“Can we get together and do something, just the two of us, while you are home from college?” I plead of my daughter. She is in her first year of studying veterinary medicine at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa and I don’t get to talk to her much, let alone see her.
“You can go with me to Ames on New Year’s Day to pay my lot rent if you would like,” she replies.
“I would love that.” I am excited about spending a day with my daughter. She and her husband have purchased a trailer in a mobile home park that lies just behind the vet school. She lives there during the school year and then she comes home to Minnesota during breaks from school to spend time with her husband.
We drive the 150 miles on a crisp sunny winter day. The temperature hovers around ten degrees. The cold has moved in after a week that began with 50-degree temperatures and ended with a cold front ushered in by rain and high winds. Glare ice on the road of the trailer park greets us as we make the last turn and park by the trailer. Questions of what we will find inside swirl through our minds. Daughter has only been gone two weeks, but her furnace has this habit of going out when the wind blows. We gingerly pick our way up the ice-covered steps and press the storm door handle button. It is covered with ice and does not respond to Daughter’s touch. Great, the door is froze shut. Even a couple of fist poundings does not loosen it. Do we have any de-icer in the car? No, we don’t. Time for a well-aimed kick. This causes it to let loose enough to spring open.
Freezing cold air greets us inside. Not good! The furnace is out. A few steps to the kitchen sink and a quick test of the faucet. Both faucets offer total resistance and will not turn. Oh dear! Not only has the furnace gone out but the water is also frozen. A quick check of the bathroom reveals that the sink there puts out a small trickle, the commode flushes, and the shower runs. So maybe, the situation is not as dire as it seems. The first order of business is to relight the furnace which Daughter has become quite adept at doing. Soon, it is pumping warm air back into the rooms.
“We are going to town to buy you some backup heaters,” is my decision that I share with Daughter. I am hoping that the freezing occurred just over this last night when it turned really cold and that it is not so complete that the pipes have cracked.
Soon, we have two electric space heaters cranking out their heat along with the furnace.
“Just let the water run if it is running at all,” is the advice of my hubby, “and it usually thaws out by itself.”
“The instructions with the space heater say ‘don’t leave unattended’,” I inform Hubby by phone, “and the whole reason we bought them was to leave them unattended. What should we do?”
“They are probably OK to leave if they have a high-limit shut off on them,” is his thought, “but you should probably shut off the water and open the faucets when you leave.”
“I don’t really want to crawl under the trailer looking for the water shut-off,” Daughter storms. “I have no idea where it is.” And it is cold and miserable.
Oh, the joys of owning a trailer. “I will help you.” Together, we venture outdoors to remove some of the skirting to allow Daughter to slither under the dark dank claustrophobic causing space. “I don’t see anything,” She finally informs me. Alright, give up on that idea.
As we relax and wait for the water to thaw, a light bulb goes on in Daughter’s memory. “When I was living with the other girls, their trailer water shut-off was in the closet.” This calls for a trip to the bedroom and a removal of the panel covering the water heater in the closet. Sure enough, there it is. Inside and accessible from the warmth of the bedroom.
A couple of hours later, we really need to head for home if we are to get home in a timely manner. The kitchen sink has thawed to the point that one can turn the faucets on and off and a slow trickle of water is emerging. We are making progress. We turn off the water, leave the faucets open, and leave the space heaters set at 60 degrees. Hopefully, when she comes back in another two weeks everything will be thawed out and back to normal without any issues.
“Safe in Ames. Trying to thaw the trailer,” reads the text two weeks later on her return to Ames, “Nothing has thawed. Kitchen has pencil width. The bathroom has drips.”
Not good! This doesn’t make any sense. The temperatures have been above freezing for most of the two weeks since our trip there and the heaters kept the trailer warm even though the furnace had gone out again. “Dad wants to know if you want us to come down tomorrow and check things over.”
It is a beautiful mid-January day when we pull up at the trailer in Ames. The eves are dripping water as the latest snow melts under the warmth of the sun. A hand turn of the kitchen faucet yields only a small trickle, not even a stream as big as what was running when we left it on New Year’s Day. And now the bathroom faucet has no flow either. How perplexing!
Hubby begins a thorough investigation. The water is definitely on. He crawls under the trailer and looks around. The pipes seem well protected in the floor. There is no water dripping or worse yet, flowing. He removes the panel behind the washer and dryer but can’t see anything. None of this adds up. The water should have thawed out long ago. “You are going to have to call a plumber tomorrow as I can’t find anything wrong,” is the verdict to Daughter.
Unwilling to give up and in desperation, Hubby begins to tear the kitchen faucet apart. Surprise of surprises, brown water pours out! He quickly screws off the little aerator that covers the opening on this and most faucets. It is packed with brown sediment. A bee line to the bathroom reveals the same brown sediment obstructing the faucet there. How silly! This whole time we have had it stuck in our heads that the water is still frozen, not even considering this simple solution to what seemed to be a continuing problem but is actually a different problem. The freezing and thawing have apparently stirred up a bunch of sediment in the pipes and deposited it in the aerators. A plumber would have been laughing all the way home with a tidy sum in his pocket from such a call.
I am reminded of how much of life is often like this. We are so focused on our preconceived ideas about various things that we can’t see the truth because we are stuck in one way of thinking.
At least our journey is not in vain. We get to enjoy the day with our daughter, and she gets to start her new semester with several problems in her trailer resolved. No pipes have burst, and all is well.