Plumbing the depths of a family vacation

Gale Hammond’s son-in-law, Jim, takes his daughters, Emily and Gracie, out for their first ride on a sled.

Something I get asked a lot is “How did you start writing a newspaper column?” Or, “Do you ever run out of stuff to write about?”

The true, short answer to both questions is, “Hahahaha!”

No, seriously; I was born under some kind of weird star. Not necessarily the “Lucky Star” (official astronomy designation), but more “The Practical Joker Star,” and don’t tell me there is no such thing, astronomers, because I know it’s out there.

Yes; goofy events follow me around like a perverse Ricky Gervais angel. Like the time I invited my younger daughter’s new in-laws for dinner. Just as they were pulling into the driveway I was at the kitchen window cleaning the large revolving plate from my microwave and it got stuck in the sink. My other son-in-law and I were frantically trying to pry the thing out, which looked to the arriving visitors on the driveway something akin to stuffing a dead body down the garbage disposal.

So in February when our two daughters, their spouses and their three (and a half!) young children came to visit us at our vacation home high in the Colorado Rockies, I just knew something weird would happen.

Now it’s dicey flying with an energetic 4-year-old, two 2-year-olds and one pregnant mom, people, but they all landed safely in Denver without once being escorted off the plane by authorities. The rental vehicle was procured, and while even that was a column-worthy story involving a non-existent red SUV and Utah license plates, let’s not even go there.

Leaving Denver, they traversed up the mountains and into the darkness with snow flying. By 8:30 p.m., three sleepy little ones were trundled out of the vehicle and into our house. We chatted for an hour, and then prepared for bed, contemplating the morrow’s activities involving snowmen and sleds.

That’s when “The Practical Joker Star” shot into action.

“Um, Mom,” remarked our younger daughter, returning to the main level of the house. “There’s some brown stuff backed up into the shower in our bathroom.”

Now, I don’t care how much time you spend setting out fresh flowers in every bedroom, artfully arranging woolen throws at the foot of each bed and providing a cozy space for your progeny to enjoy a few days of family vacation, a backed up sewage system means all that preparation is pretty much down “the crapper” if you will. Assuming “the crapper” is functioning, that is.

So, need I define the challenge of having a house containing nine people and no operative commodes at 9:30 p.m. on a Saturday night? In a mountain town containing 447 permanent residents? In the dead of winter? Altitude 8,500 feet? Yep, even Martha Stewart would be flummoxed.

Calling the area’s “24-hour” plumbing people was a no-go – they were already out on 22 previous calls from folks with frozen pipes. (When the weather is a balmy “minus seven” or so, things get dubious, so last year we installed a “hot wire” in our sewer system after two occurrences involving frozen sewer lines, which can result in rather unpleasant nastiness.)

In desperation we called the fellow who installed our hot wire and happily for us, he and his buddy had just returned from an evening of margaritas at “Poncho and Lefty’s,” celebrating Saturday night high-country style. He was in such a good mood he and his buddy climbed into their truck and trekked the 16 miles back to town to take a whack at whatever was causing our back-up.

At last, after much “snaking” of sewer lines and running of high-pressure hoses (that kept freezing up in the frigid night temperatures), removal and reinstallation of a toilet, hours of loud commotion from generators heating up icy water, and blow torch-type devices to thaw frozen hoses, the blockage was discovered and eliminated. It was 2:45 a.m., but we were back in business. And the next day nine sleep-deprived family members enjoyed some sledding and a snowman.

So if you ask me why I write, now you know; when “The Practical Joker Star” makes most days seem like being in a Woody Allen movie, you simply have no other choice.

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