So my father wants to know why my June column failed to mention him. “You always write about your mother in May,” he said.
“Not always,” I answered. But you know how it is: They’re divorced.
So, Dad, here’s a little something: Remember when I fell head over heels in love with a very old cottage? And you told me to have the pipes inspected before I bought it?
Well, I never told you, but a week after moving in, I was on my knees in the tiny bathroom, crying because the city sewer line backed up through the shower drain — something I didn’t even know was possible, and not one piece of me knew where to begin with the mortification, not to mention the cleanup.
“Cedar tree roots will dig their way into old, cracked plumbing,” is what the plumber eventually said. I felt ashamed for rushing into things.
But, as I said, I was in love. I’d walk out to the street and look back at my house, and it never failed to surprise me how much pride had formed.
It was a strange sensation, too, because, believe me, I did know I was clueless about all things maintenance. But, oddly, I felt enormously connected to the present in my house from the past, and that’s the funny thing about contradiction sometimes.
Still, I wasn’t able to turn my first setback into an amusing story to share with you then, Dad, handing my plumbing fiasco over with a plucky, little laugh.
Today, I come clean: “You were right, Dad. I was starry-eyed and impulsive.” And because I know what you really want to hear, “I should have listened to you.”
How does anyone face such a thing? It wasn’t like other messes; I couldn’t just close the door so I wouldn’t have to look at it until I was ready to take it on.
And let me remind you that I’d never changed a diaper in my life.
The first thought I had was that I would need to sell the house or just burn it down.
Where to begin? Wearing rain boots and manned with a spatula, a serving spoon, rolls and rolls of Bounty paper towels, I dove in.
This is the kind of task you undertake with whatever means you can summon, and as soon as you begin, you get this frightened feeling inside you, of how difficult it is and how long the chore will take. But still you’re in there swinging, and there is nothing else you can possibly do until the chore is complete.
There is no withholding from you that in the hours it took to buff my bathroom back into a space I recognized with even a morsel of the good, maternal feeling I once felt for it, that — were it possible to return my house like a pair of heels that don’t quite work once I get them home and try them on with the dress — I would have.
My father called in the middle of all this.
I heard you ask me how it was going, Dad. I didn’t pick up — I’m sorry.
I dragged three Hefty bags out to the curb. I decided not to wash off my boots — just to throw them in and seal the bag.
I thought about just forgetting about the bathroom. Maybe I’d dig an outhouse. It’s cheaper than paying a plumber. It could work.
All night I kept listening for noises from the bathroom, but all was quiet. And I was finally able to let go of my buyer’s remorse, or it finally let go of me. Either way, I slept.
Anyway, Happy Belated, Dad.
And, yes, you are (pretty much) always right.
MARY LOU SANELLI’s latest book is “Among Friends.” Visit her website: www.marylousanelli.com.