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A moment of triumph

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Simple, or so I imagined.

Addressing leaky faucets was a skill my father taught me at an early age. It wasn’t that he set out to teach me but it was a lesson I learned from watching him. It started with a trip to the cellar to retrieve a gunmetal gray box containing wrenches, screwdrivers and reclaimed baby food jars filled with assorted washers and gummy twine.

Finding the shutoff value was next. Often it was as simple as reaching behind the sink, but when it came to bathtubs, which were often more complicated, he sometimes resorted to the main valve and shutting down the entire system. With electrical repairs, he always shut down the whole house, a precaution I’ve followed. A wet kitchen or bathroom floor is manageable, but a jolt of juice is something to respect.

I remember the care he took not to mar the fixture, sometimes cushioning the wrench with a rag. That was followed by the disassembly of the valve and arriving at the washer seated in a ring and secured by a brass screw. Frequently, the washer showed its age. It would be frayed and devoid on the conical shape designed to make a firm closure.

My job was to fish through the jar of washers and find the suitable replacement while he removed the worn one and cleaned the bedding with steel wool. Sometimes the process was completed in less than five minutes. With satisfaction, he would ask me to turn on the water. The faucet would spit and cough as the air worked through the pipes and then he’f crank down the faucet and the water would stop. Not even a drop. We’d smile. We’d done it. The box would be returned to the basement.

Then there were other times. The perfect washer wasn’t to be found. Before making a trip to the hardware store, he’d sort through the jar, coming up with one that was slightly larger than needed. Using a straight edge razor, he’d shave off thin slivers of rubber until it fit. That frequently worked but, of course, there were the times it didn’t and after reassembling everything the drip persisted.

I found myself in that situation two weeks ago.

I should have just paid no attention to the damp cement beneath the outside faucet after Carol asked if it was safe to restore outside service. I examined the faucet. It was wet, a drop slowly building. I cranked down the valve. It continued to build until it dropped to the pavement.

Easy, I thought. I learned from my father how to take care of this. Out came the tools and the washers. But this valve that has been a part of this house as long as we have owned it wasn’t being cooperative. Finally, in frustration, I told Carol she would have to wait for the hose until the next weekend.

I was going to take the easy route and replace the entire fixture. Simple, I thought. Unscrew the old one. Wrap the threads of the pipe with Teflon tape and screw on the new one. All of that went as planned until it came to positioning the new faucet. It was facing up. Out came a wrench and, with a hefty yank, it rotated it into place. Everything seemed perfect, or so I thought.

I turned on the water. The mouth of the faucet was dry. Well, it should be. It was brand new, but the shingles around the feed were damp. I pulled on the fixture to expose the pipe. In my rush to align the faucet I had failed to secure the pipe and cracked it. Now there was only one course of action: cut off the fitting and solder on a new one. The quick fix was about to become a nightmare, or so I thought.

I made a mental list of what I needed and descended into the basement. Most of the stuff was there, but I couldn’t find my torch. I’d need that and, of course, the fitting.

As I pulled out of the drive, I found my neighbor Roger Keefe working on his truck. I stopped to see what he was up to. He was working on the brakes. I described my predicament and that I was headed to Salk’s to get a torch.

“Use mine,” he said, pointing to an acetylene torch that looked suitable for welding the seams of a nuclear submarine. “Get the fitting and I’ll give you a hand.”

Buoyed by the thought that more than one of us would be tackling the job, I was back in 20 minutes with the needed part.

Roger looked over my preparation and polished the pipe with steel wool before applying the flux and sliding on the fitting. He then carefully adjusted the torch before heating the fixture and touching the solder to the pipe.

“There,” he said. With a splash from his water bottle, the fixture cooled and he wrapped it with tape before threading on the new fixture. I turned on the system. No drip.

We looked at one another. Roger smiled; so did I. We shared that moment of triumph.

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