The plan to discover the leak was not complicated. At least, on the surface. In fact, Kate thought it was simplicity itself. They would turn on the water, and see where it leaked the most. Easy, right?
It was true that when the water was on, the leaks seemed to be coming from the general vicinity of the sink. But in order to really look at the area around the sink, they had to pull out their dishwasher. And in pulling out the dishwasher, they had to turn the water off again, disconect the washer from the water pipe and make sure that the valve was off. So far so good. But what did they find when they turned the water on again? Not the leak. Instead, they had a fountain of water gushing out of the pipe that connected to the dishwasher. Kate yelled. Mister turned the water off again and came up to check things out.
"Did a lot of water come out?" he called as he bounded up the stairs to the main level.
"I'll say." Kate replied.
"Pretty big leak, huh?"
Kate couldn't suppress a chuckle. "Yes. Very big. Right through that pipe right there."
Mister groaned. Another faulty valve. Another run to Home Depot. Another several hours before actually getting to the root of the problem.
By the time he had the valve replaced and tested the water once more, Kate and Mister were both convinced that the leak was very near the kitchen sink, in the outside wall--which made since if it was a burst pipe due to the cold. But it was now after hours to call the plumber, and it was Friday. And Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which meant a long weekend. Normally that would be great news. But as much as Kate and Mister loved their running water, they didn't want to pay double the amount to have a plumber come replace a pipe on a weekend or holiday.
It was a long weekend, that's for sure. Kate and Mister invested in paper plates and cups from Target. They showered at Aunt and Uncle's place and did their laundry there. (Kate was grateful that they had washed all their clothes in Alaska before leaving!) And finally, when Tuesday arrived, Kate and Mister waited with great anticipation for the plumber's expected arrival at 10AM.
the crack in the pipe
He looked under the sink, cut a hole in the cabinet to reveal the pipes, and there it was: a split about half and inch long in one of the pipes. The plumber grabbed a blowtorch and some other tools from his van and in about 15 minutes, had everything ship-shape. Considering the drama involved in getting to this point, Kate felt that the fix was rather anticlimatic. Though the blowtorch was a good touch.
But no matter how anticlimatic, the Millers once again had running water. Kate and Mister kissed and hugged and danced around the kitchen (after the plumber left, of course.) And oh, what a dinner they had that night...on real plates, London broil and onions and squash! Running water (and both hot and cold at that!) was a wonderful, beautiful thing. At the time, Kate felt that she would never take it for granted again. (And in truth, it was a couple months before she did...)
It was very fortuitous that Mister still had a week left of his Christmas break. Originally it had been set aside to work on lesson plans, reading, and writing papers. But the morning after their arrival Mister went back into the basement to test the water, and when the leaks (which seemed to be slowing down and drying up) grew worse, he had a suspicion that much of the next few days would taken up with finding a leak and fixing it.
The leak itself wasn't surprising--it had, apparently, gotten extremely cold the week before the Millers arrived back from Alaska, and burst water pipes were a common occurrence. Surely it wouldn't be too complicated to find the source of the leak... (insert Darth Vader theme music)
Project number 1 and Problem number 1 came together...out of the wall. The water valves (yes, plural... and even the plumber had no explanation for why there were two!) were located in the wall, and when Mister turned them on, the water started gushing out all the open faucets and the drips in the ceiling above the basement. The problem, if that wasn't problem enough, was that the water valves chose that opportune time to break. They couldn't turn them off!
Mister dashed upstairs to find the county water supply phone number so they could come turn the water off. And Kate dashed downstairs to set pans and buckets underneath the increasing drips.
For the next hour, Mister all but paced back and forth as he waited for the water man to come and save their house from imminent flooding...which was all accomplished in due time. Project number 2 was accomplished the next morning, when the plumber was called to replace the valves with the more reliable and user-friendly quarter-turn valves. Problem number 2 came fast on its heels. When the plumber left, he wasn't able to turn on the water at the street--even though the Fairfax Water man assured Kate and Mister that he would be able to do so. So another call in to Fairfax Water, and another hour(+) wait...and another hour wait after the guy arrived and what did the man say when he knocked on the door?
Something reasonable would have been, "You're all set to go! Enjoy your water." But no, what Kate and Mister heard through their young and mostly reliable ears was, "I'm sorry, I wasn't able to turn it on. And now I have an emergency call, so I have to go. But I called another guy to come turn it on for you."
