Amateur Plumbing


This is a term that should strike terror in the hearts of all first world residents.  I have the greatest respect for all tradesmen and manual workers and garbage men are practically angels in my estimation.  Plumbers are the mainstay of western civilization, really!  So when I returned from a wonderful vacation in Brazil with my dearheart and we found some “problems” with the water supply, my heart sank to my flip-flops. There were several problems.  It seems that the little house in the country was not impressed with being left behind when we fled south of the equator during the nastiest couple of weeks of winter.  The first problem was with pressure.  This dear little house sits on a gentle slope of the Canadian Shield and the business end of much of the plumbing is in a crawl space.  Our of curiosity I once went down there on a fine summer day.  One creeps in  through a low window usually formidably barricaded against marauding chipmunks.  There the beautiful slope of rock is revealed as the true underpinning of the house.  A heater has been installed down there complete with automatic thermostat, so that if the outside temperature plummets, the shut off valve and pipes do not freeze.  It was an interesting experience, but not one I chose to repeat, particularly on a misty March day.  If anything can take the shine off a tropical vacation, it’s crawling around on cold rock trying to diagnose a plumbing problem.

My role in the whole business was to stand in the kitchen and obey hollered commands to turn on or turn off the water.  “Turn on” and “turn off” sound remarkably similar when a well-insulated floor sits between two slightly deaf people.  A couple of misunderstandings did not help either the water flow or the mood over lunch.  Eventually, however, by some mysterious process I will never pretend to understand, sufficient water pressure was restored to allow us to dream of washing some of the grubby clothes we had brought home.

No! only hot water poured into the machine.  I like to be  hygienic but the prospect of shrinking what I thought were some pretty nice summer clothes did not appeal and so….the washing machine was pulled out.  It is unnerving to unscrew those long hoses behind the machine and quite disgusting to discover that a tiny apparatus like a thimble with holes in it is completely clogged with minerals from the well water.  CLR to the rescue and the washing machine chugged merrily away.

After all this sweaty effort (working with plumbing is anxiety provoking and strenuous) we thought a nice shower would be in order.  The options turned out to be ice cold from the rock or scalding to lobster red.  No problem with the diagnosis there – ah, memories of my father and “the mixing box”.  A respectful glance from Joe and off we went to Home Depot.

Do you know the make of your shower system?  We didn’t and since it was a slow day at Home Depot, the very kind assistant let us open a few boxes of shower sets and compare mysterious looking components with what we had brought from home.  No matches!  Seems every company makes pieces with different specs.  When the kind employee realized that we were not going home until we bought something that gave us a faint hope of a shower, he led us to another plumbing section where they sold separate components.  For $43. we bought a ceramic contraption.  At home, down went Joe to the rock face to turn off the water.  I held the flashlight as the new piece was installed. We prayed to different water gods, goddesses, saints and nymphs.  We prayed and we cursed too until we thought it was as good as it was going to get.  Down again to turn the water back on.  This time there was no problem hearing my whoop of joy at a functioning shower providing every temperature of water you could desire.

It was a long day after a long flight.  It was scary.  It was a  lesson in patience, ingenuity and persistence.  At one point we even called a plumber who refused to come out.  Well, it was Sunday and his excuse was that he had diarrhea – a good excuse for a plumber, I thought.  How we take plumbing for granted.  How wonderful it is to do work that shows a concrete result.  How wonderful is a hot shower.

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