Water Seeks Its Own Level – “Help Me, Please, Somebody Help Me!”

I got the phone call about 3:30 my time on Sunday.  I was out in the hole and my wife called out to me.  “Telephone.”

It was my older sister.  “Mom, just died,” she said.  That was it.  No building up to it, no, “I’ve got some bad news.”, just flat-out got to the point.

 “What do you mean,” I replied, stunned.

“Complications from the surgery.  She rejected the kidney and they couldn’t find the doctor.  He was out fishing or something.  I’m worried about Dad, he’s not doing very well.”

 “I just talked to her the other day.  She sounded great.  Very upbeat.  Said the view out of her window was beautiful.  She was talking about the trees in the park she could see across the street.”  Then I stopped.  My mother never said things like that.  Commenting on how beautiful the view was.  Not like her at all.

 “My Mom just died,” I told my wife and handed her the cordless phone.  I went into the walk-in closet, fell to the floor and sobbed.  My wife, wisely, left me alone.

 “Is there anything I can do?” was all she said.

 One of the reasons I always remember the pool project is because my mother died the weekend we were getting ready to put in the liner.  The weekend after we struggled to get the concrete floor down.  She had gone in that Friday for a kidney transplant.  She had been on the donor list for several years (The average wait time in the U.S. for an adult kidney transplant is 5 years.)  and was in the last year of eligibility because of her age, 54.   In fact only a few months away from her 55th birthday when she would be purged from the list.

My parents had been in a head-on collision in Oregon a few years prior and that is when they discovered her kidneys were functioning at less than 10%.  She immediately went on peritoneal dialysis. This type of dialysis uses the lining of your stomach to filter your blood through a catheter inserted in the abdomen and is self-administered at home.  She had looked and felt better than she had in many years, and was managing the dialysis well, but she wanted that transplant.

 For a while, after getting back from the funeral, I didn’t have any desire to work on the pool at all.  There it sat, right off the dining room slider, a big hole with a green plywood fence in it and chunks of concrete missing on the floor where the rain had washed it away.  I could visualize it, just like Clark Griswold does in “Christmas Vacation.”  Right down to Mary, played by Nicolette Scorsese, the underwear sales girl from the department store, shedding her suit and jumping into the pool.  Middle of September I decided my Mom wouldn’t have wanted me to give up on it.  Sappy as it may sound, I decided to finish the pool because my Mom would have wanted me to.  Truth is, I was in this far and it needed to be finished before winter if I was going to salvage it at all.  I just decided I needed to get it done.

The liner snapped into the channel on the top of the "fence."

Another view. You can see the channel real good here. Looking towards the deep end. Notice the tile imprint on the top.

I had finished all the pump, filter, plumbing and electrical work for the pool before we had started finishing the bottom of the hole.  The liner had arrived the month before, so it was ready to install.  A plastic channel was put around the entire perimeter of the pool in 4′ sections.  Then the liner was snapped into this channel which locked it to the wood frame.  It went in pretty easily, with just myself and another person who stopped by.  My daughter and I threw in the hose and started to fill ‘er up.

Starting to fill. As the water level went up you had to back-fill the wall to keep it from bowing out, but you couldn't do it until you had water on the inside or it would bow in.

It was going to take a while.  After running the water most of the afternoon, we got about six inches of water in the shallow end and the deep end was full.  We had to go along with a push broom as it filled to take out the wrinkles in the liner.  Up to this point we did a fairly decent job and it was starting to look like a swimming pool.

Oldest daughter, Stephanie. Nope, she couldn't wait. It was the end of September, but she had to get in the pool. The next weekend it snowed.

Then another unexpected thing happened.  All three of my neighbors offered to help fill the pool.  So we had a hose running from across the street and from both side yards.  As the pool filled we had to back-fill the wood wall as the pressure from the water would push it out and you had to keep it square and level.  By the end of the second day, the pool was filled, the wall was back-filled all the way around, and my daughter, Stephanie, insisted she was going to get in it before we put the cover on it for the winter.  The water was ice-cold, but she got on the lounger and floated around the pool.  The next weekend it snowed.

At least it's full.

The pool light is floating in the pool, waiting to be installed. See the hole center right in the picture? Also note the bell housing in the wall.

The one thing I wanted to get done before covering the pool for the winter, was to connect the pool light.  Now, this worried me a little.  I had visions of flipping the pool light switch and electrocuting everyone in the pool.  In fact, I have to admit I was never sure of it the first time I flipped the switch so I made sure everyone was out.  I don’t remember how we tested the safety, probably sacrificed a frog, but really, the light is a sealed beam with a watertight cord connected to a GFCI switch.  It would never send current to the water. 

Here’s the thing though.  On a cold, snowy, October afternoon, I’m sitting in the hole that surrounds the bell housing where the conduit connects to the light.  The pool is filled with water and the light housing, or bell, is below grade about three feet.  There is 32,000 gallons of ice-cold water on the other side of the “fence” being held in place by a 20-mil thick plastic liner, this bell, and a one-inch plastic conduit.

I don’t remember how it happened really.  While I was trying to snake the electric cord from the lamp through the conduit to the light switch the 90 degree elbow snapped off.  You know, it was cold out and its plastic.   Now, you might think that water would be in the conduit and water would drain from the pool anyway, but remember “water seeks its own level” so water would only go up the plastic conduit as far as the level in the pool, not all the way to the switch.  But at the elbow and the bell housing we’re 3′ below the level of the pool water and it was doing it’s best to get back to level.  I was sitting in a hole with my hand over the broken elbow trying to stop 10,000 gallons of water from slowly escaping.  The water in the hole was now up to my knees.

“Help me, please.  Somebody help me!”  I screamed as loud as I could.  No one in my household was home.  Out shopping or something.  I couldn’t leave the “dyke.”   I was the little Dutch Boy holding back the sea with my thumb.  I had no idea what I was going to do.  I had to think fast.

I screamed out again, dire outcomes racing through my head.  Then Wally, the across-the-street neighbor, the faithful digger, came through the gate into the yard.

“What the hell?” he said when he saw me.



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6 responses to “Water Seeks Its Own Level – “Help Me, Please, Somebody Help Me!”

  1. I sure didn’t see this coming. This story has it all–comedy and tragedy. I’m sorry for the reason why you remember the pool so well and it’s not sappy to want to finish it because your mom would have wanted you to.

    I don’t know how many of Murphy’s Laws you are proving with this story, but this has to be a record. And there’s more. Unbelievable!

    • I never wanted the project to be a research study in Murphy’s Law, but most everything I do tends to go that way. I honestly don’t know if my mother even knew I was building the pool, but I’m sure she would have wanted me to finish it. I have a picture of me standing in the bottom of the finished hole just minutes before the call came in. I promise to post those pictures when I get to New Mexico in a couple of weeks. Thanks for sticking with the story.

  2. You broke my heart . I am so, so sorry about your mother.

    When I heard my dad had died, I was sanding floors — one spot had all the color and wood grain rubbed out. It was a reminder whenever I saw it.

    I wish there was something comforting or inspiring to say, but I don’t think there is. I’m going to get a Kleenex now. Terrific post.

    • Thanks for the kind words. Its been over 25 years, but I still remember that phone call like it was yesterday. That swimming pool project had a lot of fallout and it ended up being another one of my many projects that I get finished 90%. For some reason I never get that last 10% done.

  3. What started off as a comical post, where you were experimenting with something new as building a backyard pool, turned in a direction I wasn’t expecting. Odd that you would say your mom never said how beautiful the view was out the window and things like that. Seems she was indeed seeing something beyond the window.

    • That’s what I was trying to say and I’m glad you got it. She appreciated the scenery, she just never vocalized it much if at all. I thought back a lot over the years about the last conversation I had with her, the day before the surgery, and I just remember the conversation being odd like that. Thanks for sticking with the short series about how to build, or not to build, a pool.

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