Confounding! That's what it was. It was like a bad joke: "How many plumbers does it take..."
Another hour later, the second man arrived. He investigated the problem for a while and then knocked on the door and told Mister that the water valve had been broken somehow. He would call out a team and they would have to replace the whole thing. As each hour passed, more people seemed to congregate on the sidewalk outside the Millers townhome. Around 7PM a huge truck appeared with and generator and bright lights, probably retired from a football stadium. At 9PM, Kate peeked outside and saw five men working on (and in) a large hole in their front yard, about 2 feet in diameter and at least 4 feet deep. There was mud everywhere. The wind was blowing, and it had started to snow or rain a little.
Kate felt a little sorry for them. But she couldn't keep out of her mind how strange the situation was. She felt like she was walking around inside a Peter Bogdonovich film, and any moment, someone would come along and accidentally spill blue paint over everyone, while another person poured cocktails from a thermos. Well, life is never boring, that's for sure! she thought.
That evening, she boiled some water (from the neighbors) and used it to wash their dishes in some disposable aluminum pans. Growing up in Alaska, Kate's family occasionally lost their running water for a time during an especially cold winter when their creek would freeze all the way to the bottom. It wasn't easy, but she knew what to do. It was like camping...only harder, since there was no running water. But at least there was heat and electricity for the refrigerator and freezer. Kate felt sure that if she had to pick between electricity and running water, she would pick electricity.
At 10PM the workers were done, the water was on...but off, because of the leak. Kate and Mister went to bed with a renewed hope that maybe the next morning they could make some progress in dealing with the actual leak.
For the first time in nearly four and a half years of marriage, Kate was glad to arrive back in Virginia after a long vacation. Not that Virginia was so wonderful...but traveling with a baby was much less restful than traveling without a baby. And the added benefits of bulky bouncers and various other baby accouterments were enough for her to feel some relief as they opened the door. Aunt had picked them up from the airport, as usual, and had once again surprised Kate with a ready-made meal for their dinner.
"You always do this!" Kate exclaimed when Aunt brought in a bag of food for them. "And it still always surprises me." She unpacked a delicious looking casserole, salad, some eggs and orange juice.
"That should keep you going until you can get to the store. I know that when you're gone a month, you don't come back to much."
"Mmmm! You're beautiful." Kate said, giving her another hug.
Kate felt tired and hungry and dirty and cold. And she knew beforehand that she would. But she also knew that this time, instead of arriving home at bedtime, they still had a few hours in the evening that they could use to get situated and cleaned up from their long overnight journey. She had purposely forgone a much-needed shower and opted to take a bath when they got to their place to warm up and get clean before going to bed.
Kate was also amazed to see that Teddy seemed even happier to be home than she was! Was it possible that he actually recognized his surroundings this early? It certainly seemed to be the case. She had laid him in his beloved bouncer and he was happily gurgling and smiling. Kate chuckled. At least one of us slept on those long flights! she thought.
While Kate was unpacking things in the kitchen, Mister had gone downstairs to check on things; and when Kate heard a sorrowful, "Oh no!" her heart sank and her eyes grew wide.
"What is it?" she called out, hoping it was just a large, disgusting insect.
Mister appeared back in the kitchen looking sober and discouraged. "There's water in the basement."
Water in the basement....Kate's pregnant brain must not have been working right. Is it some kind of code? Is water really so upsetting? Kate said the only reasonable thing.
"Not a lot, but it's leaking down from above, and there's a little standing water by the back wall."
All three ran downstairs. As she looked around, Kate felt defeated. They were home! And there was food... and time to enjoy it before bed. She sighed as she grabbed a mop and a bucket and let the beautiful vision of a relaxed first evening home vanish from her mind.
After Aunt left, Kate brought Teddy downstairs in his bouncer to watch the mopping and cleaning. Kate did feel a certain measure of thankfulness that they had turned the water off before they left and drained out a lot (though obviously not all) of the water. Otherwise, this disaster would be...more disastrous. She and Mister were eating between shifts of cleaning and phone calls. They were both tired beyond reasoning, so they decided to just clean up, set up fans, and let the room dry out. They'd worry about testing the water and trying to find the leak in the morning.
