A long time ago, we bought a ramshackle beach house on Lake Superior and two years later it burned down. One minute we had a house and the next it was gone. That happens to people, though, and it’s a survivable thing. We lost things, a massive stone fireplace, tables made from beach wood, dishes and pillowcases, shards of which I kept finding in the sand years afterward. A house can blow up, literally blow up in deep darkest winter on the frozen shore of Lake Superior, but still leave dainty little notes. A bathroom tile, white with a curlicue blue design, I found it. But from the detritus of the old comes the new.
Our new house was built in a rush. There is a small window on this patch of Lake Superior of build-able weather and even that is abbreviated by the nesting schedule of the Piping Plover. We can’t be hammering when they’re having babies. But within months our new house was finished. It was lovely in many ways but it had a distressing flaw. The house was built on a concrete pad poured on the sand. No basement, just the pad. And the pad had a crack. But somehow, the house passed building inspection and we covered up the crack with indoor outdoor carpeting.
Every now and then I’d worry about the crack and so we’d have the builder and the concrete man and many others come stand around and give us yet another version of their hometown consensus for the visitors. “There’s a crack but it doesn’t matter. The house isn’t going anywhere.” I knew they’d all just come from coffee together at the diner. There would be no impartial opinions about the crack. And so I put myself on a strict schedule of bemoaning the crack only annually. Then, I would think, Jesus, the foundation of our house is cracked! Why isn’t this important?
So today, we came to Grand Marais after a long absence. I waited in the car while my husband unlocked the door. He came back to the car with water dripping from his eyebrows. “There’s a really big problem. A really big problem.” We often have problems so I waited for more. A punchline, maybe. “You have to see it.”
The first floor of our house was covered in two inches of water. Water was spewing from a burst pipe in the laundry room. Not a trickle or a drip, a full on jet of water. When I stepped across the room, I made waves, that’s how much water there was. We started making calls. Getting the township to turn the water off. Calling the insurance company. Sweet talking the town plumber for the umpteenth time. Finding a disaster clean-up crew with nothing to do on a Friday night.
“Good thing you had that crack.” The clean-up guy told us that the ground around the house was saturated. So as it happens, however long the pipe had been burst, which could have been days or weeks, the water had been flooding the first floor of the house and then seeping out through the crack. Rather than flooding the first floor, going up the stairs, flooding the second floor, and ruining the entire place. The crack. That damn crack. There’s a moral of the story in there somewhere, I thought. How our flaws end up saving us? How we fear the wrong things?
Not sure which is the moral of the story but I’m glad for the crack and glad the guys from town conspired to make us think it never needed fixing. Maybe they knew more than I gave them credit for. The water had a place to go, a way to leave our house. What a little weird gift that is.
So we still have no heat tonight (the pipe froze because the furnace went out) and no water, because the pipe’s not yet fixed. We do have a pretty dry first floor with five fans blowing all weekend. We can’t see our breath anymore since opening the oven door after our meatloaf was done. And we have a lot of wine – red and white – and socks and blankets. And we have this fire. And that will have to do.