The spirit of Bombeck filled the house today at my mom’s like an invisible cloud of white noise amidst organized chaos. What I mean is that a household whose focal point has been a young baby for weeks, and “migrant” family members in transit to their next place of residence, suddenly became a center for neglected household repairs, cleaning out of closets, and general reorganization. The three dogs normally enjoying an air conditioned environment by noon, had to find their shade out in the backyard under palm trees and the blooms of Bougainvillea shrubs—-still not bad for a dog’s life, unless you happen to be endowed with a black fur coat in the Tropics of Florida.
A leaky kitchen faucet had taken back seat to a dishwasher needing replacement, earlier in the week, but now there was the mystery of the wet carpet at a hall and bedroom closet backing a bathroom shower. My mom is not one to wait on things needing repair, especially this time, since she’d gotten all new carpet after a previous flood from another old-house water-supply-line gone bad. After three calls to numerous plumbing businesses listed in the yellow pages, a 24-hour service provider promised a repairman would arrive within the hour. (I thought of how fortunate it was she had several choices, and that someone actually answered the phone or returned her calls within minutes of placing them. I had just come from a rural part of Kentucky where one or two plumbers serviced a couple of the largest geographical counties in the state, and not one had even returned several calls I’d made over the past few months.)
The morning bustled on as my daughter left for dog-grooming classes, I picked up on baby-care, and my mom started pulling things out from under the kitchen sink in an attempt to give the repair-man elbow room and quality time with his next subject. As soon as “KC” (now the nick-name of grandson, Killian Carl, given to him by one of his uncles) was diapered, fed, burped, and bounced to sleep on my shoulder, I balanced atop an inflatable therapy ball with him until he reached a blissed-out state. Transferring him gently to a vibrating baby seat on the dining room table, if he awoke, I hoped the equivalent of a box-seat view overlooking a race track would keep him distracted long enough to let us get on with chores at hand. Little did we know, the gates were about to spring open for what would seem like a race to the finish, over the next two hours, rather than minutes.
Erma would have been proud of the laughing when we wanted to cry; the singing when we wanted to just “get’er done” in a parade of “fixers” who marched through the door, past the sleeping baby hardly noticed now. On he slumbered, as the plumber made a grand entrance with his tool kit and cast a facetious tone in his “Boy, I love this job” declaration, after being introduced to the mystery waiting behind a wet wall and floor. At his request, I began moving boxes of papers and books, art canvases and a closet full of clothes quickly extracted from their comfort zone, and asked to be content on a rope clothesline in the garage. Moments later, my brother showed up to fulfill a promise to fix a screen damaged by dogs wanting to come in or go out , and install white metal grates to prevent further unwanted “doggy-doors”.
The circus had come to town like an old News American paper commercial with athletes entering the family home to make the news up close and personal. The plumber turned out to be a crusty veteran with multiple grandchildren; my brother the quiet, background set and prop changer; my mom the ring-master trying to stay one step ahead of the next act; and I was the house-cleaner/baby monitor/photographer, trying to vacuum up crumbs left by the audience. I was amazed that “KC” was sleeping soundly through all the commotion. His little “white noise machine” that had sounds like a heartbeat, ocean waves, rain, or lullabies on repeat, wasn’t even nearby. (How baby research and product development for “informed and responsible parenting” has changed child rearing, is another topic all-together.)
Our day in “Bombeck” land was almost complete when I told the grandfather plumber he had the voice of “Car Talk” radio hosts, Click & Clack, out of Boston. He’d never heard of the show broadcast by NPR, but asked “so where are you from?” I said, “Probably from no place in Kentucky you’d know.” Turns out I was wrong. He was quick to tell us: “My brother and I spent two years in a town called Morehead, going to college, ‘ til we got arrested for drinking beer in a dry town, while horseback riding.” My astonishment saved me from mentioning one of my pet peeves is people who drink and smoke while horseback riding, but I laughed and said….”actually, I came from someplace about an hour from there! “
My mom paid him and he went happily on his way, feeling like he’d connected with customers in an uncustomary way. My brother finished the last screw on the front door grate, and excused himself to go mow his yard and clean the pool before coaching afternoon classes at his gym. My son, Daniel, sat down to sort through papers and books he’d stored in the ill-fated closet that now had three holes in the cement board where the plumber had gained access to one leak. I considered that I’d come all the way to Florida to avoid involvement in a tape and spackle, sand and paint project like too many I’d done before….and here I was now, making a list of things to buy so I could do those very things for my mom after the walls dried out.
About the time the house full of visitors started clearing out, I heard the stirrings of a little boy, waking from a dream —-maybe about a horse race, a circus, or just people going about their daily routines—-opening his eyes to observe a world only weeks ago he’d entered. It wasn’t the white noise or chaos of everyday life that had disturbed him, it was hunger pangs and feeding time. Closets had been cleaned out, water leaks fixed, and doors repaired —-all as he slept in the midst of life “happening”. It was a perfect conclusion to the kind of day Erma Bombeck would have proudly written about. And I couldn’t help but smile too. It had been a perfectly ordered day of house-cleaning to the strains of white noise and chaos…..from an infamous writer’s perspective.