A Unique Christmas Ornament by Gary Wilson | Advent 2018 Day 8

A Unique Christmas Ornament

by Gary Wilson

It was only a couple of days until Christmas and the weather in Petaluma was cold and dry.  Back in Colorado Springs, our new home for the past 6 months, I heard the temperature was dropping and, with the wind chill, was  reaching down to the single digits – brrrrrr!  I wasn’t sure my California family was ready for that kind of cold yet and was glad we were here.

I had just finished changing the baby’s diaper and asked my wife, “Hon, this little guy is getting fussy.  What do you think, is it time to put him down for the night?”

“Yea, most likely.  What time is it?”

“A little after 8.”  She walked over to take the baby.  “I’ll feed him and put his down.”

A flannel-clad squeeze-toy toddler, our middle child and only girl, scrambled out from behind mom after being wrangled into her all-too-cute PJs and went in search of Grandma.  The oldest, another boy, was already doing something with Grandpa.

I had sat back to enjoy family happening as it’s supposed to when the phone rang.  I could hear my mom telling the caller, “One moment.  He’s right here,” as she brought me the phone.  I was annoyed because I really did not want to be bothered with work stuff while taking time off for a rare visit with my now distant family.

“Hello; this is Gary Wilson.”

“Hey Gary.  This is Mark.”  This was a surprise because Mark was the husband of the couple we asked to watch our house and pickup our mail for the week we were to be gone.  “Merry, almost-Christmas Mark.  What’s up?”

“I listened as he described why he was calling.”  My wife heard his name and was intrigued enough to stop and listen .

“Yea, I heard a news report about how cold it was in Denver and figured it must be at least that cold in the Springs.”

My wife’s eye brows went up, sensing that something had to be wrong.  Mark would not have called just to talk about the weather.

“Okay, yea.  Oh no!  Mark, please tell me you’re kidding. . .”  I didn’t know him well enough to tell for sure.  He wasn’t. . .

“Okay,  I understand.  With only 2 days to Christmas, I doubt I can get a flight back. Let me call my insurance agent and get back to you.

It would have been our first Christmas in Colorado, but my parents really wanted to see the baby again and, as fresh escapees from California, our blood had not thickened enough to be really comfortable in the high frozen desert of Colorado Springs.  So we packed up the kids and enough underwear for everyone, some presents and caught a jet for San Francisco where my parents met and whisked us north to my childhood home in Petaluma.

We had moved to Colorado Springs so I could follow my dream of managing a technical support team with my company.  On arrival, we knew almost no one, but people there were friendly and we were quickly welcomed to our new neighborhood and church.  We used our fail-safe way to meet people by keeping the baby in his car seat and sitting on the front row of the sanctuary.  Most church folks cannot resist a baby and after our first visit we were surrounded. Life was good.

I was still settling down after a hectic child birth, crazy hectic 5 months at work and all the fun of packing one baby and two toddlers into an aircraft and making the trip from Colorado Springs to Petaluma with one tight stopover and a jammed sedan for the drive to my parent’s home.  We could have slept for most of the planned visit, but the grandparents were holding breakfast hostage pending the delivery of  at least 2 of 3 children for them to play with.  Sure – help yourselves to whichever ones you want.  We’ll be out in about 12-13 hours. . .

But that evening, this call from Mark arrived and instead I had a big problem to solve – from two states away.

He and his wife had stopped by to pick up the mail.  They went in our home to leave the mail in a box on the kitchen counter as arranged and were ready to leave, but the wife thought she heard something.

“Yea.  I hear it too and it sounds like water running,” Mark said.

I understand this started a rapid walk around the house checking facets and toilets.  Mark told me the house was really cold and I admitted that was to be expected as we’d turned off the heat for the week we planned to be away.  As he explained things, I realized that I’d been caught making the classic mistake of letting water pipes freeze and now I’m flooded the basement.  I could not believe it.

His wife checked the upstairs, but all looked well.  We had left a facet dribbling in each bathroom.  He checked the one on ground level then headed down stairs to check the  basement.  This house had a huge basement, but the stairs were steep and narrow.  Using them felt like you were going much deeper than reality.  The older kids loved that basement. Mark listened carefully as he descended, and the sound was a bit louder.  He wondered where the bathroom was down here and stepped off that last step and found his foot submerged in a couple of inches of nearly frozen water.  We had thick carpet down there and the water was right at the top, so until Mark didn’t realize it was there until he stepped in it.

