Welcome to New York.
Crawling into my Moms place just after midnight,we promptly went to bed. The next morning we awoke to our suitcases needing to be unpacked. Sorting out a dozen people into a summer house is always a dirty job. It wasn't too long before one of the kids mentioned that "something might be wrong with the downstairs bathroom." Fred and I looked at one another horrified. He went to check the bathroom and sure enough the plumbing was backed up. I took a deep breath, packed the kids in the car leaving Andrew behind as the sacrificial lamb, and wished Fred good luck.
Fred can fix anything that can be fixed.
Six hours, two snakes, and a few bottles of drain-o later, the plumbing was still not working. Twenty years of marriage will teach you when your spouse is reaching their breaking point. Fred's was approaching quickly. I started calling local plumbers- number after number-no answer. I had a sneaky suspicion that the fourth of July holiday, and air-conditioned summer homes had something to do with it. I am all for roughing it,but its just not possible to have twelves people in one house with no working toilet. I even called the local hotel- booked solid, just like the plumbing.
Fred turned to me and said "Ellie, we may need to pack back up and head out." I asked him to give me a minute. He nodded. I walked upstairs into my parents old bedroom, sat down on the bed and looking up said a prayer, it was quick and to the point:
"Mom and Dad- I could REALLYYYYY use your help right now!If you're listening, can you find a way to sort this out for us? Thanks. Amen."
My Mom always told me she liked the way I prayed, she said it made her laugh as I reminded her of The Fiddler on the Roof- like God was completely within earshot at all times for me.
As I walked back down the stairs to tell my husband maybe he was right, and we should drive another six hours home, I found myself suddenly thinking of my cousin Bob. I certainly didn't have my address and phone book with me on this trip, but Fred did have his cell, and I might be able to get onto facebook if I could just get a small connection. Was this divine intervention? Via my atheist cousin?Maybe? Perhaps?
In another moment I had two bars and was signing into my account. I clicked on the tiny phone screen and found my cousins name quickly and began my message:
"Bob I need some help we r in Southampton got in last night. Plumbing backed up and Fred cannot fix . We are trying to get a plumber but r really stuck right now . Would it cause big problems to ask your mom if I could stay the night at roses grove if we cannot get it resolved? I know the house is closed up but Fred could easily get in if she said yes ?"
Roses Grove is the beautiful house my grandfather purchased over seventy years ago that first gave my Dad and his siblings and their future generations the Southampton bug. It is a family house largely unchanged over the years. Within moments came a reply:
I" will call her right now and explain the situation. She adores you and I'm sure it would be okay with her.
I'll get back to you ASAP."
Not ten minutes later came an official answer which taught me a lifetime worth of lessons on what it means to be family:
"My mother just said, "She's a Rogan! Of course!"
"She also said that you should look for blankets, etc. in the chest in the upstairs hall."
Later my Aunt Helen called to tell me she was sorry there wasn't anything in the fridge. What a spectacular lady my dad's twin is and all three of my cousins who checked in to see if we were all right. And so with a hope, and a few worries still tucked away, Fred and I packed the kids into the cars and drove a mile to the first house I ever fell in love with. The house was all locked up, and we didn't want to break any glass, so Fred had to be extra clever. I won't tell you how he was extra clever, or you might get the idea that you might also be extra clever, and try to sneak into boarded up houses.
Take it from me, you're not.
The house is still all original. It is beautiful to me in every way. It is old, and strong, and sturdy, and full of happy light memories. I went upstairs to set up a few bedrooms while my mind still troubled by thoughts like
"What if... someone breaks something?"
"What if... something gets wrecked?"
"What if... ( insert catastrophe here)?"
...Then suddenly I heard children laughing. I walked down the wooden staircase following the voices, into the living room, through the kitchen, and out the back screen door, where the clothes line hangs. My kids were all playing on the old rope swing, laughing like mad as they tried their hardest to steer one another past the tree it hung from. The image was all new as my children were in it, and yet as near and familiar to me as my own skin. I must have done that a thousand times as a kid. A smile broke across my face and every trace of worry disappeared. That laughter was what the house was for, I recalled. This was the place to be happy, and free, and play board games late into the night in the heat of summer, with only the mosquitoes and older-cheating-brothers to contend with.
This is summer.
This is family.
And for the rest of the evening as my older sons sat around the dining room table playing Settlers of Catan, and younger sons found an original copy of The Absent Minded Professor to watch, with my little girls were tucked into beds comfortably upstairs in a house their great-grandfather had loved enough to want for his family; I drank it all in. I walked in and out of each room looking at the furniture and the rugs, and the windows, and paint- feeling my parents and Aunts and Uncles, and cousins all with me, surrounding me happily, and it seemed I had stumbled for the moment on a small piece of heaven. I swam in the memories.
I slept happily-and easily that night.
Next morning Fred contacted a plumber, and with the right equipment we were back in business in no time at all. Ten kids doesn't give you the luxury to linger very much, and so I left that wonderful hous as quickly as I had come. But those memories were, and are magical to me.They are with me now. It was like walking into yesterday and getting a second chance at it.
I have never been so grateful for broken down plumbing in all my life.