Thank you for joining me for the summer redux series. I will be re-posting stories you may not have read, in the fashion of a summer re-run. We’ll get back to our regular posting schedule in a few weeks. The original “Speedo Tool Belt” posted back in June 2012. It’s been embellished a little since then.
* * *
The winter season changed in Western Washington from heavy rain to rain with an occasional bought of sun breaks. The mercury rose to 50º F. The indigenous population celebrated the warmth by stowing their mental umbrellas, because no sane Washingtonian would use an umbrella or they’d have to surrender their wool socks and sandals.
The fishing village of Gig Harbor, the gateway to the Olympic Peninsula, in the shadow of Mount Rainier, forty miles south of Seattle, no exception.
* * *
Richard and I missed out on our honeymoon because the sale of the company Richard worked for forced him to go to Omaha the day after our wedding or loose his job. We promised ourselves we would make up for it by going to Northwest Trek, a wildlife and adventure park near Tacoma. We’ve been trying to go for three years.
This drizzly Sunday morning was the day we would finally cross Northwest Trek off our bucket list.
* * *
“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 wool 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, her clipped tones loud enough Richard held the phone away from his ear, “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?”
Richard said, his voice determined, “We were just leaving for Northwest Trek, Verla.”
“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.” Click. The phone went silent.
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.”
“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, his voice resigned. “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, exchanging my sandals for boots. “Let’s go see how we can help.”
The 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 which clung to his slightly sagging muscular frame, 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, chasing water out of the garage like a demented garden gnome, only she was a bit taller than a 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 short arms loaded with rags. Unlike my aunt, I just scratch five feet tall.
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. My parents drove up in the mobile land yacht. My sisters, Eleanor and Lenora Jane with her husband, Steve, in the back seat. My sisters and I share about a quarter inch difference between us. No one wore heels today.
“Fannie, Richard, what are you doing here?” my mother asked, annoyance creeping into her tone, “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, pushing my brown bangs off my face.
My mother wheeled around on Verla, her younger sister. She rose to her full four feet ten inches, towering over her sister by one massive inch. “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,” said Aunt Verla, her back stiffening, her hands on her hips. “What’s done is done.”
The drizzle subsiding, my cousins, Butch and Bud, drove up and parked behind my parents’ car. Watching from the safety of Butch’s Chevy pick-up as their mother squared off with mine.
“Well, let’s get this mess cleaned up then shall we,” my mother said, surveying the silent crowd. “And Verla, you may want to straighten your wig.”
Aunt Verla’s hands flew to her head, color rose to her pale cheeks.
Butch and Bud, the taller, huskier version of my uncle, unloaded the new hot water heater they picked up 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.”
Bud opened the control panel. Running his thick 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, with his towering lean frame, disconnected the fixtures on top. My father, brother-in-law Steve, 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 with a flourish and a bow.
My father, his gray horseshoe hairline damp from the drizzle, turned the valve. The water flowed through the pipes and splashed into the tank.
Bud examined the tank. “I don’t see any leaks.”
“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 changed in Western Washington from rain to less rain with an occasional bought of sunshine. The mercury rose to 74º F and the indigenous population complained of the heat wave when they morphed into gelatinous goo.
* * *
Richard woke up. 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 puffy 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, a red Ford F150 with disco ball and queen futon in the back. I grabbed the bar on the door frame and pulled myself in.
“Are you ready?” I asked, buckling my seat belt.
Richard gripped the steering wheel. “Yes, are you?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” I said. Butterflies danced the Hokey Pokey in my stomach.
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, 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 his devilish grin spreading across his face. 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. A smile spread across her face.
“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.
My mom pointed with her thumb over her shoulder. “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 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, I shook my head. My father, a stickler for project completion, never left a task before it was finished. He once made me remeasure the den with him three times before we installed wood paneling with the precision of an archaeological dig. If my mother said he was trimming the hedge, he was trimming the hedge.
“Dad, are you back here?” I asked, looking around.
The Arborvitae on the left side of the yard moved.
“I’m over here,” the disembodied voice said.
Scanning the hedge, I asked, “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 with a snail’s urgency in succession.
Richard and I glanced at each other.
“What are you doing in the Arborvitae?” I asked. The hedge shuddered.
“It’s so hot, I got worried about the fire hazard and nesting rodents,” my father’s voice said. “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. He emerged from the hedge.
My mother gasped.
Richard and I took a step backwards. Laughter erupting from our bodies.
My father’s pot belly hung out over a red Speedo bikini, twigs and dirt clung to his skin. Sweat acted like an adhesive allowing the bikini to defy gravity. The bikini hung low supporting a hammer, a tape measure and two clippers.
“Conrad,” Richard said, gasping from laughter, “I must say that is the most creative use for a bikini I’ve ever seen.”
Laughter shaking my body like a cheap motel bed and one too many quarter, I said, “Oh my god, dad, I’ll be scarred for life,”
My mother’s jaw hung open.
“Hey, it’s hot out here and I wanted to be comfortable. I wouldn’t be out of place . . . say in Florida.”
“Conrad, you may have the perfect marketing idea for Florida, the Speedo Tool Belt, comfortable, fashionable, and versatile.” Richard laughed on the verge of snorting.
* * *
Two years later I visited Northwest Trek with our neighbors from Texas, 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.