Friday, October 14, 2016

The treasure in Mom's home repair.

Mom's sprinklers stopped working. The California sun quickly turned the green lawn into parched dirt.

Now my eighty-three-year-old mother has to fight with the hose and risk a fall, just to water her dirt.

I soon got a call about fixing the sprinklers.

The thought of repairing the sprinklers, and specifically, of returning to the house where I grew up, depressed me. That house was full of ghosts, memories of a wild, smothering childhood. Sometimes I got ill when I visited.

But, to the sun-baked, stucco tract house, I went.

The first day I spent tearing out the old control box for the sprinklers. It was wired into the same 1956
electrical receptacle as the refrigerator, the coffee maker, the radio, the toaster and the blender.

While I stood in the flower bed and twisted wires together, memories of my sisters and I ran about, shouting and waiting for the ice cream man, rushing to swim in a neighbor's pool. And a memory of me sat across the way, parked on the dark street with my first date. 'Working on the night moves....'

Night moves? Well, that's what I like to believe. But actually, I was too nervous to move.

When I finished the control box, I reached into the hole where the sprinkler shut off valve is located. When I turned the valve I felt it break. It would not turn off.

An easy replacement of an anti siphon valve, just turned into 'Mega job.'

I would not be able to quickly escape the memories and mistakes that house represented. I thought about a neighbor boy and I hiding in the garage, terrorizing the house across the street by shooting bb's at their screen door. We were great snipers!

How we laughed, hiding and covering our mouths, each time the bb struck and the woman rushed to the door to see who was bothering her.

I went inside and found my mom sitting at the kitchen table, leaning over a book, a clothes pin holding the pages open. A stack of books stood on the table beside her.

The options were few, and I explained each. She decided to replace thee broken valve with a quality brass valve.

Yep, "we'd replace the valve." That meant me digging up the dirt with a pick axe, and her reading, all cozy with warm tea and toast spread with jam.

I did moan and gripe a bit. But as I have aged I've managed to put things into perspective. I thought about my mom, and how she devoted her life to her family, and worked in a male-dominated field every day, then came home and studied, earning eventually, a masters degree and far better pay for her family. She took my sisters and I from the projects to a safe, clean home, with a yard.

That was why I was repairing her sprinklers.

For years I fought against the house and the memories. I imagined them being terrible. And for years I traveled the world. In new places there is only possibility. I was not shoved into the box of what people remember about me.

As I sat in the dirt, my hands muddy, spreading pvc glue on white pipe, I realized that at some point over the years I shifted the way I thought about the house.

I even laughed as I wiped my hands on a rag, because I wondered if that was what it meant to truly grow up. My beliefs about this house were formed when I was a child. My adult, however, reevaluated and allowed me laugh about the whole thing. Mostly.

After about ten trips to the hardware store, I finished the sprinklers and shoveled dirt back into the holes, removed the top from each pop up sprinkler head and cleaned it.

Mom stood in the sun, her bare feet on the walkway, and shaded her eyes as I demonstrated the watering system, spraying water over her dead lawn, which would soon be growing back to its former glory.

She clapped and laughed.

Inside the house she presented me with a bag of books to return to the library. Together we drove there, and I held her hand as we walked up the walkway. I was free.