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The Plumber's Helper

Story ID:5204
Written by:Kathe M. Campbell (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Butte Montana USA
Year:1969
Person:Kathe & Ken Campbell
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The Plumber's Helper
by Kathe Campbell

"Where does it say in the plumbing manual that the wife sweats the pipes?" I argued mercilessly as my husband, Ken, seemed taken aback.

"I can't believe your backing down on this one, Kath. Sweating pipes is something all women should know . . . right girls?" as our two young daughters sensed the onset of hostility, and raced upstairs.

The big dream house on Hannibal Street that I had designed and drafted to the last minim of an inch was up and enclosed. Heating pipes, vents, PVC drains, electrical, and most appliances were in place. All the comforts of home - minus water that is. There had been no surprises, except one awful realization that the rec room entry to the basement had been cemented solid after somebody neglected to frame a doorway. No biggie. Father's crowing that the jackhammer was man's work left me counting my blessings.

It did no good pleading a plumbing reprieve in lieu of installing baseboards, staining trim, or even mixing mortar and laying rock - jobs I had mastered. The girls had dibs on sweeping and gophering while our son was chief nailer, caulker, and jack of all trades. Our family was seeing light at the end a challenging do-it-yourself tunnel, excitement reigning through unfinished halls and rooms, and everyone anxious to test their decorating skills.

"We can't finish putting up sheetrock and trim until the plumbing is in place, dear. I need your artistic touch," as Ken trotted out the propane torch, solder wire, paste, flux brush, and the ladder.

Artistic touch indeed, what a con man, I mused. This was man's work and I resented being bamboozled into mastering a union I didn't belong to.

After considerable thought, I resolved to inspire the distaff side of our gang by displaying femanine grit and genius What can be so hard, I pondered while staring at lengths of copper pipe, elbows, T's, sleeves, and the hack saw? It most likely entails measuring, cutting, and fitting the pieces together with some magoo, then waiting for it all to dry.

Wrong!

Greatly admiring my husband's eternal know-how in all things, I bravely buckled under on one condition . . ."No yelling if this place leaks like a sieve when I'm finished . . . okay?"

It was a deal.

My heart finally retreated from my throat and a new feeling of confidence replaced the shrinking violets in my tummy as he demonstrated the process. I figured it didn't look so terribly hard while organizing my gear on the ladder. Since Ken knew the exact placement of the pipes, he agreed to measure and cut while I prepped.

With each span strapped to beams or framing, we hustled and even moonlighted our nights away like a couple of pros. Ken polished pipe ends and slathered them with flux while I inserted the sleeves, then torched pipe and solder until it ran red hot. Our shining copper stretched out into a jungle of twists and turns like a giant labyrinth beneath the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry forming smaller mazes into pipe stands awaiting their connections. Catching an occasional two-by-four on fire was quickly snuffed while thoughts of a flushing toilet had me deliriously focused on every fixture and faucet .

The hour had come to cross fingers and say a small prayer as Ken rushed downstairs to the main turn-on. The kids and I made tracks to our appointed stations, impatiently lying in wait for mother nature's first precious trickle of spring's mountain runoff.

The house was deathly still, nearly overwhelming me with tingles coursing up my spine while waiting under the kitchen sink for flood or fame. Then the sound of swishing water making its way through virgin copper until finally, only a small gurgle, and then nothing. Oh, that blessed nothing -- the sweetest sound on earth.

We hugged and danced around atop the underlayment until our new digs fairly shook. Raising paper cups in toast, my lord and master put his arm around my shoulder to announce he would hang the last of the sheetrock and we could move in . . . "just as soon as your mother hooks up sink and toilet fittings."

And as I proudly crouched beneath the cold and dispassionate porcelain receptacles, I fancied my entry into the Plumber's and Pipefitter's Union - with my artistic touch, of course.