Saturday, July 23, 2016

"One By One...They Disappeared"

The pool, like the people who used it, began to fall apart.
One of the reasons Kitchen Clatter goes into a hiatus during the summer is that I have worked in the pool industry for almost 16 years and this is the time of year where my time is limited, my brain exhausted and my pockets full enough to help carry me through the winter months. Not sure how I ended up here, but here is where I am.

In the northeast, this business is seasonal, and it is my job to talk people into spending thousands of dollars on a renovation for something they, if lucky, get to use for four months out of twelve. Most times it's exciting, going through stone, tile and plaster samples trying to piece together a vision. Most times it's just necessary because cold winters, freeze lines, thaws, and the ageing process of natural products forming the structure and aesthetics of these backyard vessels, causes them to eventually break down. And then I come. Most times it's it was sad.

I knew when I pulled into this rather wealthy suburb of huge tree lined streets and stately homes, that I had a pretty good shot of getting this one. There was obvious money. BMW and Lexus SUV's in the driveways, professionally landscaped lawns and a pool in almost every yard. Slam dunk.

I was so busy looking around, that I was startled when my GPS announced that I had reached my destination. I eased my car up the driveway of a large house that surprisingly may have needed just a little attention. My eyes immediately went over to the pool area in the rear of the yard. As I walked over, I noticed a raised spa spilling over a decaying wall into the pool. A quick glance around told me that there was severe tile and coping damage. In the rear of the pool area was a gazebo large enough to hold a table and chairs, and even accommodate a large outdoor kitchen-so popular these days, but instead, stood empty and decaying, its use long abandoned.

I was trying to gather my thoughts when the homeowners, a lovely middle age couple, noticed me in their backyard and approached. "Welcome," they said, arms outstretched. "Think we have a problem here?" I nodded, reassuring them that almost anything can be fixed. The three of us walked around, poking, prodding, tapping and talking. I couldn't help but steal occasional glances to the rear of the property also once obviously prominent, but now covered with large ornamental grasses bent from neglect. This property, that looks like it once ruled this neighborhood, was now the outcast. The question spinning in my head was "why fix the pool?" And then came the answer when the husband took a call from his office leaving just two women talking.

"Look, to repair this pool is going to be an expensive project." I told her. "And you want to know why now," she answered. The smile on her face faded as she too took a long gaze around the property. "Jo Ann, we use to have the most fabulous gatherings here. Almost every weekend we were BBQ'ing and partying. Over there", she pointed to a piece of the property that I missed, "there was once a professionally installed Boccie Ball court. The matches were legendary." The court, covered in growth, was barely distinguishable. And I couldn't help but ask "what happened?"

"Well, we were only blessed with one daughter." she answered. She was so popular in high school. Her friends were here every weekend. Soon, their parents began to hang here. Neighbors would join in and it was wonderful. Neither my husband or I have much family to speak of so this became our life...and then" please don't say she died, please don't say she died, I kept repeating in my head. She didn't. "...and then, 8 years ago, my daughter was diagnosed with a severe brain tumor. Surgery was extensive and her personality changed and her abilities are limited. Forever.." her thoughts faded off. "One by one, her friends stopped coming around, as well as the parents, our friends and even the neighbors. One by one they disappeared" The party stopped.

I stood there holding my measuring wheel, not able to utter my usual babble about how we could turn this pool into a showcase. "So you're putting the house up for sale and you know this pool won't pass an inspection?" She smiled slightly "Exactly. She is not capable of being on her own. There is no need to keep this big house." Her eyes misted. "There will be no grandchildren or growing family. It's just the three of us." My heart was breaking and I could barely swallow.

She could see I was a little taken and she took my hand in both of hers. I looked up and said "if you're just trying to get me to low ball this quote..." and she broke into laughter. A much needed laughter for both of us. When her husband returned, he couldn't help but smile. "What are you two up to?" She turned and said "Bill, this is the lady I want to work with."

We continued our stroll around the deck talking about the possibilities and about how much they wanted to invest into something they don't use anymore. It comes down to "what is the least I can do to make it sell." That, I've heard before.

When they walked me back to my car, I extended my hand and was a little surprised that the woman came in for an embrace. "Thanks Jo Ann, for your advice and compassion." Her husband patted my shoulder. "In spite of the fact that my wife adores you, please go easy on our estimate." I had to laugh. I liked them both so much.

Driving back to my office, I was haunted by "one by one they disappeared." How does that happen? When I was going through a really rough time a few years ago, it was the support of my family and friends that kept me upright! I understand the circumstances are different, but need is need. I can't see myself abandoning a friend who's child became sick or injured. That's when it is time to step up...not away.

Ironically, while driving home that night, the digital compass on my dash started flashing. Being the nudge I am about my car, I immediately pulled over, and took out the owner's manual to troubleshoot. It read that "occasionally" it is necessary to "re-calculate the compass". I followed the instructions and was once again heading west, heading home.

I'm actually not surprised lately that the directional forces of earth have to be recalculated now and then. The shootings, mass killings and too many months of a presidential campaign that is more about hating and meanness than issues, has taken its toll on me. I'm a news junkie who just can't watch it anymore. But I'm blessed that my inner compass is easily recalculated by just laying eyes on my boys or simply holding my grandson. "No grandchildren, no growing family..." The lump in my throat came back.

How I wish there was an owner's manual to help adjust the direction of the people who drifted away from that warm couple who stood waving by their deteriorating pool until I was out of sight. How I wish I could fix so much more than the pool.


  1. Joann, (sh#t) you are Jody to me (sorry) the gift of compassion you gave to your clients and their gift of trust to you will carry you both far in the "garden revisions" of their life. There will be magic in the transformation from former party garden to meditative garden and this beautiful life will go on, love you!

  2. You are a special person and i wish thete were more like you in this world.

    1. Thanks Patsy! I really wish them some happiness!

  3. You are a special person and i wish thete were more like you in this world.