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Annelise wants to be a spaceman, she told me, so that she and I can fly to the moon.
“What will we do when we get there?” I asked, not telling her that the astronauts had found the moon to be a cold, dark place. I sank deeper into my easy chair, though, in case she had any ill-timed illusions of leaving the earth’s atmosphere that afternoon. My bones have been achy lately, and I wasn’t sure I was up to spur of the moment space travel.
She answered matter-of-factly as though the answer would be obvious if I weren’t so old between the ears.
“When we get to the moon, we can touch the stars,” she said.
A few weeks later, our family took off to Disney World, in part to celebrate Annelise’s fourth birthday. It wasn’t exactly a trip to the moon, but it was a journey to a different sphere. And when Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck dropped by her party, I knew from the reflection in her eyes that we were touching the stars.
Despite a week sprinkled with stardust, I confess I was looking forward to our first day back home as we drove north to Kentucky. It may be that only a mother of a certain age can appreciate how joyful it is to have all her adult children, in-laws, and grandchildren together, much less together at Disney World. But it may be that only a mother of a certain age can appreciate how exhausting such joy can be. Our clan numbers thirteen now, with one more on the way, and our ages range from decrepit – that would be me – to our youngest grandchild who is 18 months old. Our personalities and temperaments are as diverse as that age span would suggest, and a week of 24/7 togetherness is about as much as our love for each other can embrace.
Thoughts of a good night’s sleep on our king-sized Tempur-Pedic mattress helped me ignore swollen feet and the chronic pain in my left buttock as the car chugged its way up I-75.
By the time we crossed the Tennessee border, I was mentally drawing a hot bath in my big tub. I could even feel Calgon’s blue bubbles resting under my chin.
When we finally pulled into our Lexington driveway, I was out of the car the instant my husband turned off the motor. I dashed into the house, pausing only long enough to release my poor feet from those hateful athletic shoes, and headed towards our first-floor bedroom and its adjacent bath to get the water running in the tub.
When my bare feet hit the back hall, however, they sank into cold, wet carpet. Could I be hallucinating? Was I already in the bath? Why wasn’t it hot?
Then reason took over. I sucked in my breath and made myself walk on. Sure enough, water was spewing from our commode’s cut-off valve like a tiny geyser as though it thought it might turn into Old Faithful if it tried hard enough.
I yelled for Ernie to come and look. I think I was hoping he would tell me it was an illusion, like one of the 3-D movies we’d seen at Disney World. Instead, he stood there in the sort of silence that screams of having lived enough years to know what this meant.
“Let’s go take a look at the basement,” he finally said.
We were greeted at the top of the stairs by an unfamiliar musty odor. My stomach did one of those somersault things it used to do when I was a kid afraid in the dark.
By the time we reached the bottom of the stairs, I could hear water dripping onto stone, a sound I associated with a visit I once made to Mammoth Cave. Ernie flipped on the lights, and for a moment I thought I might be in a cave. Water was dripping from the ceiling in random abandon, puddling in pools on the furniture like a rude guest who’s never heard of using coasters.
On the over-sized — okay, in my opinion gorgeous and unique — coffee table we’d discovered at a sale some years ago and carefully transported home in the back of our SUV.
On the mahogany inlaid console table — the one our daughter has asked us to leave her in the will — that stands behind the leather sofa holding a lamp.
And of course on the ceramic tile floor. Water stretched 30 feet or more from one side of the open basement area to the other. All the chair legs, upholstered and otherwise, were wading in it.
I studied the two matching area rugs that I’d spent weeks of my life first selecting, then ordering to specific sizes to fit the odd dimensions of our space. When I bent to feel them they gave way to my touch like giant saturated sponges.
A familiar ache moved from my lower back to my knee to my ankle, and I longed to sit down. And so I did. I waded across the clear lake that my basement family room had become, found a mostly dry chair, and plopped down.
That’s when Ernie said, “It could have been worse.”
“Yes, it could have been a hurricane,” I replied. I confess that a reasonable person would have heard sarcasm in my voice.
But Ernie was on a roll. “We could be homeless tonight, but we still have the upstairs guest room to sleep in.”
He went on. “And there’s no water in the main floor family room or kitchen or dining room.”
And that’s when I noticed the quilts, the ancient ones hand pieced by Ernie’s mother and grandmother, so exquisite and fragile that we’ve hung them on the two opposing walls of the basement family room like the works of art they surely are. The water dripping through the ceiling had not reached to the edges of the large room. The quilts had been spared.
I remembered then that even on the moon — actually a cold, dark place the astronauts reported — you have to look if you want to see the stars, reach if you expect to touch them.
“Okay,” I finally said. “Who should we call to help us fix this?”