The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


June 15, 2013

Woman feels plumb dumb for home improvement projects

The Back Porch

I’m wiped out.

I spent most of the week on the toilet.

Don’t push away that bowl of Cheerios just yet. I spent the past week teaching myself the fine art of plumbing.

Months ago, I noticed the tank in the guest bathroom was leaking. I talked to a plumber who’s a member of my church, and he gave me an estimate of $85 plus parts. I turned off the supply valve and left it off. My year as a starving writer meant that was one thing I could do without for now.

Then Mom came to visit. She graciously turned the supply valve on and off each time nature called. I decided it was time to do something about it.

Up till now, my total plumbing experience amounted to replacing a flapper valve in the tank in my bathroom. That really intimidated me until it was over.

My parents raised me to be a capable, independent woman. However, there were boundaries of things that menfolk did and womenfolk did not. While I helped and handed Daddy tools along the way, he did the work and taught my brother those things.

We all foolishly assumed I’d marry some handyman and not have to worry about it. Well, I didn’t, and I do.

So there I was spread-legged across the back of the toilet getting my first tour of the tank and its parts. After a phone consultation with my brother, we decided to start with the fill valve. I didn’t know what I was looking for and came home with the flush valve.

In following those directions, I attempted to get the tank off. Half the head of the bolt came off. I called my brother and asked whether I needed to take off the tank to replace the fill valve. He said I didn’t. I said, “Praise Jesus.”

Not wanting to make the same mistake twice, I took out the fill valve and walked into Lowe’s with it, saying, “I need one of these.”

Home again. Hooked it up. Seconds later, water ran down the back of the toilet. I had managed to loosen the bolt holding the tank enough that it was now leaking. And, the fill valve was kicking on every few seconds.

I dug through what tools I have and spent more than an hour trying to twist off the bolt with no head. I thought I was going to lose mine in the process.

Victory! To the hardware store to get a new set. Home again to install them. By this time, I’d mopped out the tank half a dozen times with trials and errors. I held my breath and temper as I filled the tank again. This time, I could plainly hear the leaking sound.

On the phone again with my brother. Try a flapper, he said. I dreaded the thought of taking off the tank because I knew that had to be way above my ability. I am not mechanically inclined and usually break another part in trying to fix the first part. I already had bolt casualties on this mission.

I kept thinking of two things — $85 and my brother’s advice to not crack the tank.

Changed the flapper. Still leaking.

Uggghhhh. I’d have to take off the tank to replace the flush valve. My guts churned. Bought the part and avoided putting it on until after lunch the next day.

It took two hours and two tries to get the tank level and all the parts back in and connected. I felt like a limp dishrag. My stomach churned as I turned on the supply valve.

I frantically felt every orifice of the tank for leaks. Nothing. The fill valve hissed for a good 10 minutes while the pressure inside it equalized. Those were the longest 10 minutes of my life.

High-society women, royalty and prize mares have given birth with less angst than those 10 minutes I spent pacing the floor, straining to hear the hissing stop and wondering when a leak would start.

It was time for the ultimate test. I gently tugged the handle and watched it flush. At last, all was quiet on the toilet front.

I fell to the floor, thanked God and cried tears of joy.

It’s my potty, and I’ll cry if I want to.

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist.


© 2013 by Nerissa Young


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