“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” i
Note to self: Things happen when Husband is traveling that do not happen when he’s home.
It is a maxim I developed long ago based on recurring experiences. I had temporarily forgotten it.
At a particularly ill-timed moment, I was about to get a refresher course.
Trent had flown off to Rome, Italy. A few days after he left, I realized I was no longer hearing the frequent gurgling of the sump pump in the basement. The sump pump is a standard requirement in certain parts of the country where rainfall is plentiful. Houses with basements need the pump to keep the basement dry. The pump sits in a pit, called a sump, and pumps out the ground water which continually accumulates. My half-conscious self had been acutely listening because Trent had worked on the pump hose before he left—and fixed it, he said.
Nevertheless, I went down to check.
During his trip, I was slated to drive myself to a writers’ conference in northwest Pennsylvania. I live in southwest Ohio. This was now two days before I was to leave. If I had not gone down, I could have avoided a multiplicity of ensuing problems that he would have taken care of once he returned. I could have driven away in blissful ignorance of what was happening in the basement.
Note to self: Avoidance of a potential emergency is probably not a viable option.
So. (Pregnant pause.) I went down to check.
Anyone familiar with such a situation will immediately realize that, without the pump operating properly, water will have flooded the basement.
I went back upstairs and googled “Sump pump not working.” To get it working, I read that I needed to pull the float and the pump up out of the water and restart the motor. The float needed to rest on top of the water. I had no idea how to do that, so I called my brother. I followed his instructions: pull up the pump, press the re-start button, put it back down into the deep, overflowing pit. It started! Water began slowly draining out of the hole.
Half an hour later, it stopped again. I went down, pulled it back out. Called my brother. Suddenly, he said, “You did unplug it first?” Well, no, that didn’t occur to me. I gathered from his reaction that I might have been electrocuted. “Unplug it—then pull it out, plug it back up, start it, then lower it back in the hole without touching the water!” Of course, I was already standing in water over my ankles, but I’d had the presence of mind to put on rubber boots. I followed his instructions, and it started.
It was a short-lived “whew.”
Trent called from Rome and heard my story. “Do you have hot water?”
I checked—no hot water. The pilot light for the hot water heater had gone out, due to the water which had flooded the basement. Now I needed to re-start the pilot light. He walked me through the steps and told me there were also instructions on the heater itself. Back down to the soggy basement, following instructions: Turn off pilot. Wait ten minutes to clear out remaining gas. Turn on pilot and click on the re-start button. No luck. Tried again, waited ten minutes. Repeated this action three times—do the math to calculate how much time I was spending.
At this point, the instructions on the heater, after a third failed attempt, were: Call a professional. I called my brother. His water heater was electric. “Call the gas company.”
I called the gas company. “We don’t come out for pilot lights. Call a plumber.”
It was too late to call the plumber that day. I called as early as possible the next morning and pleaded for mercy. I didn’t exactly wail, but he may have interpreted it that way. He came out within a few hours and was worth his weight in gold. So was his price. But by the end of that day, I had hot water and a new sump pump.
The morning dawned for my trip to Pennsylvania.
It was only to take me six hours or so, going by state routes, as I wanted to avoid the interstates.
I hope you noticed “or so.”
If you knew me well, you would know that I do not like driving. I drive where necessary, such as the grocery store. I drive only places I know how to get to. I was not born with a sense of direction—and I tend to turn the opposite direction in any given situation where directions are involved, including out a hotel room door.
You may be wondering why I was doing this.
Needing to calm myself that morning, after the two days just described and before a trip I was more or less dreading, I sat down at the kitchen table with a book of daily readings I’ve been using for that purpose for at least thirty years. Yet, I never recalled seeing the heading of that morning’s reading:
“DON’T THINK NOW, TAKE THE ROAD!” ii
I laughed out loud.
It was real laughter from my personal sump pump of pent-up emotions.
Even without reading the paragraphs that followed—which, of course, I did—I immediately recognized it as a message specifically for me and specifically for that day.
Who, indeed. Someone who knows me better than I know myself and knows my circumstances intimately. iii
It was with a much calmer sense—and joyful amusement—that I loaded the car, put the address in my GPS, and started off. But with every familiar mile, I was already looking forward to getting home again.
The rest of the story of that trip would take longer than you have to read it. Suffice it to say that the GPS quit talking to me for some mysterious reason, so I had to keep referring to it as it lay in my lap, a very bad idea. My cell phone lost charge, and I could not use it while it was plugged up to the USB port. At some point deep in northeast Ohio, not far from the Pennsylvania border, I realized I was going very fast—southwest. I had to drive through miles of twisty, forested road, knowing I was going the opposite direction but helpless to turn around. Then a driving rainstorm broke loose so heavily that my windshield wipers could not go fast enough.
All of my self-help devices had let me down.
I told myself this was my worst-case-scenario—when I realized that, of course, it wasn’t. That thought prompted me to be thankful. The morning’s affirming reading kept coming to mind. I could go on.
Finally, at the first sign of civilization, I stopped at a gas station. I said to the attendant behind the counter, “I appear to be lost.” I gave him my map, and he got out his phone. I said, “You find my route while I go to the restroom.” He did and set me straight.
The trip took me not six, but twelve hours.
I walked in late to the first meeting, facing a tiered university lecture-roomful of writers, authors, editors, and agents. But I was there.
After the meeting, I went to my room, plugged in my phone, and called my husband in Rome. It was 3AM in Italy, and he was frantic. He had tried to call me multiple times. He had also called our daughters, but they, of course, had not heard from me either, my phone being out of charge. Then I did call my daughter who, before I had a chance to speak, blurted out frantically, “Have you called Dad??!!”
But I was there. I could put off thinking about the return trip for a few days.
It was such a fun, informative, relational, and successful conference that I would do it again. I won some writing prizes. I got to talk to an agent. I made some new friends.
The return trip was uneventful: three hours to my nieces in northern Ohio for a couple of welcome days after the conference, three hours home. I practically kissed the familiar roads. An hour after arriving, I picked Trent up from the airport.
Note to self: Next time Husband leaves home, remember that the maxim is still in force. Remember, too, that even if your self-help devices fail, you have other help that really matters.
i Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat
ii Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
iii Psalm 139, the Bible