They crawled into bed early that evening, feeling wounded. Kate cuddled up to Mister and said, "You know, even without a bath. And no water. And a mess in the basement... It's still awfully nice to be home with you."
Kate staggered up the sledding hill, last in line, as usual. Her older brother, James turned 12 today, and he was having a sledding party, as usual. Four or five of his friends, and Kate, the little sister, tagging along...as usual. One of the friends, A.T., turned around and gave Kate a friendly brotherish smile.
"Hey Kate!" he said, "I bet if you stand on my shoulders, you could touch the power line!"
Kate looked at him as if he were deranged, and then she looked up at the power line. His suggestion sounded okay, but there was something seriously wrong with it. She looked at A.T. and shuddered at the thought of touching him enough to climb on his shoulders.
Kate and Mister climbed up the sledding hill, and Kate told story after story of different years and memories going up the hill both in the winter and the summer. The Big Hill, in fact, was part of a two-foot wide trail (more or less) leading up the mountain behind Kate's childhood home, but only the last quarter-mile or so was actually sledable. They hiked up to the top of the hill and tossed their sleds on the ground and sat on them for a rest. It was 2PM and the sky was alive with color. During this time of year, it seemed that the sun was always either rising or setting. It would keep setting for another hour, but even then, the snow would amplify the light enough to see for a while longer.
On their various trips to see their parents, both Kate and Mister had enjoyed reliving various childhood memories, some with more success than others. Mister had introduced her to a couple of his favorite computer games that he and his siblings enjoyed playing together. And he had taken her on walks and rambles around their property and neighborhood, pointing out favorite spots for forts, frisbee, sledding and hiking. Kate had introduced Mister to their favorite family movies, various hikes, games, and now, finally, The Big Hill.
As they sledded and hiked, Mister carried Teddy on his front, snuggly wrapped around him and zipped up underneath his coat. He was fast asleep almost as soon as they stepped out the door. They took turns, but Kate was slower and they talked whenever Mister would catch up behind her as they hiked back up the hill.
"So, what do you think?" Kate asked, grinning at Mister's snow covered beard.
"It's amazing!" he said enthusiastically. "We should come back again tomorrow!"
Kate laughed. "I'm so glad you like it. I was hoping you would...it's one of those childhood memories that you want to share and experience again, and you always hope that it will be just as good as it was 'way back when'." She stopped and turned around, looking at the hill, and the valley below, and the inlet beyond. She turned back to Mister and gave him a kiss. "Sharing it with you though, it's even better!"
"I know what you mean. Some things are better... but some things just aren't special anymore. It was fun to play Civilization in Colorado, but it wasn't as meaningful or special as it seemed when I was younger."
Kate nodded. "I think, as the kids grow up, it would be great to try to help them have childhood memories that they'll want to relive, and that will be meaningful and wonderful as they grow older. Obviously not everything can be like that, but it certainly seems worth thinking about."
They were at the top again. The trail was getting packed down and faster. Kate set her sled in the track they had made and shoved off. Down the hill, around the curves, she picked up speed and managed to avoid the sneaky angles leading into the trees. She gave a whoop and put one hand hard on the ground to steer around another fast corner. About halfway down the hill, she grabbed the sides of her sled and twisted hard to the side for a sledding "hockey stop". She looked behind her up the hill, she could hear Mister coming down the same fast section. But instead of seeing him, she heard a cry and the crunching of frozen branches. All she saw was his empty sled shoot straight into the trees by the upper part of the turn.
Her eyes went wide. "Dear?!" she cried. "Are you okay?" She waited for a moment and tried again. "Dear?! Hello?"
Teddy slept the whole time!
A brief wave of fear washed over her. Had he broken something? Had he hit his head? Had he landed on top of Teddy? She felt the frustration growing. Now WHO is injured and HOW much?! she wondered as she jumped up and started back up the trail to find her boys.
But Mister called out and forstalled any real panic. Everything was okay. He had merely glanced into a tree, but he and Teddy were both fine. They kept sledding for another half hour or so, relishing the warm weather (20 degrees is quite warm when you're all bundled up and continuously hiking up a mountain!), the crystillized snow, the colors of the sunset, and the fresh winter scent of the air.
