Panic ensues when things go terribly wrong.
Imagine green slime growing on your back porch concrete floor because the water won’t stop flowing.
Think about using almost every available towel you have like sandbags packed up against the front of your bathroom vanity and along the baseboard around the bathroom.
Try to sympathize with a young mother who comes home from work and knows that after everything else is done that normally needs to be done in the evening, you spend your last two hours dragging the wet vac around trying to hold back the rising tide.
Picture the husband pacing, toting a 9-month-old, and wondering in the back of his mind if they made a mistake buying this house.
Play over and over in your mind the phone conversations with the home warranty folks and the customer service department of your insurance company. Listen to the endless time spent on hold, B.J. Thomas singing “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” until your eyelids swell with water.
The home warranty folks cancel the first plumber without notifying you.
The first insurance adjuster comes out, takes one look, and tells you that this mess is not a covered claim.
You finally get a plumber out to save the day, and he tells you that you’re gonna have to take out a second mortgage to pay for the repairs. You can see little red horns growing out of his head as he smiles and hands you the quote.
Your checking account is already spread thin with just the normal expenses of owning your first home. You start having visions of living in a tent. Your clothes smelling like smoke from cooking over a fire.
Four weeks of this madness. Panic.
I have been on the sidelines coaching the last few weeks. Getting your kids through their first major ordeal is part of life. Everybody has a horrible house story of some kind, right? They feel like, “Why is this happening to us?” Truth is, it happens to all of us at some point.
Beth and I had been married just a couple of years. We were living in a rental house in Blountville, Tennessee. Not the same as owning a home, but a disaster in any home is still awful.
A small wood frame house. We had lived in a couple of apartments, but this was our very first house. We felt so grown up. The furniture was all hand-me-down and scuffed and worn, but it was ours.
The house was heated by a coal-fired furnace in the cellar. Don’t think basement. Think dirt floor with a dark and dank feel. A single lightbulb hanging from the floor joist with a pull chain. Rickety steps that creak like the soundtrack from a horror flick. The only outside light came from the small window for the coal shuttle.
We were gone for a few hours one winter morning. Maybe grocery shopping. When we came home and opened the front door, a wall of thick black coal dust rolled out and nearly pushed us off the front porch. The entire house was filled with black smoke, floor to ceiling.
My Uncle Clem and Aunt Mary Liza heated with coal. A couple of pot-bellied stoves and open fireplace grates. But I had never seen coal dust like this. Every surface was coated. Every wall, every cushion, every bedspread, all of our clothes, every dish was black.
Even my toothbrush was black.
I remember sitting outside in the grass watching the smoke boil out of our house. Box fans in the windows blowing out plumes of smoke that rose up against the cobalt blue winter sky. Cars driving by on the highway blowing their horns.
After I went down in the cellar to close off the damper on the furnace and we were sure there was no actual fire in the house, all we could do was watch and wait for the smoke to go away. The thin metal wall between the flue and the furnace had rusted through, which allowed all the smoke to go up into the house through the floor registers
It was one heck of a sooty mess. It took us days and days of cleaning floors and walls and ceilings. We washed clothes and sheets. Vacuumed couch cushions and scrubbed with fabric cleaner. It was months before the smell went away.
But we survived.
This is the message I have used in my coaching. “You’re gonna survive this.”
Emily is the more high-strung one. Brandon is more like, “God’s got this,” in his calm demeanor. It’s all about knowing that everything will be okay and that one day you will sit around and tell funny stories about the worst disaster in your life.
Still, it’s a tough spot to be in.
“Whatever the insurance does,” I said, “we’ve got to get the leak stopped. Once that’s done, everything else will feel a lot better.”
They found another plumber without horns. He gave them the non-heart attack price and went to work. He busted two holes through the slab inside their closet where the leak detector guy located the problem. Both holes were dry. He tried a third place inside the linen closet. Bingo.
A few days earlier they had filed a second claim with their insurance company because mold was starting to show its ugly face. And while the plumber was there with his jack hammer, the adjuster showed up. Different guy than the first one.
“Didn’t y’all just file a claim a couple weeks back?” He spoke to my daughter who was ready to go in defense mode.
“Yes sir, we sure did.” She was using her best calm voice. “He turned us down.”
He didn’t say it exactly like this, but this is close. “Well, I don’t know who that idiot was, but we’re gonna cover everything. Don’t you worry, we’re gonna take care of you.”
In that moment, the sun came out. The birds sang. A distant choir could be heard singing Huey Lewis and the News, “It’s alright, whoa, it’s alright.”
Emily smiled. And there might have been tears.
Within a few hours their whole world changed. The back porch began to dry up. The guys with the restoration crew showed up. Saturated carpet padding was ripped out. Fans were set up. Baseboards were removed and holes knocked out so air could circulate inside the walls. Kick plates under cabinets were removed. More fans. The wet vac was put away to suck no more.
I went down the other night to offer moral support and to look at the holes in the floor. It’s a guy thing. Zelda was having the time of her life jumping on the floating carpet which was heaving up and down in waves under the pressure of the airflow from the fans.
No more worried faces. All the fretting melted into laughter.
“We’re gonna get all new carpet over the whole house and a new floor in the bathroom.” My daughter was buoyant. “I feel so much better now.”
No surprise to me. I told you so.