“I think I found the problem!” He called out to his wife.  She followed him down the long staircase, but Mark told her not to step down to the floor.  He did find the bathroom but all seemed well there too so he looked for signs of a leak, and there it was.  One wall was sagging from behind and water was carving a path out right at the baseboard.  A pipe had burst back behind the drywall panel.

Mark shook his head. “Gary’s going to love this,” By now his feet were soaked and freezing so he quickly found and turned off the water before it could rise to the level of a wall plug,  But the basement was fully dug into the soil and the only way out was via those stairs or several windows were installed with wooden boxes that were good only for the light they let in and occasionally the fresh summer air.

So, there I was mentally scrolling through all this and trying to decide, ‘what do I do now?’ pretty quickly settled to “what can I do?”.  I was two big states away, 2 days from Christmas.  A quick flight home would be super expensive even if I could find a seat, and if I did that – Our family Christmas would be ruined.  Time to call that insurance agent.  I really don’t believe this is happening to me. . .

Well, the insurance guy carefully made light of the problem and we had a great planning discussion.  Turns out they have relationships with services that do this sort of cleanup.

This part of the story is interesting only if you are dealing with this kind of mess yourself, so in short, I had Mark give his key to our neighbor straight across the street.  This guy was retired and loved being helpful.  Each morning he met the cleaning crew and kept an eye on their progress, but the cleaning service worked a miracle for us.

By the time we got home from our California Christmas, 6 days later; they had vacuumed the water out of the basement, torn out the damaged sheet of drywall, exposing the burst pipe.  Turns out it was not helped by letting the water drip in the bathroom sinks because that line fed the backyard water facets.

They dried everything out.  They brought in a plumber to repair the pipe, replaced the drywall, re-textured and repainted the wall so well that I could not tell old from new drywall.  All the furniture had been lifted up onto small blocks to get them above the water while the other work was accomplished and some big heaters brought in to evaporate and dry the rest of the basement.

When we got home, the only evidence of the event was: the 1 inch copper elbow that burst and caused all the damage, those little blocks  beneath all the furniture and a bill for the deductible on my insurance.

We got to stay with my parents as planned.  The kids shared none of my anxiety over the whole deal and when we got home, the two older kids helped me pluck out those little blocks.  Mark later rubbed it in, “Welcome to Colorado Springs,  Never – ever fully turn off the house heat in the winter.”  Opps!

Reflecting back, I find myself thankful for the friendships of people who barely knew us and the inconvenience they endured to save our home.  tn 6 days, we would have had a fully flooded basement.  Our insurance agent was great and the staff at ServiceMaster of Colorado Springs repaired everything so we could hardly tell where the damage happened.

Oh – and that blasted burst copper elbow; my wife tied a ribbon around it so we could hang it each year as a memorial to an almost ruined Christmas .  It is easily our most unique Christmas tree ornament and helps everyone enjoy retelling the story each year.

Given my insurance deductible was $ 1,000.00, this piece of pipe is certainly is the most expensive ornament I own.

The first job I recall wanting way back in the first grade was that of a story teller / comedian.  I loved, and still love telling stories and making people laugh.

Today, while I make my living as a Technical Account Manager for a very large software company, stories remain my passion.  I’ve just finished my first year of serious blogging on my current project where I create fun autobiographical essays about growing up.  All the members of this collection are 2000 words or less so most readers can consume one in 10 minutes or less.  I call my blog: Stories in a Dime of Time.

At the time of each event, I didn’t think my life was particularly exceptional but people have told me that they wished they had a life as full as mine.  I think they’re wrong.  Viewed from the correct point of view, our lives are full of adventures and I hope that some of my stories remind readers just how much fun we’ve had through this adventure of growing up.  If we were sharing coffee in some comfortable setting, I’ll bet my stories would remind you of wonderful and fun things that helped to make you the person you are today.

If you are open to the idea that flooding the back part of your home, playing tag up a tree, making and learning to throw your own boomerang, ride a unicycle, deal with bullies, exploring a storm drain, pulling gags with a chainsaw or just surviving your prom, college, first real job, girlfriends, sky diving or the birth of a child – you may find my collection to be a fun place to explore.  I hope you are such a person and, if I’m really fortunate, will soon be entitled to call you a friend I met through my story blog.


