Skin Deep

The house was perfect!  We had labored non-stop for six months, tearing out cabinets and floors, even an occasional ceiling.  New wiring had been pulled, plumbing installed, walls and cabinets built, floors laid, and a passel of trim work done.  Then every surface in the house got a coat of paint.  We were exhausted, but it was just as we had envisioned when we started the job.  Never mind that the project had overrun the budget by two and a half times what we expected.  It was exactly as we dreamed it could be.  All except the back yard.

I looked out the new kitchen window and saw the seedy, gravel strewn yard.  It was a testament to its former use as a loading zone for the vegetable market which had been in the building next door.  Nothing worth mowing would grow in that.  Our daughter was getting married in a month or two and surely there would be grandchildren someday down the road.  They would need a yard in which to play.  We had already talked with our construction crew about erecting fences, but that wouldn’t make this right.  We agreed that more investment would be necessary and called the company who could move a little earth for us.  The front end loader removed all the old gravel and about a foot of the top layer of dirt, most of it full of rocks and bits of trash.  After that was done and the ground was level and litter free, the dump trucks arrived to replace the removed layer with good topsoil.  It was spread out with machines and around the trees by hand.  When the trucks and equipment left, we had a nice, level yard, ready for seeding.

I spread the grass-seed and watered it.  The rains came and washed the seed out, so I did it all again.  This time, after a week or so, you could look out the kitchen window and see a greenish hue to the dirt.  Day by day, the growth continued until we actually had a yard.  The beautiful, soft grass was a pleasure to behold and I was so proud!  Not a rock to be found, the yard was the nicest I had ever worked in.  I even got to mow it once.  Then came Easter Sunday.

It was our first Easter in the house and we were expecting about twenty guests for dinner.  That morning, the Lovely Lady pulled the plug on her bathtub and it sat and gurgled.  The water level went down too slowly and I noticed that the sump pump in the basement was running.  That was a puzzle, since there had been no recent rain, so the water couldn’t be seeping in the foundation.  I flushed a toilet downstairs.  It gurgled.  The sump pump ran some more.  The sink in the kitchen wasn’t any better.  Our suspicions had to be faced.  We had a clogged sewer.  On Easter Sunday.  A call to our plumber got quick action, but he gave us bad news.  “I opened it up enough for today, but the whole line is collapsed.  It’s ancient and has roots growing in the joints.  It will have to be replaced.”  I agreed, reluctantly, and we scheduled the work.  I had no idea what was to come!

In a day or two, the drive-through gate in the back fence was opened wide and the back-hoe came in.  Before you could say “Saint Augustine grass”, my perfect lawn was covered with huge rocks.  The topsoil was mixed with the old Arkansas dirt, which is to say, it had more rocks than soil.  The ditch went straight back from the house to the back of the lot and turned, running the width of the yard and on past the fence.  My beautiful yard was nothing but a memory, and my heart was broken.  Nine years later, the weeds and “spiny balls” from the Sweet Gum tree reign supreme in the realm of the backyard, aided over that time by two Golden Retrievers who were expert diggers, and not a few moles and other assorted varmints. 

I’m still amazed at how such a beautiful testament to hard work and dedication can hide a secret so filthy and wretched.  Under that facade of orderliness and discipline, the rot and decay of years of neglect lurked, just awaiting the completion of the renovation above.  Then it raised its ugly head and demanded my attention, much to the detriment of the exterior beauty.

I remember a similar situation which occurred years ago, while I still worked for my friends at the electrical contracting business.  We were called out to a newly renovated home because they were having a serious problem with flickering lights.  The family had recently moved to our little town for his new job as president of one of the local banks.  The lady of the house had every detail exactly as she wanted it.  You couldn’t have found a more nicely decorated house in any magazine.  They had waited until the workers were finished with every facet of the renovation and then covered all the floors with white carpet and the walls in the living area with a very expensive fabric wall treatment.  When we had eliminated any possibility of problems on the exterior of the home, we had to enter the posh shrine to Better Homes & Gardens, dirty work boots soiling the white rug in spite of our best efforts to wipe them clean.  Worse, we had to open the breaker panel on the wall.  Normally this was simply a matter of removing four screws and repairs could be made immediately.  This time, we were stymied.  The decorator had insisted that the very costly fabric wall covering should cover the wall, unbroken by any unwanted cuts for a very unfashionable metal panel door.  The only way to get where we needed to make repairs was to cut the fabric!  I’ll not bore you with the gory details of that unhappy day, but it will serve just to mention that the lady of the house was more than slightly unhappy.  We should leave it at that.

You know, it strikes me that if we would work as hard at cleaning up what’s under the surface as we do at beautifying the face which the world sees, we could avoid a lot of disappointment in life.  I’m guessing you get the point, so I think I’ll finish without any more preaching.

The grandchildren did come.  They love the backyard, just as it is, puppy-dog holes, spiny balls, and all.  They also give the plumbing a workout every time they visit.  “I need to wash my hands” is the  phrase we hear whenever they come in from playing, and the little ladder is dragged to its place in front of the big kitchen sink.  It doesn’t gurgle.  It’s nice to be able to enjoy the yard above and know that what’s hidden below won’t be causing any problems for the foreseeable future. 

If only that were true in every facet of our lives.

“The naked truth is always better than the best-dressed lie.”
(Ann Landers~advice columnist~1918-2002)

“The cause is hidden, but the result is known.”
(Ovid~Ancient Roman poet~43 BC-17 AD)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *