  Mom and Dad instructed the roofers remove the old, ineffectual attic vents and fan, which they replaced with a ridgeline vent that looks like thicker shingles.  The job was done in a single long day.  The vent requires cutting an inch or two in the ridgeline plywood—the vent would not work without it.  I poked my head into the attic to verify the cut was there—it was.  Not thinking to wear a mask, my throat scratched for hours with insulation dust.  Years before, Dad had installed a heat cable to prevent ice buildup on the eves.  The roofers tore off and threw away the heat cable with the old shingles, except for two downspout heating elements left dangling from their outlets.  The roofing company manager said he would have a new cable installed before Dad paid the bill.  I was worried about the company taking advantage of my elderly parents, but the cost was in line with what the neighbors paid for their new roof.  Now we can get the paint bubble repaired.  Mom and Dad are proud of their home and have worked hard to keep it in excellent condition.  They have faced life together in this home, and overcome.  Here they have gathered their posterity to celebrate and mourn and strengthen.  Sometimes, in the evening, we dawdle around to admire the beautiful yard.  Sometimes we sit in the driveway watching the sun set and waving at the neighbors walking by with their dogs.  Sometimes we sit on the back patio and stare at the imposing Wasatch mountains, where the mountain maple and gambel oak leaves are turning red.  And we listen to the crimson-headed finches sing.

Courage at Twilight: Thoughts about Marriage

I have been thinking about marriage, that it is perhaps the most challenging of all human relationships.  There is so much at stake, from our personal happiness, our financial security, our sense of place and purpose in the world, to our having a posterity to love and be loved by.  Marriage is at once difficult and instructional.  Marriage requires consecration and sacrifice, a constant negotiation toward a healthy and fluid balance of power, a vigilance for the welfare of another over the self, and a give-all commitment by both partners to the covenantal promise.  I have been thinking that no relationship will teach us more about how to be human, and how to be divine.  In marriage is the likelihood of experiencing life’s greatest pains of spirit and mind, and the possibility of life’s greatest joys, and very probably both.  I think marriage generally works either to wonderful or to catastrophic effect.  I have observed many successful and failed marriages, but none so carefully as Mom’s and Dad’s marriage, now in its 60th year.  They shoulder every burden together.  They discuss every problem and plan and posterity.  They cry and plan and laugh and laugh.  They are not two identical halves, by any means, but two congruent complementary components forming an entity complete.  Dad does most of the talking, and Mom all the needlepoint.  Dad calls “Lucille” throughout the day, telling her his every thought and impression.  Mom at times snaps in exasperation, then rebounds with affectionate pats on his hand.  Though my own marriage experience cannot emulate theirs, still I feel proud of my parents for sticking with it, for keeping the covenant, for showing the way.  For my own part, the continuing opportunity is to keep my covenant with God, with my children, and with the broader family, and to lead a purposeful, contributing life.  That is sufficient.