I fixed my sister-in-law’s clogged plumbing today (sink and toilet), with the help of her 10-year-old son Rowan. We took the drains apart under the sink, back to the wall, and cleared sludgy black plugs out of the curves with a rooter wire that resembled a tape worm. The contractor who put those pipes in was lazy — no quick-release in the trap, and a botched patch to the main line to the drain.

The whole operation was stinky, disgusting and very satisfying. I’d forgotten how great it can feel to get dirty. Since Jasper and Simon have come along, I spend a lot less time in rubber boots or swinging a hammer. And I miss it. Most of what I’ve learned about pipes, boards and screws comes from building Walden with Dad in fits and starts over three summers (1995-1998). Then I got married.

I’m grateful to my father for those lessons. I’m still no expert. Suzy has an acronym she uses to describe a special moment in any home improvement project I undertake; she says she waits for the IFU moment. Inevitable Fuck Up. Dad just shook his head when he saw me try to do things == like the time I wired the hot line into the ground wire of the switch next to the tub (the shock threw me four feet and left my arm numb for days).

I thought about Dad today as I was splattered in rotting hair and toothpaste sludge.

Dad died four years ago this week, of cancer at 60. The last time I saw him I knew it would be the last time. He didn’t want to know that, and his doctor told me not to tell him he only had a few weeks left. When I said good-bye to Dad, he said “See ya later.” That was hard. When we were together, we were at the cabin. When I was in Ontario, we talked about it for hours by phone — mostly about all the little repairs and additions that I had planned for the coming cabin season.

I really, really miss those rambling calls. But today I felt something familiar and comforting in the slime under the sink.

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