Is it normal to need things to worry about? For a while, I wondered if I’d depleted my reservoir -I mean apart from Covid, climate change, political upheavals, money, and the ravages of Age on my body and mind, I’d pretty well emptied the list. Of course maybe that’s to be expected; one uses things up if one sticks around long enough, I suppose. Nothing lasts for ever, including lists.
But it eventually occurred to me that my house has been around for a long time, too, and it has many of my peccadillos -co-evolution, perhaps. So, there must be some untapped resources therein to maintain a vigorous state of anxiety -any port in a storm, I guess. And in the spirit of Consequentialism, I decided it was worth looking into.
I had just finished flushing the ensuite toilet in the dark (don’t ask) when I realized I was finally on to something important, because, true to form (can you say that about a toilet?) it wouldn’t stop flushing. If I’m not attentive to its Umwelt, it digs its heels in sometimes, and occasionally the little plug-thing in the tank whose cover I rarely lift decides not to go gently into its good hole. I don’t know why that is; I’ve shortened and lengthened its chain, I’ve made sure the lever moves up and down; I even bought a new assembly that looked sort of like the old one, but it was no improvement. Stuff happens for a reason, though.
Like Goldilocks, I’m a just-right-baby-bear person, so I modified my flush technique: not too heavy a push on the handle’s downswing cycle, and not too light a relaxation on its upward trajectory. And then, for luck, I decided to add an extra half push or two to show it I was empathetic to its needs. Whatever, it seems to work. Of course, if I ever sold the house, I would have to put a helpful little crayon sign on the handle I suppose. I’m on well-water here, so a mistake could bankrupt all three toilets, the dishwasher and the washing machine. Not good for real estate agents. Not good for business.
And then, of course, there is (sorry, I should have used the past tense) was the hot tub -my pride and joy. Even if its heater was rather profligate on electricity, and even if I only used it for ten minutes a day, it was my reward, my sore labour’s bath. A few winters ago, however, I vacationed away for a month and the people who had volunteered to look after the house said they loved the tub –really loved the tub. There was a bit too much emphasis on the love part though, and when they started winking at each other I have to admit I became suspicious. When I investigated further, I realized I would have to spend hours trying to get the coloured wax from their candles off the tub ledges; and then there was the matter of the amorphous decaying things they’d shoved deep in between the adjacent cedar boards of the patio deck it sits on… Anyway, I decided to drain the tub if I ever went away again, and fill it when I got back.
I didn’t -refill it, that is; I left it empty, but covered it up to protect it from the winter. Later, in the spring when I could actually see the uncut grass in the fields out back, I gently lifted the now-heavy cover, only to find a couple of cute little bright green frogs, and several cold-looking, largely immobile slugs in the melt-water of the snow that had snuck in under the edges. I decided to leave it; it is still left.
But isn’t it interesting the number of problems you can find that are really only challenges? I remember a morning last December, for example. It was markedly cold outside -frost and ice cold- and I’d forgotten to leave the cupboard doors under the kitchen sink open to bask in what heat remained in the house overnight. So the pipes to the sink froze… Again! And no plumber I’ve consulted to solve the issue over the years has ever earned their hourly fee. Apparently I’d have to tear off much of the outside weathered cedar-shingled wall to get at the no-doubt also weathered old fashioned pipes and try to put a heat tape around them… Try…? Leaving the cupboard doors open seems cheaper. Fortunately, with Covid restrictions I didn’t have to justify my ersatz solution to anybody.
Of course, maybe my problem is that as I’ve aged, I no longer worry about these domestic issues as much as I used to. The house and I have grown more and more like each other, I think. Just as I create minor aches and pains by going for a long run in the woods, each night the house settles and creaks in the wind when I go to bed, and by the morning one or both of us have either forgotten there was a problem, or one of us has thought of a solution.
My son, who currently revels in the sure and certain knowledge of middle age, rolls his eyes whenever he comes over -well, at least that’s what he did in the pre-Covid world. He has been full of solutions ever since he turned 16 and got his driver’s licence. So, when he arrives, I let him get up on the roof and clean the leaves out of the gutters, or chainsaw and chop the wood from the trees that are always coming down somewhere on my 8 acre hobby farm. I want him to feel useful -preferably on things with which I no longer feel comfortable.
I’ve tried to convince him that my house, and I are slowly evolving together; we are both animals unto ourselves; in a way, we are related -we are friends, although I realize it will outlive me. I’m trying to get my son used to my old friend little by little.
And, much like the doe and her yearly batch of little fawns that I see eating the grass behind the house each spring and summer, I have to hope that my kids, too, will lead their children and their children’s children through the property and tell stories of how it was when they were little. How they used to have to watch where they stepped behind the house. How I used to spend hours removing the burrs from their clothing…
May they tread the patio boards with care, and treat the hot-tub frogs with respect. There’s more that makes a house than materials. I don’t want it to remain just an old-man’s house, but a place of legends, a repository of dreams. I know my house would like that.