“Fannie are you ready to go?” Richard asked waiting by the garage door.
“I’m almost ready,” I called from the bedroom pulling on my socks.
The telephone rang in the kitchen. Richard answered the phone.
“Richard, I’m so glad I caught you before you left,” said Aunt Verla in a rush, “we need help and quick. Uncle Carl is out in the garage trying to drain what’s left in the hot water tank. Our garage is flooded and we need as many hands as we can get. When can you and Fannie be over here?”
“We were just leaving for Northwest Trek, Verla,” Richard said.
“I know. You can go to Northwest Trek anytime. We need you here now. The rest of the family is on their way,” Aunt Verla said taking a breath. “Oh, and bring as many rags as you can get your hands on, we’ve got one heck of a mess.”
Hanging up the phone, Richard said, “Fannie, our plans have changed. We’re going over to Carl and Verla’s, their hot water tank burst.”
“Oh, that’s not good. But did you tell her we were going to Northwest Trek?”
“Yes, she said she and Carl needed the help now.” Richard said walking into the bedroom. “The rest of your family is on their way.”
“We’ve waited this long, we’ll pick another weekend and try it again.” I said tying my boots. “Let’s go see how we can help.”
A cold February drizzle fell from the sky as we approached Aunt Verla and Uncle Carl’s dark brown condo. A hot stream ran down the driveway from the garage. Each raindrop causing steam to rise.
Uncle Carl, soaked to the knees of his tan polyester slacks, held the hose attached to the drain valve directing the water away from their garage. Aunt Verla, her Betty White wig slightly askew, wielded a push broom like a sword, chasing water out of the garage like a demented garden gnome.
Richard parked the Love Wagon next to the driveway behind Uncle Carl’s silver Buick Regal.
“Hi Uncle Carl, Aunt Verla,” I said walking up the driveway my arms loaded with rags.
Aunt Verla trotted out of the garage. “I see you brought the rags. Help me move the boxes from the shelf over here and we can start drying up this mess.
Richard and I moved the boxes to the only dry spot in the garage as my parents drove up in the mobile land yacht, my sisters, Eleanor and Lenora Jane with her husband, Steve, in the back seat.
“Fannie, Richard, what are you doing here?” my mother asked, “I thought you were finally going to make it to Northwest Trek.”
“Aunt Verla called and said she needed the extra help,” I said setting the box down.
My mother wheeled around on Verla. “Verla, you’ve got more than enough family here to help and you know darn well they’ve been trying to go to Northwest Trek for three years now. They didn’t get a honeymoon and now this?”
“Velverlorn, we needed the help. What’s done is done,” said Aunt Verla stiffening her back, looking up at her older sister with her hands on her hips.
The drizzle subsiding, my cousins, Butch and Bud drove up and parked behind my parents’ car. Watching from the safety of their Chevy pick-up as their mother squared off with mine.
“Well, let’s get this mess cleaned up then shall we,” my mother said looking around at the silent crowd. “And Verla, you may want to straighten your wig just a little bit.”
Verla’s hands flew to her head as the color rose to her pale cheeks.
Butch and Bud unloaded the new hot water heater they picked up on the way from the back of the pick-up.
Thirty minutes later Uncle Carl finished draining the tank. We, the women of the family, finished mopping up the garage.
“Bud, would you throw the circuit breaker to the hot water tank?” Uncle Carl asked, “we don’t want anyone getting a shock when we remove it.”
Bud opened the control panel, running his finger down the list he located the breaker for the hot water tank. “We’re good to go.”
Butch and Bud removed the old hot water heater after Richard disconnected the fixtures on top. My father and Richard moved the rest of the boxes out of the way.
Butch lifted the new tank onto the metal stand. Looking over his shoulder, he said, “Richard, hand me those straps, will you?”
Richard handed Butch the metal straps. Bud held them in place as Butch screwed them into the wall. Bud and Butch moved out of the way. Not needing a ladder, Richard connected the wiring and plumbing.
“Okay, shall we test the system folks?” asked Uncle Carl throwing the circuit breaker.
We held our breath for a minute as Richard check the circuit. “It’s working.”
“Conrad, since you’re next to the water valve, would you do the honors?” Uncle Carl asked my father.
My father turned the valve, we could hear the water flow through the pipes and splash into the tank.
“I don’t see any leaks,” said Bud as he examined the tank.
“Well, it will take a while for the tank to fill and the water to heat up,” Uncle Carl said, “who’s interested in a little lunch? My treat.”
The seasons change in Western Washington from rain to less rain with an occasional bought of sunshine. The mercury rose to 74º F and the local population complained of the heat wave as they turned into gelatinous goo.
Richard woke up just as the sun rose in a cloudless sky. “Fannie, wake up,” he said shaking my shoulder, “we should go to Northwest Trek today. What do you think?”
