“It’s a cook’s instinct, Mom,”
Squints explained, sprinkling a pinch of sugar over his pizza sauce. “Kind of like a Jedi fighter going after
Darth Vader.” It was this same cook’s instinct that led him to add
vinegar to his homemade ranch dressing last night.
“That’s going to taste funny,” I
told him. “The vinegar is going to separate the fat in the buttermilk.”
Of course I was wrong. The dressing was delicious.
But I noticed that Squints’ cook’s instinct failed him on the second
night of our pizza bakeoff: His instinct
didn’t tell him that that night he would blow up the pizza stone in my oven.
The pizza bakeoff has been
suspended until further notice.
But perhaps it was instinct that
led me the other day, to look up at the showerhead and discover the source of
the leak that has been plaguing us for months.
No amount of caulk around the wall where it leaked last time fixed
it. An examination by an expert revealed
perfectly sound tiles. Until the other
day, I had never thought to look up when I was looking for the leak; to press
my fingers along the drywall and feel it give under pressure.
I picked up the phone and called
the handyman who knows my house as well as I do. He showed up, clothes and hair and, yes, even
glasses speckled with paint from another job he was working on. He followed me upstairs, shaking his head
solemnly as I put my hand to the wall.
“So how much would you guess?” I
asked, crossing my fingers behind my back.
"Well, got to tear that entire wall
out.” He gestured to the shower tiles. “Replace
the wood. Possibly reset the shower
stall floor. Fix the plumbing. Retile.
Fix the kitchen ceiling. I’m
guessing…” Here, he winced. And I winced, too. “Fifteen hundred?”
last time the shower leaked, I hired a specialist and spent three thousand
dollars to repair a quarter wall of tile.
We arranged for a date for the work
to begin. “I may need to bring in a
plumber for that shower floor,” he said.
“If it gets to be too complicated.”
“I’ve got a good drywall guy,” I
added, pointing to the kitchen ceiling. “If
you need one.”
He squinted at the ceiling. “Nah…I
can handle that. But if you ever need
one, forget yours. I’ve got a better
one.” And here he named a man: my drywall guy, a man retired from the business
of rushing up houses, but working on his own, one job at a time, a true
craftsman in his work.
Over the years, I’ve amassed a
small army of independent people to address issues in my house: An electrician who
sits at my kitchen table and talks for twenty minutes after he repairs a switch; a handyman who tells me about his latest grandchildren. A drywall man who talks about the old way of
building houses. An appliance repairman
who pulls out my ice machine, jawing about his
family and the government while squinting at a faulty motor, reading glasses
perched on the edge of his nose.
Each of these men is engaged in a process
done so seamlessly and so many times in their careers, they appear to work on
I envy their skill. I wish I had the knowledge and the courage to do what they do: to hang
drywall; to tear apart an electric switch; to rip out tile.
But instinct tells me I’d better
not try it.
So instead, I head outside to work
in my garden.
A small army of birds perches in
the branches of the pin oak, patiently waiting for spring.
Labels: Cooking, Creative non-fiction, Sons