I look over at the clock radio/alarm, and the digital readout glares: “ 4:15 a.m,.” at me in bright yellow numbers, reminding me that I only have forty-five more minutes before the infernal buzzer that some sadist built into that machine jolts me into the reality of the day. It’s been raining poodles and Persians outside, and I subconsciously thought I heard the “drip, drip, drip,” of water into a container of some kind. I must have been dreaming of the old mill house we used to live in over on “smokey” road back when the kids were little. I lay there, and let my mind drift back to that place in time…..
The houses on Smokey road were built back in the 1880’s, and the builders used thin slate tiles which were joined together with metal hooks to cover the roof. We moved into one of these jewels back in 1974, when my little girl Kirsten was two years old. My Dad helped us with the down payment, as we had very little in the way of money, or anything else for that matter, back then. This house was a lot nicer than most of the old company houses, as there had been some
renovation done by the previous owners. There were some extra cabinets, a big walk-in closet, and a nice counter in the kitchen. Nobody had dared touched the roof, however.
You see, there is this hard and fast rule about the old slate tiles that they used in the construction of the mill houses. They will last practically forever, if you don’t mess with them. Not having thought about this kind of thing before, I climbed up on the roof one day, and walked my 190 pound frame all over those tiles while installing a T.V. antennae. I got that antennae up, and we had great reception. I was rather proud of myself until the next time it came a hard rain.
“Drip, drip, drip…” the three most dread words in the English language.
“Larry, I think the roof is leaking.” My wife nudged me and said.
“It’s just dripping out on the porch,” I mumbled sleepily, “go back to sleep.”
The next morning I swung my feet to the side of the bed to get up, and:
“Splat.” It was similar to the sound the baseball’s I had hit in the Chattooga river made.
“I told you it was the roof leaking.” I heard from behind me, as I waded toward the bathroom. Thus began a five year long battle with the ancient slate roof.
“How much to replace the roof?” I asked the roofer
“I’ll do the back for six-hundred bucks.” He speculated “But I ain’t doin’ that steep- pitched front roof for less than a thousand.” “It’s too dangerous!”
I felt sick to my stomach.
I ended up helping my Dad, and a couple of guys from the mattress company where I now worked, do the back roof one bright October Saturday. We replaced all of the decking, except on the porch area. I then took a five gallon bucket of black roofing tar up a tall ladder on the front, and covered the obvious cracks with this gooey pitch. I really laid it on thick. When I came back down about an hour later I looked like B’rer Rabbit’s friend the Tar Baby. Joel Chandler Harris would have been proud!
Everything I touched stuck to me. Pieces of paint off of the ladder, loose grass, gravel, pocket change; the garage door. I looked like a piece of walking flypaper. I was finally able to
splash enough gasoline on the gook to get it off me. It also took the top layer of my skin. Looking nice and pink, I went back into the house.
“We won’t have to worry about that anymore!” I stated confidently.
All through the Winter months things stayed dry. We had a great Christmas that year, with Kirsten, and little Larry Jr., who had arrived on a snowy December afternoon in 1975, getting lots of toys from old Santa! It appeared as though I had conquered my nemesis, the roof tiles, through hard work, determination, and a bucket of black goo. Then came the Spring rains in March:
“Drip, drip, drip…”
“I know, I know, I can hear it.” I replied catatonically.
I got up and put a pan underneath the leak so that I wouldn’t have to wade in the morning. The weather forecast was for a veritable monsoon over the next three days. I emptied that pan a hundred times, swearing all the while to find a way to stop the maddening problem as soon as the rain stopped. One sunny April Saturday, I hauled out the ladder, and tackled the problem again.
On this occasion I had spent more money, and had bought a gray gook from Ace hardware that was supposed to dry as hard as case steel. I ascended the tall wooden ladder carefully, and applied a five gallon bucket of this stuff to the afflicted area. The sun came out shining brightly the next day, and the gray gook dried as hard as side of a battleship. It appeared impervious. You could bounce rocks off of this stuff, and it wouldn’t even budge! Problem solved!
All through the Spring of 1979, stretching through the Summer and the Fall, nary a drip could be seen coming through the brown water circle which had dried on the white ceiling in our bedroom. I was confident I would never hear those three words again; so confident in fact, that I painted over the ceiling tiles to make them nice and white again. Christmas of 1979 came and went. We were expecting our third child in the Spring, it would be nice to bring him home to a warm, dry house.
In the Fall of 1980, after our son Matthew had been born in March, the remnants of some nameless tropical storm blew swiftly through our little town, bringing several inches of rain, and a corresponding amount of wind. Softly at first, and then with the resonance of a bass drum I awoke to the sound:
“Drip, drip, drip…”
“Don’t even say a word.” I cautioned as I got up to get the pan.
The brown spot came back in the ceiling, and it brought a cousin about three feet from it who hadn’t visited us before:
“Drop, drop, drop…” Another pan. Now every time my wife wanted to cook, she had to come to the bedroom to get a utensil. It was at this point I developed my “leaky-roof-Catch 22-philosophy.”
“Drip, drip, drip..” “Drop, drop, drop…”
“Larry, aren’t you ever going to fix those leaks?”
“I can’t fix them right now, Honey,” I smiled sweetly “It’s raining.”
When the sun came out, I quickly emptied out the pans and cleaned the bedroom floor of any signs of leakage. Most of the time, that worked well.
“Larry, are you going to work on the roof now that it’s nice out?” My dear wife would ask.
“ Darn!” I would say, “I WOULD do it today BUT,.. I (We) already have _(You fill in the blank with anything you want) planned, I’ll do it .” (tomorrow, next week, next month)
“Besides, it’s not leaking today!” I would brainlessly state.
By using this simple but effective philosophy, I was able to procrastinate my way out of ever working on those stupid tiles again. I never mentioned that the source of this intelligence had been from watching Ernie and Bert do the same routine over and over on Sesame Street, which my daughter Kirsten seemed to watch at least five times a day. Never say that grownups can’t get anything out of watching children’s shows!
The man who bought the house from me in 1987, ended up having to have the front roof re-covered.