Column for August 13, 2006: Call a professional

When in doubt, call a professional

I confess I had occasionally pictured this scene in my head — the climactic movie-moment when the world-weary paterfamilias — who would, of course, be played by me — passes on his lifetime’s worth of hard-won wisdom to the next generation. In the image that played in my head, however, I didn’t deliver those lines flat on my back on a bench while my eldest son hovered above me, pouring endless bottles of water over my face.

It all began with a puff of wispy white smoke. While white smoke may be providential when selecting the next pope, it seems somewhat less promising when that smoke — preceded by a popping sound — emanates from under the hood of the car we’d counted on to do its usual yeoman-service during the first-born’s summer sojourn from Vancouver.

We thought we had it figured out. There was a house, a cottage, two cars and a bicycle to share among three adults with wildly different schemes and schedules. It could work.

But then came the pop and the puff and the car that wouldn’t start with the battery that wouldn’t take a charge that ended up — on the afternoon of the evening of the son’s arrival — sitting by the side of a dirt road next to some garbage bins.

Perhaps we could rent a second car? It was, of course, the beginning of the busiest two weeks of the summer travel season, and there were no cars to rent at a daily rate much less than the sticker price of a new SUV.

When in doubt, call a professional.

“It’s your alternator,” the Halifax car dealer sagely informed my wife without even seeing the car. And, of course, it was. That’s why you call a professional. So, after driving into the city in the other car to pick up our son and buying the necessary parts, we hurried back to our cottage in the middle of the middle of Nowhere, Nova Scotia, to look for a mechanic who made house calls. He was easier to find than you might expect. And cheaper too.

Problem solved. Like I said, call a professional.

But then there was this other, unrelated problem. Or related only in the sense that anything that can go wrong during a Kimber family reunion invariably will.

We’d been having problems with the quality of our well water at the cottage so — being ever unhandy about the house — I once again called in a professional. The plumber agreed to meet us the next morning to install something called a “whole-house UV water filtration system.”

Which he did. And a beautiful thing it is too.

But there’d been this huge thunder and lightning storm the night before he came. It knocked out power to the cottage. No problem, said the plumber. We can install the system without electricity and then I’ll show you how to chlorinate the pipes and test it, so you can do it yourself after the electricity comes back on. OK?

Uh… OK. Close to a day and a full freezer-melt later — not to mention a mind-numbingly pleasant afternoon by the lake — the power was restored. Which is when I tried to remember the plumber’s post-doctoral treatise on what I was supposed to do. I should have written it down.

I did manage to get the industrial-strength bleach in the pre-filter. I ran the water pump, as instructed, until I smelled the telltale chlorine from each tap, and then I waited, patiently, for the bleach to do its bleaching.

This isn’t really so difficult, I thought. Which is almost always the wrong thought.

My next task was to remove the pre-filter, empty it and… was that a slight discoloration in the water at the bottom of the filter?… Leftover bleach? Should that be there? I bent down to look and… oops. My hand slipped, the liquid splashed back and…Arrgh!! My eye!!!

“I believe,” I calmly explained to my wife and son after I’d stumbled blindly up the stairs to where they were relaxing on the deck, “I may have a small problem.”

Soon I was flat on my back on the bench on the deck staring up at my son who was gleefully emptying bottles of water in my eye while my wife made the requisite call to the emergency room at the Bridgewater hospital where I would, several hours later, be declared healthy but dumb for not wearing safety goggles when mucking about with bleach.

Despite the pain — did I mention the pain? — I actually did manage to pass on some hard-earned, father-knows-best advice to my son. “Always remember,” I said, squinting up at him, “hire a professional.”

And with that, he poured yet another bottle of water in my face.

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