It all came back to me as I stood there in the open doorway of the garage, waiting for the pouring rain to let up enough for me squat down in the mud to tighten a screw to ensure the drain spout stayed in place and water no longer would seep into the basement of the house we’d purchased only days before.
And knowing that, no matter what I decided to do next, I was going to end up getting wet.
This is why we get a tax break, I figured — as compensation for getting soaking wet on a Saturday afternoon.
My larger goal, though, was that this house in Cedar Rapids would provide far fewer adventures than we had endured with the home my wife and I had owned for more than a decade back in Michigan, in the heart of Lake Effect snow country.
Built in 1923 and sitting astride the crest of a very steep hill, that house possessed what I like to recall as an idiosyncratic charm.
It boasted plate rails in the dining room, gallery hooks in the living room, a fieldstone fireplace, cozy nooks off bigger spaces, a half-dozen walk-in closets, the original turn-of-the-previous-century window glass and about a dozen trees.
But, yes, here is where the prosecution would interrupt to note that this enchanting house also one spring had — for months — rain water sluicing in through the roof, down through one of those spacious walk-in closets on the second floor, continuing along the living room wall waterfall-like, and into the basement.
And in winter ice dams would form on along the gutters, water eventually seeping into the house come the next warm spell — until I took a ladder and climbed up onto the side of the house with a pick ax one dark December evening to whack away at the ice. (I didn’t say that was the smartest solution, but it was the most expedient.)
And how one of those lovely trees — an oak — was so large and ancient, its long branches stretched out across the street over moving traffic and, in the opposite direction, as far as to nearly graze our second-floor bedroom windows.
And, good golly, there were the squirrels.
Things first took an ominous twist when we heard tiny footsteps skitter overhead in the attic.
Then came the afternoon when Lisa saw something with sharp claws and pointy teeth try to scramble its way up into our living room by way of a heating vent.
So I closed all the vents I could find, put on a sweater and clambered up into the attic to discover what the heck was going on.
And there, back along the north wall in one of the crawlspaces, I came across a stash of acorn shells piled deeper than anything you’d find at the produce counter at a well-stocked Hy-Vee on a Saturday morning.
These squirrels weren’t passing by. They were planning a full-fledged occupation.
We were, I realized with alarm, under attack.
So, after some consultation, I turned to a local squirrel whisper.
Eddie, a graying, quiet gentleman, showed up the next day, and followed me up to the crime scene. There, he knelt down and rolled samples of the acorn shells between his fingers.
“I can smell ’em,” he said softly.
In short order, Eddie installed a rusted, metal trap, about the size of a 1960s-era portable TV set. My orders were to telephone him the moment it caught something — but not to approach the culprit, under any circumstances, until he arrived.
So we waited and, sure enough, within a few days an infernal racket was let loose up there, as if the house were under mortar fire. I dashed up to the attic to find a tiny red squirrel locked inside the trap and angrily shaking it to demand his rights to a free phone call and a lawyer.
Eddie came over that evening and carried off the trap, saying he’d let the varmint free out in the woods, after a stern lecture. (His fee: $35 a squirrel.)
A few days past, but there were no more incursions. So that weekend Eddie affixed a small scrap of sheet metal over the entry hole he’d discovered in the attic. Our invasion, for a time, was ended … .
And, you know, it’s possible we could have quieter times here in our new Cedar Rapids abode. I had a sign:
I stepped out into the still-driving rain, my newly purchased stubby Phillips-head screwdriver in hand, and sloshed over to the drain spout. And as I bent over, fishing a small screw out of my pocket, I swear the rain stopped.
And then, believe it or not, the sun well and truly came out.