Then and now


KIMBALL – A long time ago, when I was a lad, I had the opportunity to help my parents out of a slight jam.
If I recall correctly, I was about nine years old. Our family had gone away for the weekend, and upon returning to the locked-up home, found that we couldn’t gain entrance. I don’t recall the exact details, but a key was either forgotten or misplaced.
We could get into the garage, and in fact we had access to the basement as well. The big garage door was unlocked, and the door from garage to house entered on a stairway landing. There was no door guarding the path to the basement, but there was a stout and securely-locked door three steps up from the landing. This was the door we needed to pass through to enter the living area.
Heads were scratched, and Mom and Dad discussed various options for gaining entrance. It wouldn’t be that hard to do, actually, but it would most likely involve breaking a window or a door. Breaking stuff makes a mess and costs money, so the folks were casting about for an
alternative.
At that point, a brilliant plan burst forth in my mind.
Down in the basement, hidden away in the corner of a closet, there existed the discharge end of a laundry chute. The upper end of the laundry chute lived in a closet in an upstairs bedroom. We had access to the basement, sooo...
A complicating factor was the fact that playing with – and in particular climbing up and down the laundry chute – was a strictly forbidden activity.
But this was an emergency. Well, in some sense an emergency. Actually, it was no emergency at all, come to think of it. I did know very well, however, that I could scramble up the laundry chute and open the door from the inside, and in less time than it takes to tell it. I knew this because a day seldom passed when I did not navigate that laundry chute one or more times. I was a clever lad, strong and flexible, and I loved both the physical challenge and the more complex challenge of undertaking forbidden activities.
I made the suggestion, and was only mildly surprised to be given the go-ahead. Letting the monkey child strut his stuff was obviously preferable to making a mess and having to clean up and repair (and pay for) said mess.
So, we all got back into the house and I was able to savor a few moments of heroic glory.
Now we fast-forward about 50 years. It’s January, and the mercury fell all the way to minus four degrees overnight. There was a stiff northwest breeze accompanying the arctic air, and that’s seldom a pleasant combination.
Just after sunrise I received a text message:
“Need to get an electric heater in the crawl space under the house. Water line frozen. Do you have
heater. Dad.”
As it turned out, I did have a heater. As I drove over I thought about how unpleasant it would be, crawling around in the crawl space. For some reason, the memory of my laundry chute excursion a half-century ago flashed into my mind. Clearly it would be to my advantage to view the chore ahead of me as a challenge rather than as painful drudgery. My mind can be helpful that way.
Now to get into the crawl space, it’s first necessary to open a bulkhead on the outside of the house, hard up against the exterior kitchen wall. Opening the bulkhead reveals a 2x3x3 foot hole as well as a 2x2 foot opening in the foundation. On the other side of that hole lives the crawl space, an area about fifteen feet by twenty and about twenty of so inches high. The “floor” of the crawl space is bare dirt and gravel. It’s dark in there and filled with wiring and pipes and exposed nails and old bits and pieces of pipe and lumber and other construction detritus. And spider webs. Lots and lots of spider webs. Well, I was looking forward to a challenge, right?
The old laundry chute was little more than 18 inches on a side, much smaller and tighter than the path leading into the crawl space. Easy, right? Hmmm, for some values of easy, I suppose.
One of the things that made this adventure different than the laundry chute adventure was the fact that I am a half century older. And as it turns out, there’s a lot more of me now than there was then. I’m less flexible, too, and a bit more (a lot more) creaky. On the up side, the 2018 version of me is equipped with a more colorful and extensive vocabulary. As a self-proclaimed grown-up, I’ve also given myself permission to use that vocabulary when it seems appropriate.
At any rate, I soon arrived on the scene and wormed my way into the crawl space with the electric heater and an extension cord. It didn’t take long to get the heater located properly. But as I scrabbled around, poking myself with exposed nails and bruising my arms and legs on old construction detritus and becoming nearly mummified in miles and miles of spider web, I couldn’t help but think back to my years-old promise to install heater tape on that water line. Sigh.
I crawled back out and headed to town. An hour and change (and $50) later I crawled back out of the crawl space for the second time, having just installed heater tape and foam insulation. Within a very few minutes water was flowing properly inside the house once again, and was not flowing improperly from any pipe fractures.
All in all, a good morning’s work. All’s well that ends well and all that. An honorable challenge, honorably overcome.
I do have to say that I’m glad I’ve managed to keep myself in reasonable shape down through the years. A life of outdoor physical labor and a love of prairie hiking have served me well. I don’t have many peers of my vintage who are in comparable shape, and I’d rather be healthy and be able to do things than be rich and unable to navigate the odd crawl space when needed.

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