Friday, March 11, 2016

The squirrel and the $100.00 walnut

Many moons ago, I was actively preparing for a Christmas Open House to which I had invited my yoga students, friends, and neighbors.  Peppermint candles gleamed on the mantle.  Lights on the tree cast blue, green, red, and yellow shadows on the wall.  Bing Crosby crooned "Silent Night" on the stereo while I busily set food on the dining room table.  The guests were expected any moment and after a long day of preparation, everything was finally ready.
When I went into the kitchen to wash my hands, I noticed the sink wouldn't drain properly.  The disposal was working, but the right side kept filling up with mucky, hummus-soaked water.  Try as I might with a plunger, then a bottle of bleach, then a spoonful of Drano, nothing worked.  Finally I just gave up, realizing I'd have to call the plumber the following Monday.  It was Saturday night and I wasn't thrilled about the idea of having stinky, stagnant water in the kitchen for the rest of the weekend, but what else could I do but light another scented candle and throw a towel over the mess?
The Open House went off without a hitch, and hours later after everyone had gone home, I got on my hands and knees to wash the dishes in the bathtub.  Counting my blessings, I was grateful that the clogged sink wasn't in my one and only bathroom.  I was thankful that no one noticed the plethora of dishes that had stacked up on my teeny, tiny counters.  I had gently waived off offers to help me clean up because honestly, who wants to bend over a porcelain bathtub in nicer clothes? 
Still, I wasn't at all thankful about the prospect of having to spend more money during a season of high gas bills, Christmas gift-giving, and an uncertain yoga schedule looming around the corner.  In the end I reminded myself of the time years earlier when my finances were even tighter and the sewer line backed up right before the holidays.  Back then I had prayed for a miracle while the fellas from Rotor Rooter toiled in the basement and it was instantly answered when a $58.00 reimbursement check for a dental cleaning arrived in the mail.  Of course the sewer cleaning bill was exactly $58.00 as well, and from that I learned I would always have enough money to cover whatever I might need.
But this time around, what if I needed to replace the whole sink or pipe system?
I spent an anxious day wondering and worrying until I could call the plumber on Monday morning.  Mike's been my go-to-guy since I bought the house; he's been a godsend during times of leaky pipes, a broken disposal, and faucets that needed imminent replacing. 
"I'm not sure how you're going to fix this one," I said, explaining the situation.
Mike got right to work and sure enough, after an hour, couldn't figure out the problem.  "Everything looks good here," he said.  "The trap's empty, the pipes are fine."
"Now what?" I asked.
"I'll go downstairs and take apart the drain pipe," Mike replied, gathering his tools.
Twenty minutes later I heard him laughing.  "Kate, you're not going to believe this."
"What?" I asked, heading to the basement where Mike stood behind the washing machine with a small brown object in his hand.
"I found the problem," he smiled.  "This walnut was shoved into the drain pipe."
My eyes widened.  "How in the hell did that get in there?"
Mike went outside for a moment, took one look at the roof, then said to me, "I'll bet a squirrel got upon the roof and shoved it down the pipe."
"What for?" I asked, aghast.  "Aren't squirrels supposed to bury their nuts?"
"Ida know...maybe he thought he was putting it in safe keeping for winter."
I knew which squirrel Mike was talking about...the ornery one who had begged me all summer long for food.  The very one I had given the odd apple core, the handful of strawberries, the peanut butter-covered celery.  He was so brazen sometimes, I thought he might come into the house to plead for a morsel, so I often chased him out of the yard before my cat could escape and give him a run for his money.
I could just picture that squirrel up on the roof the previous Saturday night while I was getting ready for the party, rubbing his furry little paws together, chuckling to himself, "I've been saving this big ass walnut for a long time and now I'm gonna show Kate exactly what I can do with it!"
As Mike packed up his gear, he handed me that stupid walnut and a bill for $100.00.  "I'm sorry it's so much, but I had to charge you for the extra time."
"I totally understand," I said, pulling out my checkbook.  "The peace of mind in knowing it was a simple fix is worth it."
"That's the most expensive nut you'll ever own," he laughed.  "But it's also a once in a lifetime story you'll get some good mileage out of."
"Yep," I nodded.  "Every single Christmas when I see a bowl of walnuts on my mom's coffee table, I'll be reminded of this moment."

But it's not only during the holidays that I pull that tale out of my back pocket.  Just this week I was talking to a friend who is ready for some serious changes in her life.
"How did you feel when you quit teaching and didn't have a job?" Angie asked.
"I was terrified," I told her.  "Utterly and completely terrified.  But I kept focusing on what I wanted, which was something very different than what I had."
"Yeah, but how did you do it?" 
"Financially it was totally scary, but I always had what I needed." 
Then I told her the Rotor Rooter story. 
"That's amazing," Angie said.  "But hasn't it been hard to live like that all these years?"
"Sure...I've been scared out of my mind more times than I can count," I replied.  "The worst was when I was driving home from California and the engine nearly blew up outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico.   I kept thinking I'd have to unload all of my stuff in some strange town and buy a used car just to get me back home.  But in the end, all it needed was a valve replacement and I was on my way.  Truth be told, not every story has a scary element."
Then I told her about the squirrel and the $100.00 walnut.
"Oh, I feel so much better after hearing that!" Angie said as she burst out laughing.  "I can totally picture that stupid squirrel up on the roof trying to figure out a way to get you."
"He got me alright," I said with a tinge of sarcasm.  "But I took that walnut and threw it into the Ottawa River, promising myself I'd always trust that no matter what nutty thing might happen in the future, I'll always be able to deal with it."
"How do you do that?"  I heard the uncertainly in Angie's voice.
"I just go through it," I replied.  "When I was starting my business, I took it day by day.  When I was driving home from California, terrified the car would explode even though it had been repaired, I took it mile by mile...minute by minute.  How did those Rotor Rooter guys clear out the sewer line?  They had to drill through it."
"Yep...that sounds right, but it's not easy."
"Neither is washing dishes in the bathtub," I snickered.  "But what can I say?  I do what I have to do."

Nowadays I don't have that kind of extreme, dramatic stuff going on in my life.  While I may have challenges now and again, they're nothing like the ones from my past.  Always...and in a variety of ways...abundance comes to me through people, through places, through surprises in the mail and telephone calls on a Tuesday afternoon when the only place I want to be is listening to a friend in need, sharing a silly story that makes her feel lighter and more able to move through whatever she's experiencing.
But just in case, I'll continue to make sure the squirrels in my neighborhood are well-fed this summer 'cause you never know what mischief and mayhem they might be plotting come next December.