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James R. Stout

The Smoking Pregnant Wife and The Fix

            I was a long way from home. No, not like hundreds of miles, but my work had carried me about 60 miles away that day. It was late July in 1985. We didn’t have cell phones then. I carried a couple of dollars in quarters with me all the time. There used to be these things called “pay phones”. Some of them were housed in little glass and metal booths that were rarely in good condition. Foul odors, non-working lights, and just big enough to feel claustrophobic despite being able to see through the scratched-up glass. Sometimes there would be a “bank” of pay phones and it was a crap shoot as to which ones might work. That said, I did carry a beeper. Beepers worked pretty well, but it all depended on how sophisticated it was. Some looked like a Three Musketeers Bar and simply went off when someone called you. Those were used by mostly employees who were alerted to call in to the office for some reason or other. There were more expensive models that would display the phone number of who was calling you. Oh, I dreamed of having one of those, but the company saw no reason for it.

            My wife was 9 months pregnant at the time. So, it was pretty important for me to available. We worked out a way to know it was her calling me. If the beeper went off three times in rapid succession (she had to call the number three times), then I knew to call her and not the office. There were times when the beeper would go off and it was not exactly easy to find a pay phone. It seemed like I would be going up the ship channel bridge when the beeper would go off or some such inconvenient place. It wasn’t as though I could just pull off the freeway. Sometimes I would be in a very bad part of town. The kind of area that driving through it was one thing but stopping and getting out of your vehicle was quite another. On this particular day I got three rapid beeps while I was in Texas City. Texas City is about 60 miles from where we lived in Hockley, Texas. As I’m searching for a convenience store with some pay phones I’m thinking, “What am I going to do if she is in labor?” Her due date wasn’t for another 2 weeks, but you never know.

            I got to a phone and called home. I felt just like E.T. She answered immediately and from the tone in her voice I knew something was terribly wrong. She needed a good cry before she could explain. Did I mention it was late July? Yea, it was a typical very hot and very humid day for the Houston area. After getting her calmed down with many pledges such as “Baby, it’s gonna be alright” or “Darlin, whatever it is I’ll fix it.”, she was ready to communicate. Now, this was long before I learned that I might be able to solve a problem, but I couldn’t fix anything. Men want to fix things for their woman, but most of the time the woman just wants to talk about it. Fortunately, this time there was something that actually needed fixing. She told me that she was in our son’s room straightening it up when she saw smoke through the open blinds of the window. Now I confess, that got my attention. She said that she looked outside and smoke was coming from the A/C unit. I calmly (that’s the way I remember it) asked if she had turned the A/C off and she said she did. Thank goodness for that. Let me remind you of some things. It was late July and very hot. My wife was 9 months pregnant. I was 60 miles from home. Oh, and one itsy bitsy little factoid. We didn’t have enough money to call an A/C repair place which meant I needed to get home and see if I could fix the problem.

            I called in to work and told them the situation and that I needed to go home. Thankfully, they understood. It was about 10 o’clock in the morning when I got her call. I knew it was going to be an interesting day. I got in my car and headed for home. I pulled into the driveway about 11:45. My wife looked like a drowned rat, but it is only because she is my ex-wife that I can even say that now. I opened the window in that room and told her to listen for me to tell her to turn on the A/C unit once I got outside. I went out back and told her to turn it on. Smoke started to come out of the air compressor motor. I told her to turn it off. I knew what I needed, but I also knew that it was going to mean a 30-mile drive to the nearest place that had them in stock. So, round trip it was going to be about an hour and a half plus the time for me to replace the motor.

            I explained all of this to my wife. She cried and said with trembling voice, “What are we going to do?”

            I told her that I would go get the motor and come back and hope that it was the only thing wrong. But she couldn’t very well sit in that house while I did all of that. I called my sister. She lived about 8 miles from us and wasn’t working at the time given she was a teacher. I explained the problem and asked if I could bring my wife over to stay at their house. My sister was happy to oblige. Yes, it added some drive time to the whole thing, but so be it.

            Well, first I took out the old motor. Not a hard thing to figure out. I wanted to have it with me to make sure that I got the right replacement. I dropped off my wife at my sister’s and drove back into Houston to the parts place. I got the new motor and some good news too. They had a way of testing the old motor and said that some bearings had burned out. I knew I had the right part and that there shouldn’t be anything else to replace. I drove back home and by about 4 o’clock had the new motor in and the A/C purring like a kitten. The house was cooling down when I left to go to my sister’s house. Oh, and by that time I that looked like a drowned rat. We must have inspired the Garth Brook’s song, “Two of Kind, Working On A Full House”.

            When I got there and went inside my wife was sitting in a big recliner and with the help of my sister got out of the chair. She looked at me and then she started to cry again. But these tears were happy tears. I was her hero. It wasn’t a position that I held later in our marriage, but at the time it made me feel like a hero and that’s a good feeling.

            My daughter is 6 months pregnant with her fourth child as I write this. I had the opportunity to observe them together this past Saturday. First, let me say that I am not putting in a dig on my ex-wife, but the truth is my daughter is literally the best mother I’ve ever known. She is a true Wonder Woman. Second, her husband is a fantastic Dad and he intuitively fixes things to make life better for my daughter and grandkids. There is one very important thing about them. They are a team. They truly are. I’m very proud of them and I am anxiously waiting the birth of my first grandson in April. It made me tear up when they told me that they are going to name him after my Dad. He’s going to get a lot of love growing up. His three big sisters will spoil him rotten and my son-in-law will have another “man” in the house and I know that he is looking forward to spending time with his son. I’m hoping that in a couple of years or so we’ll have a bonding experience of all three of us together doing something that is “manly”. Maybe we’ll get matching flannel shirts and cargo pants and go exploring in this wilderness I call home. Yea, I can dig that.

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