This post originally appeared on Gary’s blog where you can find it with a few more visuals.

11 thoughts on “A Unique Christmas Ornament by Gary Wilson | Advent 2018 Day 8

  1. Even with heat running I was once woken in the middle of the night by water spraying in a wall… never fun. I think it was -25 F that night and hadn’t been above freezing for almost two weeks…

    Glad that the nightmare was fixed before you got home! Yeah, never turn the heat all of the way off when you live where winter really hits!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. A good story about neighborly deeds. Do you still keep in touch with Mark and his wife?


    1. Hi Antionette – we did for several years, but work and family life finally wore both couples down. We had one opportunity to chat with them and we quickly found the relationship was just a strong as when we left Colorado back in 2000 (Y2K). Wonderful folks.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Gary,
    Great story. You had fabulous neighbours and it’s so encouraging to hear stories about such good people who restore your faith in humanity. Ringing the insurance company was a great move which saved your family Christmas.
    LIving in Sydney, I haven’t had the problems of a cold Christmas. However, one Christmas we had problems at the other end of the spectrum…heat.My husband is a computer network engineer and it must be going back to before the kids came along, we drove down to Adelaide to attend the Grand Prix and then drive back via the Great Ocean Road and Melbourne.
    On the way down, we stayed in Hay https://www.aussietowns.com.au/town/hay-nsw Hay, which is only 93 m above sea level, is equally accessible to three of Australia’s major cities. It is located 724 km west of Sydney via Wagga and Narrandera at the junction of
    In other words, Hay is in the middle of nowhere and I’m actually really surprised that Geoff’s mobile phone actually worked because we were driving out of Hay when the call came. the Sturt, Cobb and Mid Western Highways. It is 653 km east of Adelaide and 415 km north of Melbourne.
    We were heading out of Hay, when Geoff’s mobile rang, which was pretty unlucky because coverage wasn’t that great back then and Hay is remote and almost in the outback. Turned out that the aircon in the server room had failed over Christmas and the server disks had melted and ground into each other and were cactus. While our holiday was disturbed by all the phone calls, his boss had chosen to rent a place in Manly in Sydney and spent most of the holiday in the office, despite her daughter visiting from the UK.
    I still get heart failure when Geoff’s phone rings at night. He’s like the oncall doctor for computer systems and he’s currently at Macquarie Uni. That’s a lot of stress when things go wrong.
    Anyway, I thought you’d enjoy our heat stress story in response to your cold stress story.
    Best wishes,

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Rowena, I did not know Geoff was also tied into the customer support side of technology. Tell him you have this story-telling friend in the US who did UNIX and Oracle RDBMS support for Oracle – at which point he should say something like how sorry he is for your friend. My job has changed some and I rarely get to play with the technology, but somehow the stress remains. . .
      Thanks for giving this tale a read. We still toss this story around each year as we put up the tree.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh dear! So sorry to hear about this! I hope that the great people you had helping out will cancel out the negative for you about Colorado Springs! I’ve lived here since ‘93, and I love it. Honestly, our winters here are not that harsh…but for someone from a warm climate those few really cold days we get each year can be a bit of a shock! I grew up in Northern New Mexico, and they even have periodic freezes there. My Texan brother forgot about that and didnt winterize the sprinkler at my moms place that he’s trying to sell, so we had a pipe burst in the back yard down there this year. That is just not a fun call to get! I absolutely adore your sense of humor in creating your Christmas ornament!


    1. Hi JetGirl. I’m envious and still miss COS. You are correct, We only had one rough winter and, except for the one we were so far away from, had little problems and loved our home and friends and church. Thanks so much for stopping by and giving my story a read. I hope you stop by my full story collection for a few more laughs. You will always be warmly welcomed.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Oh! What an awful thing to happen, especially over Christmas and with you in California!!!. I lived in Colorado Springs for 4 years, I was stationed at the Air Force Academy. It’s a nice little town, or at least it was when I was there in the early 90s. But the weather is definitely challenging!!! I lived up in Palmer Lake. Worked a nightshift – when an Albuquerque Low blew through and dumped about 4 feet of snow. I couldn’t drive up to my house, so I trudged through waist-high snow for a mile, in nothing but my nurse’s uniform and shoess. BRRRR!!!! That really is an expensive ornament!!!!!


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