He really was a good guy – you just didn’t want to piss him off. I was an expert at pissing him off, whether I meant to or not. If there was a way to screw things up, and piss my dad off, I would manage it.
Before Kyla was born, her dad and I would go down to Teeny-Tiny Town for Christmas every year. He had two kids from his first marriage, so that made arrangements difficult. Worse, I worked in retail – in a mall – and I had two days to celebrate in: Christmas Day and Boxing Day. And those poor kids had a lot of places to be.
Our Christmas routine tended to look like this:
Christmas Eve – I worked ’til 6 pm. The mall actually closed at 4:30 on Christmas Eve, but the staff still got stuck in the store for the extra time to set up the Boxing Day sale – which our mall held on the day after Boxing Day, as the mall and every other store in town was closed. Thankfully. Otherwise I never would have seen my family at Christmas at all.
Also, thankfully, my cool boss would bring wine to keep our spirits up while we put up the sale tags and displays, and whine about having to work til 6. Cool Boss generally told us to quit whining and start wining. Every year. So we’d spend an hour and a half getting drunk.
After work, I’d stagger home and celebrate our Christmas with the kids. We would bring them home, or they would be picked up by their mom around 10 pm, because Santa came to that house. The kids spent Christmas morning with their mom, before being dragged across town to her mother’s house for brunch and celebrations.
On Christmas morning, Terry and I would stumble around (having had our Christmas with his kids the night before) and coffee up to get ready to go to his parents’ house in the afternoon. Christmas there was celebrated in the basement, because it had the only room big enough to hold everybody – 5 brothers, their wives, all the grandchildren and any friends and relatives that would drop in. Terry’s kids would be dropped off to celebrate with their cousins during or after dinner, and they would just be nicely settled when we’d pack them in the truck and drag them 50 miles down the highway to my parents’ house.
Whereupon they would collapse.
We would stay the night and drive back home the following evening.
We did this for a few years, and then one Christmas my parents decided to go spend Christmas at my brother’s house in Southern Ontario. I was torn between feeling sorry for myself that I wouldn’t see my parents at Christmas, and being elated that I wouldn’t have to be terrified on the highway in a little Chevy S10 “half-truck” driving in a blizzard down an icy Canuckian highway.
And then my sister called and said we were to come anyway, and have Christmas with them. It was her first Christmas without my parents, too, after all, and my mother thought we should go. That was all it took. If my mother said we should go, Terry thought we should go – he was partial to my mother. Mostly because if we had an argument and my mother heard about it, she always sided with him.
So there was the plan, put in place without me, until it dawned on me that we wouldn’t have a place to sleep. My sister couldn’t put us all up, and we weren’t going to leave the kids at home – and then my mom talked my dad into letting us stay at their house, against his better judgement. He was certain we would burn the house down, or otherwise break it.
No reprieve. We had to go.
And so we went. Sloooooowly. The visibility was close to zero, and we crawled along at such a snail’s pace that we didn’t pull into Teeny-Tiny Town until after 11pm – stopped at my sister’s place to pick up the key to Dad’s house, but we were all too tired to stay long. We made breakfast plans for around 10 am the following morning, and off we went again.
We unlocked the door, and opened it upon a freezing cold interior. My father, before leaving on their trip down south a week prior, had decided to turn off all the electricity at the panel, since they weren’t going to be home.
In late December. In Northern Ontario. Yeah.
I had to call my brother-in-law and follow his instructions on finding the breaker panel and getting everything turned on, including the hot water heater.
I had discovered there was no hot water when my shivering step-daughter asked if she could have a bath to warm up. We ended up parking the kids in front of the oven, wrapped in blankets and their feet propped on the open oven door.
I don’t think any of us got to sleep before 2 am, but at least there would be a hot shower the next morning and a home-made breakfast at my sister’s house.
I woke up to the sound of the phone ringing. The phone was on the wall across from the door behind which I was sleeping, and when I stepped out into the hall, I skied across the carpet in my bare feet. Skied. Across the wet carpet. The cold wet carpet. I could hear water running somewhere, but couldn’t tell from where – it sounded like it was coming from everywhere at once. Worse, I had no glasses on yet, having bounded out of bed, knowing that I’d slept in, and knowing that it was my sister calling and wondering where we were. I was blind, half-naked and it seemed as if my parents’ house might be under water.
I picked up the phone and yelled, “Something’s wrong!”
It was my brother-in-law on the other end.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know! The carpet’s wet. There’s water running somewhere. I don’t know what to do!”
Just then, Terry, from behind me yelled, “A pipe’s burst somewhere! Ask him where the shut-off valve is!” My brother-in-law directed me to direct him to the basement, whereupon Terry literally skied down both flights of carpeted stairs barely staying upright – thank God for the banister.
By the time he’d found the shut-off valve and turned the water off, both the step-kids were awake and in awe of the three inches of standing water and the lovely waterfall cascading down the stairs, and my brother-in-law had arrived with his kids.
“Wow!” I heard my nephew exclaim from downstairs. “It’s like a sinking submarine in here.” He was referring to the water pouring out of the light-fixtures on the ceiling in the basement.
My parents’ house was a bit oddly designed. The first floor was actually the basement, which was actually a fully functional living space on its own, with a rec-room, a second kitchen, my father’s den, a spare bedroom and bath, and laundry facilities. This part of the house was built with the back half underground. From the outside, the house looked like it was growing out of a hill, which, I guess, it kind of was.
The second floor, was the main living space, with bedrooms, kitchen/dining room and the living room. In the kitchen was a dishwasher – and it was a pipe behind the dishwasher that had caused all the trouble. The pipe had frozen after my dad had cut the electricity, and hence, the heat before my parents’ had left town. A week before. In late December. In Northern Ontario.
When we turned the electricity, the heat and the hot water tank back on, and then sucked a bunch of water up into the second floor in a fruitless attempt to have a hot bath, we furthered the trouble.
That damned pipe burst in the middle of the night.
I have no idea how many gallons of water ran out of that pipe before we shut the water back off, but it was enough to soak all the wall-to-wall carpeting on the second floor of the house with the exception of the bedrooms – thankfully. The water then ran merrily down the stairs and ruined the asphalt tile that covered the entire basement floor; in the ensuing months, those tiles curled up on all the corners and my father finally pulled it all up and replaced it, swearing at me the whole time.
The light fixtures in the basement had to be replaced. I never did hear about all the wiring, but I think it survived, because I’m still alive, so…
We spend the entire day “towel-stomping” the carpeting, wringing out the towels, running the towels through the dryer… over, and over, and over. The kids didn’t get their breakfast that morning; in fact, I completely forgot about feeding them at all, until my step-son shyly asked if they might get a sandwich somehow, at which point I guiltily sent them to my sister’s house because I knew she would stuff them full of her entire refrigerator – my sister can cook!
I also had to call my dad and tell him what had happened. That was the hardest phone call I ever had to make. He spent about twenty minutes yelling at me on the phone.
Yeah. My father blamed me for this flood. He knew I’d break his house, didn’t he? He knew it!
And I did.
Random Song-for-the-Day: “Wasted Time” – The Eagles