Wednesday, August 3, 2011

drops in the bucket, part 5

Yesterday was a hard day for Steve and me, but it ended well. Steve, exhausted, asked twice if I would blog about it. I, equally exhausted, said I would not. This morning, however, I am able to focus on the sheer heroism he was able to muster. In fact, I can see how the story fits into a series of postings (drops in the bucket, parts 1, 2, 3, and 4) that, in spite of good intentions, I have not updated since last December. Oddly, it also reminds me of the end of Philip Larkin's wonderful poem Church Going, which has recently been on my mind as so many strands of my personal history seem to be weaving themselves together. Larkin aptly describes how "all our compulsions meet, / Are recognized, and robed as destinies."

Okay, so it's a long and rather pretentious wind-up for what may seem to be a totally mundane pitch.

Yesterday morning, just as I was finishing a load of bright-colored laundry (and, incidentally, salvaging the last cycle's-worth of water for our garden's thirsty tomatoes, summer squash, rhubarb, and ferns), our washing machine lost its ability to drain and spin out water. It would fill and agitate beautifully, but then it stopped cold.

Frankly, I've been worried about the drain-and-spin function for some time. Since starting to salvage laundry water last fall, I've regularly interrupted the cycle just before it starts to drain, and then started it up again after I've lovingly siphoned out most of the water. Thus the last couple of inches are all that need to be spun out in order to make the laundry dryer-ready. It's easy to interrupt the cycle at this point. I simply leave the lid open until the motor stops (it won't start draining when the lid is open), and close the lid when I'm ready to relinquish the last of the water. Had this process -- used repeatedly for almost a year -- overworked the lid switch? Or was the lid switch destined to fail anyway in a washing machine we'd used regularly for at least eight years after purchasing it from a private party (through eBay)?

With no owner's manual and no chance of invoking a warranty, and with rhubarb leaves visibly wilting, there seemed to be no alternative to asking Steve to fix the washing machine  I had every confidence in his ability to do so, as he comes from a long line of mechanical geniuses and resourceful farmers. Moreover, Steve is now able to draw upon the Internet and the proximity of an appliance parts store.* So it was that, after a lunch of grilled chicken salad which he prepared and served on the patio, he watched on-line videos of how to disassemble a Kenmore/Whirlpool washing machine, I siphoned and scooped out about five gallons of water, and removed a heavy load of clothes.

My suspicion that the lid switch had failed was borne out by an on-line troubleshooting guide. Steve was able to strip down the washing machine and remove said switch with only two screw drivers (one flat-head; one Phillips) and two pairs of pliers (one needle nosed; one fat). Unfortunately his multimeter didn't function as it should have to diagnose the part, but he was able to fix its burnt-out fuse by strategically inserting a piece of aluminum foil (this was the pre-Internet farm boy at his best!).

Steve returned from the appliance part store with a new switch (price: $35.00) in hand. Installing the switch was tedious. I stood by like an ER nurse, handing him tools when he asked for them, and quoting Red Green aphorisms: "If it ain't broke, you're not trying!" and "If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy!" Reassembling the machine was a snap, and when the new switch failed to work, Steve was quickly able to recall that he had connected its wiring to the motor but not to the control panel. This was easily rectified. I was able to re-rinse, spin, and dry the soggy load of laundry. We celebrated with appropriate libations.

BTW, all this work was done without unplugging the appliance, because we couldn't have located the electrical outlet without pulling out the dryer as well as the washer (impossible, given the configuration of our laundry room which is half of the house's original service porch). Later, I realized that flipping a circuit breaker would have made the whole project much safer.

We live and learn, eh? Or vice versa.
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* These resources were not available to us when Steve miraculously repaired our gas stove in 1970, when we lived in a small town in western Pennsylvania. More of that story in a future posting, I hope.

Monday, August 1, 2011

good in the hood -- Lucille

My little marguerite daisies are showing new growth, and as I gently pinch back the tips to encourage more blooms, I see Lucille's hand in my Pennsylvania marigolds. "It's just like this," she said as she broke the tiny stem between her thumb and index finger. That happened in the spring of 1971, and, thanks to Lucille's neighborly demonstration we had a spectacular display of bright orange marigolds along the edge of our driveway.

I was trying to think of Lucille's name while I was in Idaho this June. We have a mock orange growing there. Its blooming season had passed, and, in wishing I could have seen its blossoms, I remembered fragments of a poem I had written about an Indian summer in Pennsylvania. Our next-door neighbor's mock orange had started blooming out of season. I mentioned her by name in the poem, but couldn't quote it properly until her image came up in another month in another state in connection with another plant.

I love the way memory is triggered by simple events, often (for me, at least), involving plants and flowers. Taken back forty years, I revel in thoughts of Lucille, her husband Harold, and their daughter Merle, a trombone player just off to college.

Harold taught our sons, then aged two and four, to say "See this finger? See this thumb? See this fist? You'd better run!" Everyone would dissolve in laughter, and the boys welcomed Harold's gentle punches to their little bellies.

Lucille and Harold were not as obsessive about spring cleaning as many of our Pennsylvania neighbors were, but he washed the windows on the outside while she did the insides. It was a time for jokes and gentle joshing, especially when they did the upstairs windows. They also worked together on washing and clipping their white standard poodle.

While I don't remember Harold and Lucille's last name, I did't remember the FIRST names of our neighbors on the other side until just now, when I Googled them and was directed to Could Thelma and Ray still be alive at 94 and 99? They welcomed us graciously when we moved in, but stopped speaking when our sons flooded their back yard. We got the "You'd better run!" message loud and clear, but without the rhyme and the giggles.
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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License