On New Year’s Eve day I put my chainsaw in the back of our old pick-up and drove over to our neighbors to cull some firewood from a huge pile of branches and small trunks that Vicki and Dave cleared from their land. I wrote to you about Dave’s sudden passing a couple of months ago. Vicki is back on the land taking advantage of the cool weather and the ground, damp from rains, to clear brush from a stand of oaks near her barn. We call this “ladder fuel” because in a wildfire it works to spread the fire to the tree canopy.
The big woodpile is partway up a grassy hill and my tires spun as I tried to get close enough so I could just lob logs into the pick-up’s bed. I backed down hoping to get up enough momentum to get me up to the wood pile. But I wasn’t looking. I backed right over a water spigot, on the water main running down from the 2500 gallon storage tank at the top of the property. A huge geyser of water spurted up out of the ground. I called to Vicki and we dug around ‘til we found a shut-off just uphill from the spigot. By the time we did, we were covered in thick, red mud.
I felt horrible. It was bad enough to take out Vicki’s water but it was far worse that she was recently widowed, alone on the spread that she and Dave had worked so hard to build on undeveloped land. Now Vicki was not only alone, she was without water, and the temperature was going to dip below freezing that night. Alone, thirsty and frozen.
To my utter astonishment she did not seem in the least bit perturbed. Together we dug the pipe out of the mud, exposing it enough that we could replace the broken section of PVC. Vicki rummaged around in the barn for a length of pipe, some angle bends and PCV purple primer and cement. She also brought a pipe cutter with a dull blade. We each tried to use it cut out the broken section of pipe, but neither of us had the strength in our hands to force the dull blade through the pipe. I said, without thinking, “If Dave were here he could do this easy!” Dave had the hands of a giant. Immediately I felt terrible about mentioning Vicki’s beloved husband who had died such a short time ago. But she just smiled and nodded. She didn’t seem to mind. As the sun started to dip below the horizon, it became clear to us that we wouldn’t be able to get the water back on that evening. We didn’t have all the parts we needed. It was New Year’s eve.
I begged Vicki to come over to our house, take a hot shower, and have dinner with us. She agreed, cheerfully, but said she didn’t need the shower, that she had been wearing so many layers of clothing all she needed to do was peel off the outer, mud encrusted, pieces. I kept expecting Vicki to crumple, to break down in tears as if she was holding back her grief behind a brave but fragile façade. It took me awhile to realize that the incipient tears (and the denial) were mine. I cannot fathom what it is like to lose your soul-mate, as Vicki had just done. I could not put myself in her shoes. I could not imagine how I might find a way forward if Sharon were suddenly gone. The thought made me feel hollowed out inside, and I just wanted to turn away from it.
We had a simple meal, leftovers, a frozen pizza, and a glass of wine. Vicki added some delicacies she brought to us as gifts, goat cheese brie and lovely crisp, fruity crackers. She was completely present. I was not. Sharon and I went to bed and tossed and turned until midnight, when we were awakened by a volley of gunfire from our neighbors across the ravine, celebrating the arrival of 2019.
On New Year’s day, refusing my offer of help, Vicki drove fifty miles to the nearest Home Depot in Sonora and bought all the parts she needed “to do the job properly.” She said to me, “Don’t feel bad, Tom, that spigot was in a really bad place. Dave ran over it twice last summer. This is just the push I need to get it properly buried and protected so this doesn’t happen again.” At the end of New Year’s Day Vicki sent me a text, “I have water now!” She attached a picture of her handiwork, the repaired PVC pipes and spigot nestled inside its new protective housing.
Vicki, thank you for showing me how life goes on.