2009 – Mother’s Always Right, or, They Don’t Make Things How They Used To

cornucopiaThere are some years that I dread that passing of Thanksgiving, for I know that once we have finished our feast it will be time to sit down at last to write the Holiday Letter. For weeks before Thanksgiving, I’ll contemplate the years’ events, trying to think of an amusing anecdote with which to regale you, gentle reader, over the holiday season. And then there are some years when the story is served up to me on a silver platter, heavily laden with all manner of delights.

As with so many good stories, this one begins, not with “Once upon a time”, but with “So, my parents came for a visit.” This October, my parents drove to California to spend a week with us. After several days on the road, eating in restaurants specializing in the fried oeuvre, we decided a Big Salad sounded good for dinner on their third day here. While purchasing the needed greenery from the store, my mom also decided to get vegetables for a soup she planned to make for her lunches throughout the week.

She and I stood in the kitchen, peeling and dicing the vast array of veggies, until we had created quite a debris field in front of us. As I continued to work, my mother began loading the peelings into the kitchen sink, equipped with its magical garbage disposal. Now, my mother has never had a garbage disposal. I turned from my work at the counter as she began to run the disposal, putting it to work on the chunks of carrot she had placed in the sink. I looked at her skeptically, and commented that we usually threw most of the vegetable remains away and only used the disposal for the random pieces of cucumber peel and other soft material that had fallen into the sink. She reassured me that she knew what she was doing, stating “I was taught how to do this by a rich lady I used to baby sit for when I was a kid.”

As she continued to run the disposal, the larger chunks started rattling around, shaking the sink like an unbalanced washing machine. She looked at me and asked, a bit too late, “Am I doing it right?”

At this point, we noticed the water she had started running was not draining very quickly. The disposal had finally worked its way through its large meal, continuing to run and whir, but the water was rising in the sink, the few remaining morsels floating peacefully in the current.

Steve was resting in the back of the house after a long morning at WildCare, while my dad was sitting in the living room working on his computer. My mom crept to the kitchen door and whispered “Barkie?”

No response, so a little louder: “I’m in trouble.”

Louder and sharper still: “Barkie.”

Finally a quick bark: “Walter!”

This jolted my dad to his feet; he came into the kitchen, where my mom explained that she had, possibly, clogged the sink. Heaving a deep sigh, my dad assessed the situation. After trying various methods of running the disposal and filling the sink with hot water, he had me get the plunger. We all clustered around the sink, working as quickly and quietly as possible.

After one particularly vigorous round of plunging, we tested the disposal and a geyser erupted, spraying water and sink debris high into the air and down around us. A stream of profanities issued forth from my mild-mannered father. To which I said, “It’s in my hair, I don’t know what you’re complaining about.”

Finally, the clog released, the water drained, and the choirs sang Hallelujah! Running hot water into the sink for several minutes, we agreed that there was really no need to tell Steve about this close call and my mother breathed a sigh of relief.

Oh, but you know that can’t be the end. Like the sci-fi movie in which the hero tries to get back to Earth in the first 30 minutes, you know the plan is doomed to fail. After all, there’s another 90 minutes of the movie.
As the kitchen sink drained the next evening, I noticed a glugging sound coming from the laundry room. It ended quickly and no further disruptions occurred so I let the noise pass without comment. However, the next morning, as water rose around me in the shower, it became clear there was still a problem.

Later in the afternoon I pulled my mom into the laundry room and had her listen as I recreated the strange noise. As I was telling her about the slow shower drain, I noticed that my dad had snuck up behind us and overheard the situation. Oh well, we were going to need his help anyway. The clog had coalesced at an undetermined location further down the pipe.

Throughout the afternoon, we tried to figure out to which section of pipe the clog had moved. We pulled a hose inside to the laundry room and ran water directly into the outflow. That went fine, so we filled the washing machine with a small amount of water; the pipe quickly overflowed. I knew Steve had a drain snake, but we were unable to locate it; instead we grabbed wire cutters and fashioned a poking stick out of a coat hanger to try and dislodge the clog should it be somewhere close to the washing machine… Failure!

Meanwhile, my mom was commenting that we had run the washing machine on Sunday night with no problem, and the shower drained fine on Monday, so, she wondered, was it possible this might not be her fault? Could it just be the biggest coincidence in the history of plumbing?

Finally, we brought the plunger to the bathtub and tried to free the drain there. Again, nothing worked. It was time to consider the unthinkable. We were going to have to tell Steve when he got home from work.

As we were finishing dinner, my mother calmly started to explain to Steve about the rich lady with the industrial-strength garbage disposal, and about how we had freed the drain on Sunday night, and things were working fine until Tuesday morning, so maybe, just maybe, this problem was somehow unrelated to her actions. Steve looked at me and asked, “Is that why the shower drained so slowly this morning?”

Without another word, Steve got up and walked out the front door. After a few minutes, my mom looked at me and asked where Steve had gone. I replied, “Well, he has either gone out to get some tools or he has decided to leave.”

Fortunately, Steve returned to the house with the drain snake we had tried to locate earlier in the day and headed back to the bathroom. My dad quickly followed to help. After a few minutes, I went too, and my mom snuck in behind me.

vegFor the next 30 minutes, we plunged the bathtub drain with all our might. Steve set my mom and dad up sealing other pipe access points in order to create a vacuum, he bent over the tub creating a seal around the overflow drain with a piece of rubber, and I hovered over him in a full-body plunge. The water still wasn’t draining, but the clog finally moved up the pipe right to the bathtub drain. As I began picking chunks of carrot, cucumber peels, and whole leaves of lettuce from the bathtub drain, it became impossible for my mother to continue questioning the nature of cause and effect.

With one final energetic round of plunging, the clog released and the water flowed. And I began composing the holiday letter.

As for the rest of it. . .

I am still the law librarian in the Palo Alto office of Townsend & Townsend & Crew. The research projects have continued to grow in complexity, which is just how I like it. I remain active in the local chapter of the Special Libraries Association, serving as both the Secretary and the Government Relations Chair.

Steve is senior development lead for the Collaboration Services group in Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit. He still does lighting design for a local community theatre, and I continue to assist and remind him to be careful as he swings around on the ladder.

Cassady, Ezra, Elsa, and H.B. continue in good health. In spite of his senior status at 13 years, Ezra acts like a frat boy, wrestling and making leaps meant for a younger kitty. Every so often we’ll see him limping, but we just keep an eye on him for a day and it always goes away. Kind of like Steve after a day spent hanging lights at the theatre.

We continue to volunteer at WildCare, spending our Sunday mornings in the Clinic and providing foster care in an enclosure at our home for orphaned baby raccoons. Last year, we released a group of raccoons near a volunteer’s house, allowing us to provide a “supported release” – with supplemental food being left for a week or so as they got the lay of the land – rather than the “hard release” dump-and-leave we usually have to do. The volunteer’s creek bed became their territory and the group stayed together for several months. While the individuals are not seen together en masse anymore, they all still pass through the area from time to time, and we were thrilled to hear that two of the females had litters this summer. We do not often get post-release updates, and it is wonderful to know that these raccoons have survived and thrived in their first year in the wild.

If you want to keep up with us throughout the year, I continue my infrequent blogging at Adventures of a Midwestern Girl in Sunny, Sunny California (www.midwesterngirl.com). Steve and I can also be found on FaceBook and Twitter.

Wishing you and your families a wonderful holiday season and peace in the New Year.