Why I’m so grateful to Steve

I’m a can-do guy. But this problem was beyond my ability – or desire – to solve.

John Nordell/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Detail of a backhoe in Boston

I recently had an experience I would not wish on my worst enemy: The sewer line under our house ruptured. I will leave out the piquant details. Suffice it to say it was an event that went beyond my handyman’s abilities – or desire – to deal with. But it also offered an object lesson in gratitude. 

My first impulse was to call the plumber, but when he heard what was afoot, he begged off. “We don’t do that,” he said, as if to imply that even plumbers have their dignity. He did, however, recommend someone. I made the call, expecting the man at the other end of the line to moan and groan at the prospect of such a miserable job. Instead, he simply asked, “The address?”

And that was it. An hour later Steve arrived in his truck. He looked exactly as I had imagined he might: broad and bearlike, bearded, in rubber boots and well-worn clothing. I watched as he descended into the dank depths of the crawl space and sloshed around for a bit. A few moments later he emerged with the aplomb of someone who had just pranced through a field of roses. “Yep,” he said. “She’s broke.”

“Can you fix it?” I asked with an odd mixture of doubt and hope.

Steve looked at me as if rebuking my lack of faith, and then uttered one of the most beautiful words in the English language. With a carefree shrug that suggested my crisis was all in a day’s work for him, he said, “Sure.”

It is at this juncture that I need to say, in my own defense, that I am not a weak, inept, or dull-witted person. I’ve traveled all over the world, served in the United States Navy, earned a PhD, and raised two adopted sons on my own, and I love to arm wrestle. In short, I am capable. But the broken sewer line was my limit. I was overwhelmed. However, I was also fascinated. By Steve. By his equipment. By his confidence. By his availability on such short notice.

I watched from the entrance as he dragged a long rubbery tube into the flooded basement. When he reemerged, he turned on a TV monitor he had set up on the picnic table. It showed the inside of the sewer line running out to the street. “Want a look?” he asked.

I demurred. “No, thanks. I trust you.”

Steve told me that he had to get a backhoe and tear up the street to the main sewer line. He would first have to get permission from the town.

I registered appropriate panic. “How long will all this take?”

Again, a shrug. “I should have it done by evening.”

I did not want to watch the excavation of my property unfold. All I wanted was to leave, go someplace, and, upon my return, have everything the way it was before the calamity.

I felt somewhat guilty upon driving off in my clean, non-
malodorous vehicle, leaving Steve to such a disagreeable task. I went into town, did some errands, visited a few friends, and generally tried not to think about what I had left behind. Finally, around 6 p.m., my curiosity got the better of me. I went home, and a sweeter sight I never saw: a patch of newly paved street and a covered-up excavation across my front lawn. I opened the cellar door and – saints and angels be praised – all was tidy and relatively dry. The bill, a hefty but perfectly fair sum, was tucked neatly in the doorjamb.

I sat down on the back porch and thought about Steve. Big, gruff, matter-of-fact Steve, and how people, upon glimpsing him, might judge him, if not for his appearance then for his work. And I was taken by the very idea that, no matter what crisis or indignity might befall the hapless homeowner, there is somebody, somewhere, who has the appropriate tools and is practiced in its resolution.

If that’s not reason for gratitude, I’m not sure what is.

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