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Now obliged to create a life in the Sedro-Woolley "dump," I concentrated on scrubbing the old place of as much accumulated grime as possible despite the stacks of boxes hogging floor space in every room. The insurance company called to let us know that knob-and-tube wiring with unprotected knife switches was not acceptable. Our home owners insurance would be canceled unless the house was rewired within thirty days.

I found a local electrical contractor listed in the phone book but when I picked up the phone to call, there was no dial tone. I counted to ten, then pressed the "0." The operator kindly connected me to the phone company office, where I reiterated my dissatisfaction that, although promised three times now, our phone was still not in service.

"It’ll be sometime next week," she said.

"Okay," I replied, curbing my temper. "Do you have a supervisor I could talk to?"

"Yes Ma’am. I’ll connect you."

"Thank you." My brain kicked into gear. I would have to motivate the supervisor into action. It scared me that if Mike should slip into a bad insulin reaction, I had absolutely no way to get help.

The supervisor came onto the line. "This is Charlotte, how may I help you?"

"Hello Charlotte." I identified myself, then continued. "We just moved here, and after three promises for a hook-up, we still have no service. My attorney said to let you know that my husband is a brittle diabetic, disabled, and the phone is our lifeline, so if …"

"Just a minute." She interrupted. "I’ll be right back. Don’t hang up."

"Uhh … sure." I held, listening to three minutes of recorded music.

"Ma’am?"

"Yes."

"We will have your service hooked up by five this afternoon."

"Thank you so much." Dare I believe it? I hung up the phone, applauded the new promise and related the news to Mike.

Much to our surprise, a telephone-repair man knocked on our door within ninety minutes, checked all the old connections, and left us with a working telephone!

Next, I called the electrician. He came the following Monday morning to assess our wiring situation and make an estimate. His initial evaluation was not hopeful, citing things we already knew—the house was old, the wiring dangerous, the attic access marginal, and so much dirt under the house that he would have to hire someone to dig a trench all around the inside of the foundation so his workers could do their job. He would do some calling and calculating and get a bid to us by Thursday or Friday.

Fine. We had survived four days without overwhelming concern for our safety. We’d make it for a couple more.

The next day, February 23, 1988, was our 25th wedding anniversary. We celebrated with a greasy taco at the local Mexican restaurant and came home to sit amidst ceiling-high packing boxes in a dusty, drafty, mouse-ridden old house with bad wiring. We had no celebration cake that day, but did receive sweet tidings in the mailbox—an anniversary card from my mother, along with a package holding a long, white-handled cake knife, a Jordan-almond bracelet, and a marriage bulletin, all from our wedding so long ago.

A second card was from Despina, my Greek sister—so-described because of her Greek father and Lebanese mother. I, in turn, became a Swedish sister to her. Our families joined in friendship following an event that brought both our mothers to the same hospital, in the same week, to share the same room and give birth to sons on consecutive days. As if destined to be together, our families thereafter shared picnics, holidays, good news and bad with the joy and compassion of closest kin.

Nostalgia warmed my soul for a moment. Then our pressing concern resurfaced—not knowing if we would be able to get the wiring done before the thirty days were up. Two days later the electrician dropped by the house and left the bid. We studied our finances, and worked out a plan for the needed rewire. The crew descended on us the following week. I seemed to be always in the way as they scurried throughout the house, grumbling about the lack of space in which to work.

By day three of the rewire, I was exhausted from the move, the lack of proper sleep and the stress of our unfortunate circumstances. Evidently the electrical contractor was on his last nerve, too, and directed his frustration at me.

"Why the hell didn’t you put all this Goddam stuff in storage? You shouldn’t even be here! You shoulda rented a motel room and stayed away until this was done!"

I burst into tears with no reply fit to utter—we didn’t know about a rewire, we couldn’t afford to rent a motel, or pay storage fees, we wanted our belongings accessible, and besides, motels didn’t allow dogs. Mike put his arms around me and let me cry, while the cranky contractor stormed out of our house, still verbally judging a situation he knew nothing about. Patience became our daily companion until the wiring was completed and passed inspection. A huge relief.

A nephew of mine in Oregon was to get married in March, an event I dearly wanted to attend, but our financial condition wouldn’t permit it.

However, trusting that our finances would improve, we mailed our registration and deposit for a motorhome rally to be held in Eugene, Oregon that June. It was helpful for me to look forward to something positive, like visiting family in Oregon and relaxing at the rally. I spent hours cleaning up the RV, budgeting for the trip and making plans.

In early April, I gathered together our income tax papers and drove to the CPA in Edmonds. His report was not welcome. We owed $6000 because of the sale of the house. He slammed a fistful of papers down on his desk. "This is absolutely ridiculous!"

I sat there, stunned by disbelief, recalling last year’s purposeful visit to find out about the house sale and its impact on our taxes. He ran the numbers then, and predicted we’d have no liability the following year.

The IRS might as well want the moon. We did not have it. I didn’t know whether to be outraged or simply let it punch us down, as was becoming the norm. We slipped through every hole there was in our current laws of government.

"Helen," he broke into my thoughts. "I am sorry. I’m not sure what happened. Just mail in the return, and when they write you for payment, send what you can. Doesn’t matter how much. Just do it each and every time you hear from them. The worst thing you could do is ignore it."

I picked up my papers and thanked him, for what I do not know, and returned to my little yellow wagon parked at curbside where Mike and my mother sat waiting. Things just had to get better—we had to make it work.

In the days to come, two local boys, recommended by the electricians who helped rewire the house, agreed to excavate the excess dirt under our house if paid in cash. Their rate was low, and we agreed. They started the next day. A few days later, bucket by bucket, they had moved thirty wheelbarrow loads of dirt out from under the house.

Those electricians had also recommended a local fellow who could repair the bathroom and back porch areas that were threatening to collapse at a moment’s notice.

The carpenter was a good worker, positive in attitude and kept an honest record of his time and materials. The repairing and upgrading took much longer than anticipated however. Barely a week into our job, his father had a heart attack and died. We were put on hold for what turned into three weeks, leaving us in the uncomfortable position of having no working bathroom. We made-do the best we could, driving to fast-food restaurants or utilizing a simple but effective bucket and plastic bag option for emergencies. At least we could wash up by way of the kitchen faucet.

The carpenter returned, apologies in hand, and finished his work in early May. With no resentment over having to leave the Kenmore house and its three bathrooms, joy overcame me at the thought of a house free of workmen plus a fully-functioning bathroom!

Tomorrow looked brighter than ever.


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