I often give my father credit for tackling most of our home repairs. Whenever he’s down from Buffalo, Joe and I shamelessly hand him a piece of paper listing all the broken crap in our house and within two days he’s crossed off every item.
We’re embarrassingly incompetent when it comes to plumbing, electrical wiring, woodworking and anything beyond changing a light bulb and replacing a dirty A/C filter. Since I grew up in a family that prides itself on self-reliance, my ineptitude is a secret source of shame.
In my family, if it’s broke, we fix it — even if what we’re fixing should really be thrown away.
Take for example my Oma, who uses a plastic laundry basket that my Opa repaired with a steel bracket 20 years ago. Even my sister Heelya is handy. I don’t get it. We both grew up watching the same ridiculous episodes of Home Improvement. Yet it seems the only surface on which I can build something is paper.
She’s a female MacGyver. Give her a flathead screw driver, a stainless steel ice cream scoop and a coat hanger and she’ll solve most of your household problems.
She’s fixed the toilet in the baby cave back when it was still a man cave. She’s unclogged the bathroom sink, installed cordless window shades and fixed the dumpster in our alley. She’s made curtain rods out of discarded bamboo stalks, used an old candle to remove a stubborn table leaf and twice mended a shattered pig figurine with super glue.
This week during her stay in Florida, she fixed the plumbing under our kitchen sink. I served as her hapless assistant. It took an entire afternoon, during which time Mothership referred to herself as “Josephine the Plumber.”
Our kitchen sink has leaked on and off since we purchased our house three years ago. My father has fixed it twice and I’ve tried (and failed) to fix it countless times in between. I thought the situation was under control until the plumbing sprung another major leak last weekend, flooding our cupboards and my collection of plastic roach baits.
For the hundredth time I inspected the PVC pipes under the sink, mopping up water with an over-sized bath towel. This time the rubber washer underneath the drain assembly had disintegrated.
So one morning after Joe had left for work, my mother and I rolled up the sleeves on our pajamas and crawled under the kitchen sink. Using the pipe wrench I purchased last year for my first foray into plumbing, we took turns trying to free the metal nut from the bottom of the sink basin. But no matter how much elbow grease we threw into turning the thing, the nut wouldn’t budge.
We bickered about which way to crank it.
“Righty tighty. Lefty loosey!” I said. (It was the only thing I remembered from shop class.)
It was an aggravating task. Whether we turned the wrench clockwise or counter clockwise, the drain would spin in the sink, rendering our efforts useless.
“Go get two flatheads,” my mom ordered. “Maybe that’ll hold the drain in place.”
So I got two flatheads and still the drain spun and the nut wouldn’t budge.
“Go get the needle-nose pliers,” my mom said.
So I got the needle-nose pliers.
“It’s still spinning,” I said, exasperated.
“Let’s switch. You try turning the wrench. I’ll hold the drain.”
After an hour of this nonsense I retreated to my office to call a plumber.
My mother was aghast.
“A PLUMBER?” She hollered from the kitchen. “Heidi! You’re going to pay out the ass for a plumber.”
“I’m just gonna ask what they charge,” I replied, although at that point I was ready to fork over $60 for a house call.
I reached a surly guy named Jim, who told me drain assemblies were “a nightmare,” and that the only way to remove the nut would be to cut it off with a hacksaw. He told me the job would cost $150, plus the cost of a new drain.
“What if I buy the drain from Home Depot?” I asked.
“I’ll get you a better drain at a better price than the ones they sell at Home Depot,” he countered.
Of course. I thanked him for his time and hung up the phone.
“So?” My mom asked.
“$150, plus the cost of a new drain AND he says the only way to remove that nut is with a hacksaw.”
I might as well of told her that he wanted her grandson’s soul in exchange for the repair.
“No way,” she grumbled. “I’m calling your father.”
So she called my father, who told her “there was no goddamn way you’d fit a hacksaw under the sink.” Followed by: “You’re telling me that sink is leaking AGAIN?”
After she hung up the phone we Googled kitchen sink repair and watched a three-minute You Tube video demonstrating how to replace a broken drain assembly. It turns out that we needed a special tool to lock the drain in place in order to free the immovable nut from the PVC pipe.
Armed with this information, we headed to Home Depot with Henry in tow to purchase a two-dollar rubber washer and a locking tool. When we explained our predicament to one employee, he mumbled “Maybe the problem is you’re not strong enough.”
We considered it for a second and then purchased the tool anyway. It cost ten bucks.
Back at the house, Josephine the Plumber set up shop in the kitchen. Henry dozed off in his car seat and I returned to my pitiful post above the sink, holding the drain in place with the new tool.
Five cranks in, the nut loosened and the pipe popped off the basin. I lifted the drain from the sink and high-fived my mother.
Alas! We cried.
It took another hour, a wad of plumber’s putty and a few choice curse words before the sink was functional, but we did it. Well … rather Josephine The Plumber did it.
And guess what? She never touched a hacksaw.
PS. Photo by Alan Cleaver via Flickr.