The genius who designed our house put two bathrooms side by side, and then installed plumbing borrowed from Barbie’s Doll House. It’s good for a Dixie Cup full of warmth, and then… who knows.
My principal competitor of late has been my youngest daughter, Rebecca. We have often carpooled to Shasta College together, and so shared the same schedule.
But that ends today. Rebecca is off to CSU Chico for her BA, and the hot water is all mine. No longer will I have to listen for the two-second-warning of a slamming door and the thud of the water valve in the adjoining room.
But when I think of hot water, I’ll still think of Rebecca. Much of her life story has her “getting in hot water” one way or another. Of our four kids, she consistently scared me the most.
Case in point, when she was three or four, I decided to fix the TV antenna. I scrounged an extension ladder, and crawled up and across our crumbling roof, shake shingles crackling as I moved. I reached the apex and was studying the guy wires, wondering if I could stand without slipping.
A shadow appeared, and heard a small voice. “What-cha-doing Daddy?”
I looked back and saw Rebecca standing on the roof several feet away, swinging her little blanket. I knew I couldn’t lunge at her or we’d both tumble. So I ever-so-slowly crept towards her and grabbed her. It was the longest short-trip of my life.
Not only could she appear when not expected, Rebecca also had a gift for disappearing. When she was seven, I signed our entire family up for a local run. I entered the Redding Half-Marathon, and put my wife, Karin, and our four kids into the two-mile dash.
I departed with the distance runners, and Karin was left with our four kids, ages four to ten. The older two split, with Rebecca trailing them a bit, and Karin brought up the rear with the youngest, our son Joe.
The two-mile run was an “out-and-back.” This is where the runner hits the mile mark, and turns back. So, after a few minutes, Karin met daughters Amanda and Nicole on their return trip.
“Where’s Becca?” Karin asked.
“Behind us,” the girls said, racing back to the Start-Finish line.
Karin watched runner after runner shuffle past, finally she reached the half-way mark.
No sign of our daughter.
Karin was terrified. Where was Rebecca? Karin asked a course worker, who got on a walkie-talkie and contacted the police.
I plodded on, miles away, in blissful ignorance of the missing-persons drama that was unfolding. About the time I looped back to the start, and found my distraught wife, the police had found Rebecca out on the 6-mile course. She’d decided to just keep going and was running the 10k. The police stopped Becca, and asked her if she wanted a ride back, but Rebecca was determined to finish the race on her own power.
And she did. A small crowd picked up on the story, and cheered Rebecca as she crossed the finish line into her mother’s waiting arms. Rebecca became a bit of a celebrity for her misadventure, winning her age division and getting her face on the front-page of the newspaper. “Little Runner Takes the Long Way Home” the headline read. Karin was relieved, and embarrassed when people told her. “Your daughter’s too young to run that distance.”
No kidding. But with Rebecca, things don’t always go as planned.
I find this story a lot more charming than my wife does. She’s still mad that I signed us all up and took off leaving her to herd the kids through a throng of runners.
Still, this wasn’t the only time our little runner vanished. On another ordinary-turned-memorable-day, Rebecca was playing quietly in the back seat of our van when we stopped for gas. Becca, then about eight, was absorbed in her activity. So we went into the station, paid, and then filled the tank.
But while we were inside, waiting in line, Becca got out and used the restroom at the rear of the building. So we motored off, one kid shy, traveling a few miles—accounts vary depending on who’s telling the tale. But eventually we noticed it was just a bit too quiet, even for stealthy little Rebecca.
A quick “U” turn and rapid return to the station to find Rebecca hiding in the alley. We used this “learning opportunity” to a talk about what to do in such an emergency, and we were reminded of why, on school field trips, kids count off.
But Rebecca’s biggest adventure happened on a bright summer day in plain view of all.
It began when Karin, the kids and I traveled to “Gold Country,” Amador County. We were visiting our extended family; grandparents, aunts, uncles and many cousins the same ages as our brood. It was hot, so they brought us to their favorite getaway. The kids splashed about in a glass-surfaced pond that sat behind a small dam. But, as we soon learned, a powerful current lurked just below the surface.
Five-year-old Rebecca was bobbing in the water. She wore an immense, fluorescent , “Mae-West” style life jacket. Aunt Patty saw Becca drift away from the group, and Patty reached for her. But before Patty could grab her, Becca was sucked to and through the dam and then shot down the spillway.
I was near the base of the dam and looked up when I heard screaming. All the adults upstream were shouting, waiving and pointing at the small figure of Rebecca. She bounced down the waterway in her bright-orange vest, ricocheting between boulders and rebar.
We scooped her up, and took her to the ER, fearing the worst. Our concerns faded, though, as Rebecca dashed around the waiting room—not a scratch on her—playing, dancing, and making a racket. We waited, and waited, and finally decided, an hour later with no doctor in sight, she was probably OK.
Hot water? This girl seems to have soaked up our family’s entire share, and then some.
As Becca grew into an adult, the challenges changed, and she’s had setbacks, to be sure. But she’s faced them down, showing strength, grace, intelligence and a sense of humor. But those stories belong to her more than to me.
What I learned from our youngest daughter more than any of her siblings, is how life can turn in an instant. It helps to be lucky, but when luck fails, being surrounded by love and family is essential. During one particularly trying year, my Father’s Day gift from Rebecca was a sign that still occupies a prominent place in our home. It says: “Life isn’t waiting for the storm to pass. It’s learning to dance in the rain.”
Rain, natural and manmade…. we’ve seen plenty of both, and sometimes it can take fancy footwork to make it through. I’m sure I’ll think about Becca the during my next suddenly-cold shower, or when someone bangs an “it’s-my-turn” warning on the door.
Our girl is out the door today, passing the usual turn-around points and heading onto her new course, stepping up to the main event. She’ll have to take care in those high, hidden or slippery places that will challenge her.
But she’s ready.
Becca we’ll miss you, even as we cheer you on from afar, and we hope that our “little runner’’ will always remember her way back home.
Just go easy on the hot water.
Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe - "Or So it Seems™" - Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County.