We don’t actually have a ranch in Germany, but the title sounded good, so I ran with it.
It was my first weekend in Germany and sleeping in sub zero temperatures after moving into Mom’s house. All pipes had been frozen with no running water or a way to flush the toilet. Once you find yourself in a situation like this, you come to value the little things even more, such as going to the bathroom and having to make plans around it. There was one incident where I had to get creative, but I’ll spare you the details. Let’s just say I won’t forget, I will always laugh about it, but also have a whole new appreciation for a running, flushing toilet.
It was Sunday and the temperatures had slightly improved. I would try each day to turn on the faucet to see if something had changed, and if the one little oven burning in the entire house had any impact at all. Finally the temperatures in the house were improving and I could no longer see my breath right in front of me. Late in the afternoon, my cousin (Moni), and I made our way back to the house. Our mission was to check on the water situation, fingers crossed there was a change, and to find the water shut off valve to turn the water off all together. After careful consideration and much advice from family and friends, we had no clue if a pipe was busted already or not. I nearly got in a fight with my girlfriend of thirty some years although we have never fought to this day. I was a bit dumb founded, but know that she on,y tried to help. She was rational, urging me to consider how much money I was going to dump into the house if there is a broken pipe that would have to be dug out. I thought that this was the absolute worst case and that I couldn’t drive myself nuts over something I didn’t even know for sure. I was optimistic, but I also was overwhelmed and had no room for more bad news. The past few days and the decisions that had to be made about Mom’s future had taken it’s toll on me. If a broken pipe was the case, I would deal with it when I had to, but for now I was hopeful things wouldn’t be that extreme. I believe that hope carries us through the tough times, and this was no different. Auto pilot had engaged and all I had was the current moment. It was a hopeful one that wasn’t oblivious to the possibilities, but also one that protected myself from things that might never come to fruition.
At the “Ranch” we tried the water in the kitchen sink and actually got a few trickles. Hey, a good sign, we thought, I bet you that the toilet in the next room is running too. Little did we know about the nightmare that was about to unfold. There is no water tank to Mom’s toilet and the bowl is supplied by a pipe carrying water and a metal push handle for flushing. We pushed the handle to flush, and it got it stuck in position as the pipe was still semi frozen. Within seconds the water ran over the toilet bowl, flooding the bathroom and making a little river into the hallway down to the kitchen. “Oh my god” I managed to mutter, but I will never forget the look between my cousin and I. It was a sheer moment of panic and “Now what” that luckily didn’t last. By now I had found a bowl to start emptying water from the toilet into the sink to prevent it spilling on the floor. The sink filled up in no time with no water draining and the pipes frozen there too. Next I started dumping the water into the tub and luckily the water drained from there. I was losing the fight and the water was coming faster as I could pour it out. Moni had taken off by now, and without words I knew she went in search of the shut off valve. It had to be somewhere in the cellar. Finally, after what seemed forever, the water stopped, and I knew that she had found it. She returned with old towels and sheets from the garage to soak up the water that had spilled over. I couldn’t have been happier to see her and after the first initial look of fright at each other, I couldn’t help but bust up laughing. “Ok, I’m no longer cold now” I said to her while we recalled the adventure we just had. “It’s a good thing you can laugh about it”she said. What else was there? I was glad too. Moni added that she spotted the shut off valve and ran down the long cellar hallway, which ends in a little three inch drop that enters into the main cellar. Glass clean, silent without movement, it was lying right in front of her, gone unnoticed until it was too late. Moni jumped right into three inches of standing ice cold water that had flooded the cellar as well. At that point I wasn’t sure anymore if perhaps a pipe had busted already or if I was dealing with ground water that was pushed up. It has happened before, but I don’t recall it ever being so deep. But what did I know, living so far away.
The next day, a local handyman came to take a look at what the actual damage was and he fixed the oven in the lower apartment so I could heat there as well. With great luck and many prayers it was only the faucet in the tub upstairs that had broken and the whole fiasco was resolved with 100 euros not including a tip out of sheer appreciation and gratitude for making my troubles a priority. It was the first day I didn’t see Mom, as I wanted to make sure the oven ran fine before I would leave the house unattended. She had told me that the oven doesn’t work anymore, and it was the same handyman who informed me that they clamped the oil intake off, some time back. Mom had turned on the oil, but later forgot to light the oven and found a huge spill of oil that eventually had overflown. She doesn’t remember and I decided to let the subject die. No need to be right, but it was a reminder that she can’t be on her own and alone anymore. The same things she had worried about her father who had lived downstairs and did similar things, were happening to her now. She would deny it to the end and it’s hard to admit something you don’t remember. Time frames are being lost due to the diabetes and although she doesn’t realize it, the signs are evident.
By the next day I had a new faucet and all water was restored. I was indeed lucky after learning that in most cases, it is the toilet that usually explodes first. Let’s just say, I rather shoveled ice cold water, than scrap poop from the walls. My girlfriend was happy in the end that things were minor, and Mom was relieved that everything was ok again. For a short time, with the help of Moni, I had saved the day, the Ranch and I was the hero. I told her that she was lucky I was there, and if this would have happened to her, she would have flooded the entire house. For sure, she knew where the shut off valve was, but it would have taken her forever to reach it, if at all. She can’t walk right now, and I don’t even want to think about what could have happened. I knew Mom was grateful and so was I. Brick by brick, I watched the wall of resistance she had built towards me in all those years tumble down, and brick by brick we established a relationship between mother and daughter that was would require more work, but was a beautiful beginning. Brick by brick it was the old house I always deemed unsuitable for today’s standards and which had been Mom’s world, that brought us closer together. Brick by brick, the unsuitable old house had a plan all on its own for me, that would unfold in due time.
My painting and interpretation of Mom’s house with all the ghosts of the past flying around. It was a different time now and times where changing right in front of me.