Back at the house, they brushed off their snowy things and left them to dry in the entrway. As they began to change into dry clothes, Mister pulled off his sweatshirt and felt a strange obstruction near his elbow. He examined it, and called Kate over with and astonished, "Look at this!"
"Wow!" Kate said, impressed. "Is that where you hit the tree?"
the elbow (about a week later)
"I guess it must be!"
Mister had what appeared to be an extra elbow just down his forearm from the real one. A giant goose-egg, already turning colors. Kate breathed in sharply as she looked at it again, and closed her eyes in a brief moment of pure thankfulness that it hadn't been Teddy's head.
"That'll be a nasty bruise," she said, "but I'm so glad it's not broken and that you're both okay!"
"Yes, me too." Mister agreed heartily, and then hesitantly, "...do you want to go again tomorrow?"
"Now I told Papa and I'm telling you, that if something happens to me, he needs to marry someone who is friendly and who will keep him connected to his family!" Laurie Wills spoke with characteristic matter-of-factness.
"What?! What are you talking about?"
"If the surgery goes wrong..."
"Mama, the surgery is going to go fine...Papa's not doing anything!"
Kate went into the other room and looked at the mirror to check just how big her eyes had gotten in the last 20 seconds. For the patient, surgery on the spinal column was a big deal. For the surgeon, it was old hat, everyday, boring stuff. For the family...it was somehow both. Kate kept telling herself that everything was going to be fine, and fixing her mother's herniated disks were going to make her life so much better. But there's always that tiny percentile...the "almost never" that really just means "sometimes"...that something goes wrong. Kate shook her head and forced herself to think instead of the "almost always" that assured her, and Laurie too, that surgery would help her regain mobility in her neck and back and arms.
A little more than a day before the surgery, Kate and Crew had arrived in Alaska for a Christmasy visit. But since Laurie's surgery had been scheduled for the last day of December, the visit ended up being more to help out and take care of her while she was recovering. Kate didn't mind this less-festive agenda. In fact, she was grateful that the surgery had been scheduled for such a perfect time, when she and Mister could be there to help.
The night they arrived, Kate and Mister told the Wills their big news. There were the usual exclaimations. Again, thought Kate, very much like last year. But this year there was just a film of concern covering the joy of the moment. At first, Kate felt a little resentful--I know that it will be hard work having two little babies. I know I'll be tired. But I also know that God won't give us kids that He won't take care of. But then, after listening to her parents for a few moments more, she was chagrined as she realized what the real concern was. Laurie's desire to come and be helpful, to play with her grandkids, to be able to travel and cook and pick up the babies--they were all things she could not currently do, but maybe...if the surgery went just right...maybe. Laurie's surgery cast a shadow over the future, and New Year's Eve was eagerly awaited as the decisive day.
The day came and went. The surgeon performed beautifully. Laurie came through fine. And there was no more talk about finding someone friendly and family oriented for Kate's father to marry. Laurie came home the next day, and after a day or two of groggy confusion, began (slowly) sleeping better and gaining strength. Within the week, Laurie was able to set up pillows for support and hold her smiling grandson. Now when she mentioned Kate's new baby, it was with hope and joy, and usually coupled with plans for working diligently with the physical therapist.
Kate had a mission that first week in Alaska. Her goal was to make dinners, and make lots of extras so that each meal she made could be two extra meals for her parents when she left. Her dad took her shopping to Costco, and she loaded up with an ambitious amount of food. At home, she wrote out a list of potential meals, ingredients for them, and whether they needed to be cooked before they were frozen. A few days later, lasagna, chili, bacon-potato soup, chicken taco mix, broccoli casseroles, and a few others were safely labeled and stacked in the Wills' freezer. Kate crawled into bed in the afternoon and said, "I think I'm pregnant."
Mister, who was working on scholarship and grant applications, turned away from his computer and came over to the bed to cover up his wife. "I think you are too."
"Uhm...." Kate tried to think of a more powerful way to express how she felt. Something with the same heaviness and slowness and forceful emptiness. "I'm...really tired." No, that wasn't it. But that was the best she had.
"I don't want you to think about meals. Or Teddy. Or exercising. Or packing. Or anything. Right now, I just want you to go to sleep."
Kate looked at her man in awe. This was a real life hero. She smiled and closed her eyes.