It was in the middle of our vacation that the water stopped working.
I was sitting down to Sunday night supper in the picturesque seaside community of Chincoteague, Va., when my wife asked " Why isn't any water coming out of the kitchen faucet?"
As a veteran of plumbing wars, I knew there were few happy answers to that question.
I sat at the supper table for minute, fork in hand, hoping that the water would somehow surge through the faucet. I considered tapping the faucet with my fork. I remember reading that a similar technique once worked for Moses on a rock.
I figured the lack of running water was somehow linked to the Boys of the Mud. These were the four lads, two of ours and two imports, who were outside the vacation house gleefully flinging themselves into mud puddles. Thanks to several days of heavy rain, these puddles had begun to resemble the Great Lakes.
I found the broken pipe at the bottom of a mud puddle near the end of the driveway. The puddle had formed on top of the water shut-off valve. The valve was about three feet underground and ordinarily was protected from the elements by a lid. Somehow the lid covering had disappeared, leaving a hole, covered with muddy water. As one of my sons pranced through this puddle he accidentally stepped in the hole. He wasn't hurt, but the plastic water pipe he landed on, the one that carried water to the house, snapped like a pretzel.
So there I was in middle of my vacation, mud covering my feet, water lapping at my shins, surrounded by kids who thought splashing in the ever-deepening puddle was great fun. I would have howled at the moon, but it was covered over by clouds, rain clouds.
I cursed my bad luck. I had just taken my brother Dick, a guy who can fix anything, to the Baltimore airport. I replaced this master fixer and his family with a new set of houseguests, two boys, 11 and 9, who were playmates for our sons. These four boys quickly became the Boys of the Mud. Their interest in the broken water pipe focused on two points. First, it meant that they didn't have to take showers. This was a considered good news. Secondly it meant they had to be enlisted in filling the toilet tanks with buckets of water, drawn from a neighbor's garden hose. The kids found this bucket brigade concept appealing at first, but was soon dismissed as too much work. It was not merely as much fun as riding bikes through puddles or playing badminton in the mud.
During the three days we were without water, the household settled into a routine. Gene Fusco, the plumber, a man we came to know well, would try to get the standing water off the broken pipe. This was plastic pipe, and I learned that cementing a replacement piece of plastic pipe required that the pipe be dry, at least for a minute or so.
When Gene the plumber showed up, I would set down the book I was trying to read and help Gene bail. The younger members of the Boys of the Mud would sit by the hole and watch.
No water was coming out of the pipe. But the hole was low point for about a half-acre of sandy soil, ground that was saturated with rain water. When we bailed water out of the hole, more would seep in, like the relentlessly creeping communism of the 1950s. As long as it was covered with water, the pipe couldn't be fixed.
We got water back Tuesday afternoon, the same day the sun returned after a five-day absence. The broken pipe was still under water, but Gene figured out an alternative way to get water from the neighbor's house into our house. Using a gadget, consisting of two female garden hose couplings, he hooked the neighbor's hose up to the outdoor faucet on the side of our house. When he turned on the next door neighbor's hose, we had water, hot and cold. Gene said he should have thought of it sooner. I helped him do it, and I still don't understand why it worked. But it did. The hose hook-up was a temporary solution. The pipe still needed to be fixed. And a day or so later, when Gene made his major assault on the submerged pipe, I helped out
Following Gene's instructions, I bailed at a frantic pace until the water fell below the pipe. As the water rose, Gene applied the cement to one end of the pipe and fitted into a similarly cemented length of replacement pipe. We did this twice. This first time the new pipe leaked. Gene was so mad I thought he was going to snap the pipe with his bare hands. The second time, the seal held and there was great rejoicing.
I did a several things on my vacation. I read a few books, I rode a few waves, and cycled over several scenic bike trails. But when, as folks do, they tell each other what they did on their summer vacation, I am gonna tell them how I played plumber.