Chapter One /The tri-level house
When I was 21, my then young husband of 25 and I built a house. It had three levels and took 10 months to complete. We did a lot of the work ourselves at night and on the weekends.
My husband was a construction superintendent which gave him access to extra material that the company did not want. If we hauled it home, it was ours to keep, otherwise it went to the dump.
The summer before he was renovating a dorm at Harvard University and the trove of waste was incredible. We had enough slate to cover a small foyer and build a hearth. We had enough white brick to face the fireplace. But the biggest prize were mahogany boards which we used for our family room walls. It was not paneling, it was solid mahogony.( tongue and groove). Harvard used only the finest building materials and we were fortunate to be the grateful recipients of their left overs.
Now in those days, family rooms were a pretty new concept. Prior to that people had dens. Ours was on the ground level adjacent to a mud room and half bath. It was a protoype. It had blue shag carpet!
Chapter Two/ Effluents and Urgency
One day, in the middle of the December, our septic system backed up into the house. The ground was frozen and therefore, the effluents were seeping into the first floor. I tried sweeping and shoveling, but it kept coming. I emptied buckets of it back into the yard but it only came back. My hands were freezing.
At that point it started bubbling into the stall shower, then the washing machine and onto the family room floor and my blue shag carpet.
I began to have an hysterical fit, gagging and weeping, while working myself into a rage. I pulled the phone off of the desk and sat down on the floor to call my husband. Why the floor? Who knows. I am sure I was out of my mind.
I was kicking my feet and screaming expletives into the telephone when I finally got through to him. My garbled words and sobs made no sense. He tried to quiet me and ask a few questions.
On a prior occasion I tried to fix the sump pump by myself while standing in water and fiddling with the motor.The electric shock threw me across the room. Perhaps picturing me about to eletrocute myself once agan, he decided to use a soft and consoling tone.
He asked me to describe the situation and to tell him where I was so that he could better understand the urgency of the matter.
“On the floor” was my answer. "Where the Hell are you?"
Chapter Three/The lesson that changed my life
“Get up dear, he said “Or soon, you will have shit in your mouth. Then, I suggest you call the plumber.”
(Horns...trumpets....a choir of angels, lightening bolts and fireworks!)
And at that moment, I began my journey to independence.
Thereafter, the garage mechanic got a bottle of Scotch, the mail carrier got a Christmas bonus, the plumber and his wife received a gift basket and I developed a “staff” of persons who would help me when I needed assistance. I opened my own charge accounts and applied for credit in my own name. We were no longer signed Mr. and Mrs. It was His name and Mine. Side by side.
My husband encouraged me to be independent. And I never depended on him again in the old way. I alway appreciated his help but I did not require it.
The harder life became the stronger I became. “Get up and get going” Became my mantra. If you lie here, then surely you will swallow the swill of human waste and die.
I learned to defend myself and my young children. My husband traveled more and I was alone more. Bullies didn't bother me. I learned to stand up for myself.
I felt that those who refused to help themselves were doomed to be dependent on others forever. I learned that independence was just as much about giving as it was receiving.
Chapter four/ Separate Ways
My husband and I divorced after twenty eight years. I guess our priorities had changed and maybe my strong sense of independence eroded our union. In fact I am sure of it.
In any event he remained one of my best friends and mentors. He died way too young, never enjoying the fruit of his labor.
I tried to continue his work and live up to his expecations.But that was a long time ago. He is buried with my family, next to my parents.
This is the first time I have written about him. I figured it was about time. I miss his phone calls and the confidence he had in me to succeed and progress.
Happy Father's Day Ed....you were one helluva guy!
If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?Rabbi Hillel
* similar home to ours.