I opened one eye. Looking at him through the fog of early morning I said, “give me one more hour of sleep and you’re on. Whatever you do, don’t answer the telephone. I really want to go this time.”
Two hours later we walked out of the house. Richard climbed into the cab of the Love Wagon.
“Are you ready?” I asked buckling my seat belt.
“Yes, are you?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” I said.
Leaving the Olympic Peninsula we crossed the Narrows Bridge heading for the Interstate. The closer we got to the freeway, the more cars joined us. The interchange between Highway 16 and Interstate 5 filled to capacity as we inched our way toward the exit for Highway 7 and freedom.
“Did you expect this kind of traffic at this hour of the morning?” I asked as we exited the collector-distributor onto Highway 7.
“No, but it is our first decent weather of the summer and I think everyone has cabin fever,” Richard said turning south.
Two miles later the car ahead of us slowed to a stop. A long chain of cars parked on the road ahead of us. Several drivers got out of their cars and walked around as we waited. A police car, lights flashing, passed us using the sidewalk. Five minutes later a fire truck and aid car used the same route.
“Richard, would you turn on the radio?” I asked, “let’s see if they mention this on the traffic report.”
Richard turned on the radio.
“. . . and in the south sound, there has been a fatal car accident on Highway 7 near 176th St. E. The road will be closed for several hours while the State Patrol investigates. All of the side roads are congested and we suggest you avoid the area if possible. . .”
“Well, how about we turn around and head for home?” Richard asked checking his mirrors.
“We’ve been sitting here so long it’s almost lunch time, why don’t we pick up something at the grocery store and surprise my parents on the way back?”
“Only if we can have chicken and potato salad,” Richard said as he inched the truck forward.
“You’re on,” I said.
The car ahead of us made a sharp right turn pulling into the empty northbound lane. It back up a few feet. Turning right again it drove out of the area. Richard followed.
Twenty minutes later we cleared the congestion. We stopped at Safeway picking up a hot roast chicken, potato salad and a few side dishes from the deli.
Ten minutes later we parked in my parent’s driveway. A neatly manicured yard surrounded a small white house with blue trim. I rang the doorbell.
My mother answered the door in her blue summer housecoat and slippers. “Fannie, Richard, what are you doing here?” she asked.
“We tried to go to Northwest Trek today and didn’t make it,” I said laughing, “since we were in the neighborhood, we decided to stop by for lunch.” I held up our picnic.
“That is so thoughtful of you. Come in,” she said opening the door for us. Leading us down the narrow hallway to the kitchen she said, “it is so hot, I don’t know how you can handle it.”
“Where’s dad?” I asked looking around.
“He’s in the backyard trimming the hedge. Why don’t you go get him while I set the table for lunch.”
Richard and I walked out to the back yard. It sported a twenty foot long strip of grass bordered by 15 foot high Arborvitae. The yard was empty.
“Maybe he walked around front to the garage,” I said, “why don’t you go that way and I’ll walk around this side of the house.”
I walked out of the back yard. Following the path on the side of the house I exited into the front yard. Richard met me in the driveway.
“Now that’s weird, did you see him?” I asked looking back over my shoulder.
“No, do you want to try it again?”
“Sure,” I said following the same route.
Meeting Richard in the back yard we looked at each other.
“Dad, are you back here?” I asked looking around.
The Arborvitae on the left side of the yard moved.
“I’m over here,” said the disembodied voice.
“Where are you exactly?”
“I’m in the Arborvitae. Give me a few minutes and I will work my way back out,” he said, the plants rattling in succession.
Richard and I looked at each other.
“What are you doing in the Arborvitae?” I asked watching his snail paced progress.
“It’s so hot, I got worried about the fire hazard and nesting rodents,” said my father’s voice. “So I decided to cut out all of the dead stuff in the hedge. One thing lead to another and I ended up down here.”
My mother stepped out onto the porch, “what’s taking so long? Where’s your father?”
“I’m over here, dear,” my father said as he emerged from the hedge.
My mother gasped. Richard and I took a step backwards then burst out laughing.
My father’s pot belly hung out over a red Speedo bikini, twigs and dirt clung to his skin. The bikini hung low supporting a hammer, a tape measure and two clippers. Sweat acted like an adhesive allowing the bikini to defy gravity.
“Conrad, I must say that is the most creative use for a bikini I have ever seen,” Richard said gasping from laughter.
“Oh my god, dad, I’ll be scarred for life,” I said holding my sides, shaking with laughter.
My mother’s jaw hung open.
“Hey, it’s hot out here and I wanted to be comfortable. I’m sure I wouldn’t be out of place say in Florida.”
“Conrad, you may just have the perfect marketing idea for Florida, the Speedo Tool Belt, comfortable, fashionable, and versatile. What more needs to be said?” Richard asked laughing to the point of almost snorting.
Two years later I visited Northwest Trek with George and Bunny. Richard and I still haven’t been there together yet, but the way I figure it, we will get there way before we get our honeymoon.