By Tim Hayes
Thanksgiving morning. A brisk late-autumn wind swirled down the front street, as the kids munched their cereal in front of the Macy’s parade on TV, warm, safe, and dry.
Dad got to sleep in a bit, always a welcome treat. Lashing the soft belt of my bathrobe around my waist, sliding my feet into some comfy slippers, I trotted down the stairs and into the embrace of our family. Accepting a steaming mug of hot tea with lemon from my missus, who had already gotten a load of laundry in the washer, I sat at the dining room table, spread the morning newspaper out in front of me, took a deep and satisfying and contented breath, and began melting into a perfect holiday state of blissful peace.
Then it happened.
Glug…glug…glug. What was that? A faint, unfamiliar noise. Leave it alone, it will go away.
Gloog…gloog…gloog. There it goes again, a little louder this time. Is that out on the street? What is it?
Blop…blop…blop. Okay, that’s something in the house. A sick, borderline revolting sound of something bubbling up. Do I hear waves? Time to investigate.
Still in robe and slippers, my search for the slop ensued. Kitchen – all clear. Bathrooms – no visible weirdness, but the troublesome sounds seem to reach these rooms through the pipes. Hmmm. Down to the cellar next, and a Thanksgiving surprise that I’ve been trying to forget for going on 20 years now.
Halfway down the basement steps, the smell hit me like a lead pipe to the face. Instantly, irrevocably, unmistakably, we had landed square in the middle of A Very Griswold Thanksgiving.
The house we lived in back then had been built in the 1940s, with terra cotta pipes carrying everything – and I trust you know what I mean when I say “everything” – out to the main sanitary sewage pipes under the street. The roots of 60-year-old evergreen trees in the front yard had, by this time, strangled, crushed, and completely blocked that vital pathway – leaving our flushings nowhere to go but backward.
Which is what I heard – then saw – gurgling up through a floor drain in the middle of my basement. There ain’t no giant Macy’s parade balloon for THAT, let me tell you.
“EVERYBODY STOP USING WATER – RIGHT NOW!” came the panicked cry from the depths of the house. Very much like Chevy Chase’s character in those “Vacation” movies, I clumsily tiptoed my way to the washing machine, leaned precariously over the spreading mess, and slapped the big knob to turn it off mid-rinse. Next, I carefully padded back up the steps, gingerly lifting the hem of my bathrobe like Scarlett O’Hara ascending the grand staircase of Tara.
Simultaneously fascinated and dumbfounded, as I watched the backup slowly, slowly make its way back down into that floor drain, I thought of two urgent phone calls – one to a plumber to fix this disaster, the other to a realtor to get us out of this creaky old house before something worse (admittedly tough to imagine at that moment) happened. And maybe a third call to a loan officer, because this pickle promised to take a sledgehammer to the old Hayes piggy bank. A plumber making an emergency visit? On Thanksgiving Day? I still get the willies just thinking about it.
A few Clorox buckets later, at least the floor had been cleaned and decontaminated. Replacing that pipe did indeed cost an arm and a leg and a few other body parts, or so it felt by the time it was all said and done. The turkey got cooked at my in-laws that year, and we improvised a happy holiday after all, somehow.
But now, even two decades later, occasionally in the wee hours when I can’t sleep, when the house is dark and quiet, that strange, one-of-a-kind noise still haunts me.
Take my advice, friends. Give thanks this Thursday for good plumbing. Happy Thanksgiving.
Copyright 2015 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting