“Babe, we might have to call somebody,” I said, using the small, quiet, whispery voice I use when I’m breaking bad news. After the thorough cleaning I’d already given it, the smell emanating from the refrigerator should’ve disappeared, but it hadn’t. Within 24 hours it had gone from curious and off-putting to unbearable, and I was convinced, potentially toxic.
Jamie Cantrell doesn’t just “call somebody.” First, he makes several attempts to fix things on his own. Then, if he has trouble, he calls his Dad, whom we call Hoss. Hoss is incredibly adept at working through complicated engine, alternator, pulley, and belt issues through a series of phone calls, texts, and pictures. Their back-and-forth can go on for days.
Every now and then, Jamie will get an itch that can only be scratched by going out to the garage to get dirty and sweaty. His southern accent, which is usually rather subtle, becomes like that of a hill people. He squinches up his face and wears his baseball cap backward. You’d expect him to have a plug of tobacco in his mouth. (He does not.)
He will place one of the children close by and bark for tools and glasses of iced tea like a surgeon might. “Wrench. Bottle-nose pliers. Clamp. Clamp. C’mon boy, dontcha see the clamp? Go ask your Mama to fix me an iced tea. It’s hot outcheya.”
Currently, Jamie is convinced he can fix our riding lawn mower. He spent Friday evening in the garage on the phone with Hoss while removing the lawnmower deck to try and replace a belt. Something still wasn’t right though, and he was chomping at the bit to get back out there to look at some sort of pulley that he suspected was the problem.
The only impediment to his plan was the smell. It couldn’t wait. Typically, the smell would definitely be my purview; however, I had already made plans to go to Columbus to pick up our new couch. So Jamie, who was clearly in “fix it” mode, was going to be left with refrigerator-freezer cleanout. He was thrilled.
“If cleanin’ out the freezer doesn’t work, I’m gonna take the back off and vacuum the coils. There’s gotta be a YouTube video on how to do that, right? I mean, what else could it be?” Jamie and I were standing in front of the refrigerator with puzzled faces and wrinkled noses. The lavender candle mocked us from the counter lit and feeble, only adding lavender perfume to the pervasive stink.
All I could think about was the missing glue trap from weeks earlier. We’d found evidence of a mouse in the kitchen. After Cloroxing countertops and drawers, and washing dish linens, and setting glue traps, we’d only had a glue trap go missing but could find no dead mouse.
I’d mused that somewhere a mouse was limping along with the glue trap stuck to his leg. Now, I was praying MacGyver Mouse hadn’t gotten wedged in the back of the refrigerator to die and decompose and reign down vengeance upon us for setting glue traps instead of the good old-fashioned snapping kind.
With one hand on his hip, and the other hand furiously pointing a finger at me and this job before him, he said, “I’m throwin’ out everything that’s in there. I’m just goin’ ahead and tellin’ ya. If it’s in here now, I’m not savin’ it.” He started getting heavy duty trash bags from under the sink.
If it’s true that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then my road has been paved several times over. It’ll be an easy walk for me. The contents of the freezer were clear evidence of that: frozen brown bananas for bread that had never been made, chia seeds and matcha for a 26 ingredient organic breakfast bar recipe that I made once and vowed I would never attempt again, bags of smoothie mixes from the grocery store because I get on “health kicks” and force myself to buy things I know I should be eating but never do because they are gross.
I hated to leave him to it. I really did. Mostly. Sort of…not really.
Jamie and I had been looking for a new couch off-and-on for months. We had definitely gotten our money’s worth out of the old one. We’d bought it from Hecht’s department store in Alexandria, Virginia before Jack was born. It was a great couch. It had withstood a move, Jack’s abstract, blue Sharpie art (not unlike cave drawings), a cat and a dog, Colin’s gold-medal winning gymnastics, and lots of WWE wrestling practice. The cushion covers were soft and mismatched from thousands of washings. It had a small, irreparable tear from one of Paisley’s “bed-making” scratch-fests, and a quarter-sized red stain from a Cheerwine spill. It was time.
Couch buying makes me feel like Goldilocks: This one is too poufy. This one is too hard. This one feels hot. This one is too big. Jamie and I had looked online too, but couldn’t agree. Finally, I’d seen a Facebook post from The Junque Yard (which I love) in Columbus advertising a couch for sale. The price, color, and poufiness looked exactly right. I called Jamie on my lunch break. He called the store. It was in perfect condition. He paid for it over the phone. The store agreed to hold it for pickup. Ginny said she would go with me to help load it, while Jamie stayed home with the children and tinkered with the lawnmower. Simple.
Except that things at our house are never simple. Ever. As a matter of fact, things are often quite complicated. If they aren’t already completely convoluted, I inadvertently make them that way.
I get that from my Mother. She would tell you that she prefers to “keep things simple.” As a matter of fact, when we were kids one of her favorite stories to read us was Simple Pictures Are Best illustrated by Tomie DePaola. Mama and I are worse than most though, because we truly think our plan is a simple one and get our feelings hurt when others point out how complicated they actually are.
For example, Mama turns small get-togethers into full-scale Martha Stewart dinner parties. She fusses about the amount of laundry she and Daddy “generate”, but insists on ironing dishcloths, pillowcases, and the top bedsheets because “They sleep better when they’ve been starched.”
When she comes to our house to babysit, she also does our laundry. (For which I am always incredibly thankful.) The trick is, she doesn’t like our dryer. So, she hangs all our laundered clothes straight from the washing machine on hangers throughout the house. So when we get home, the laundry room, kitchen, dining, and living room look like what you might imagine the White House did when poor Abigail Adams didn’t have a clothesline.
Another example of my “gettin’ it honest,” would be the year she asked a sweet couple from church to participate in a rendition of “Children Go Where I Send Thee” for one of our advent programs. Although the wife had played her flute at church before, Mama had only recently discovered that her husband played bongos.
So, Mama asked Ginny and me to sing and have our friends play their instruments as accompaniment. While I don’t mind performing in front of a crowd at all, Ginny hates it-with a passion.
With very little practice time available, we found ourselves in front of the congregation. He bongo-ed. She fluted. I sang some of the right notes. Ginny hyperventilated, broke out in hives, and almost had a full-scale panic attack right there in front of God and everybody.
When church was over and Mama, Ginny, and I were in the car alone, Ginny said no amount of guilt would ever make her sing a special at church again. Ever. Never. To which Mama exasperatedly replied, “Oh come on, I wish someone could tell me what is simpler than bongos and a flute?” Indeed.
When I got home well past dark with the new couch, Jamie reported it had only taken two hours to find the smell. He did, indeed, throw everything out of the freezer. He emptied the ice bin. He washed everything down and after all that, the smell lingered. So, he took the back off the fridge, found no mouse and vacuumed the coils.
In a last-ditch effort, he looked through the fridge one more time. He opened a plastic Publix shopping bag that I had removed and replaced during my epic cleaning the day before. Wrapped inside the bag, was a package of raw organic chicken that I’d defrosted a day or two earlier. For whatever reason, the chicken had spoiled. Once the bag was removed, the smell dissipated and finally disappeared. He had even put charcoal briquettes inside the freezer.
Jamie was very proud of himself. “See, I told ya we didn’t need to call anybody,” his voice still heavily accented. “I didn’t even call Hoss. I figured this thang out by myself.” I’m smiling at him as he gives me one of those kisses that for all my feminist tendencies makes me go all swoony and cross-eyed, and without a word, he saunters like a modern-day John Wayne into the garage to go crawl under the lawnmower.