Thanks Plumbers!

Frozen, Broken Pipes

Sharing Stories
January 28, 2024 at 6:00 a.m.
Frozen pipes are always a scary sight.
Frozen pipes are always a scary sight. April Ryan



    Drip. Drip. Drip. The January 2024, weather warning report was for record-breaking temperatures, freezing day and night. It was time to be prepared for power outages and broken pipes. I went out for extra supplies, stacked warm sweatshirts and sweatpants on the couch, and opened the cabinet doors under the sinks. I was ready to adjust the faucets for a week of pipe saving drip, drip, dripping.

    Watching weather reports show temperatures no doubt North Pole cold, I remembered the New Year winter of 1960, when our home in Ellensburg was sold so we could move to Seattle. It was so cold, the water in the toilet bowl froze.

    Magically, Dad located the broken pipe in the snowy, frozen backyard. Winter daylight faded quickly as Dad patiently used pick and shovel to dig a hole in the cement-hard earth. I was fourteen years old, holding a lamplight, dressed in so many layers of clothes, that if I fell in the snow, the only thing I’d be able to do was make a snow angel. After a few cold and careful days and nights, the broken pipes were fixed. One of Dad’s friends asked him why he bothered—the house had been sold. I thought I’d burst with pride when he answered, “It was the right thing to do.”

    In the early 1970s, I was living in a small house, when the northwest temperature quickly dropped and froze the water pipes. I called a plumber, but by the time he arrived at the house, the pipes had thawed, and water was flowing. At the door, I told him the pipes seemed to be okay. He suggested he was there and should check to make sure. In the kitchen, he asked if he could use my long can opener. He turned on the faucet and fixed the can opener on the tap. Putting his ear on the top of the opener to listen, he declared, “The pipes are fine.” He left, later…sending a bill. For years, I called that can opener “The Plumber’s Helper.”

    I got home after a retirement writing class at a community college on a June evening in 2014. The water department had left a big orange note on my door after shutting off my water because a pipe had broken outside, filling the street with a rushing stream.

    I called the phone number on the note, and the water department informed me it was my responsibility to have it fixed because it had broken behind the pipe on my property, instead of in front of it by the street.

    It was an invisible line on the soaked yard, forming a pond from a pipe that I wouldn’t be able to do a MacGyver fix with a box of Kotex and roll of duct tape. I called three emergency plumbers. Two never returned my call. A frustrating hour later, the sun had set when the hero who finally answered my call arrived.

    Looking at the watery area, he expertly stated, “You have a major leak here. I need to look at your pipes under the house.” There he was, flashlight in hand, slithering into the crawl space under the house. I watched as the light disappeared, worried I’d need to dive in to help him.

    When the bright light returned, his cobwebbed body emerged from underground, and he wiped off broken webs clinging to his clothes. I think I gushed the words, “You are so brave.”

    He smiled as he said, “I was a fireman,” proudly bending his elbow, displaying a firehouse tattoo on his rock-hard muscle. He found the pipes under the house were good. Impressed, I signed the order to fix and replace the pipes from the street to the house.  
   The next day, ten hours of hard work later, all was well as water flowed through the house taps. I told the plumbers, “I was so exhausted watching you work, I had to take a nap.” Their teasing reply was, “Little did you know, that’s when we took a nap too!”

    I shouted, “Hallelujah!” when after a week of a frozen welcome to 2024, the weather report was finally warm and sunny. I had a time slowly adjusting water tap drips, feeling like a musician preparing watery wine glasses for musical notes. No broken pipes. I now wait for the next wintery surprise.

April Ryan is a retired Seattle bus driver with a second career as a prolific writer, often published in Northwest Prime Time, among other places.

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