Grande Dame

January 15, 2022

We own an almost 82 year old house. I liken it to a somewhat timeworn elderly lady, and have been thinking of her in the long-ago Oreland of 1940 when she was built. She was smaller then, our house, a trim young woman. The family room addition came much later, like those pesky extra post-menopausal pounds. In her youth, her every nook and cranny was adorned with bright—one could say garish-- wallpaper (crazy teenager!) But she has matured gracefully enough. What she’s lacked in closets, she’s made up in quirky charm (almost).

In recent years, appropriately for her advancing age, Mistress Apel has often needed a little sprucing up. But every single time we manage to do something cosmetic (painting that family room is a recent example), almost immediately something major needs repair or replacement--something that doesn’t show, but is utterly necessary anyway. Those are the dollars I really resent spending. I can admire our beautiful deck, but when was the last time I enjoyed listening to our sump pump gurgle?

It happened again a few weeks ago. Suddenly every water-related appliance in the house began backing up (dishwasher, washing machine, showers, toilets, sinks). We left messages for two plumbers and finally reached a third, who informed us that they don’t have the equipment to do the kind of extensive drain cleaning it sounded like we needed. They referred us to a company called Zoom (can I EVER get away from that word, even for a minute??). Moments later, plumber #1 returned our call, and echoed the suggestion to go with Zoom.

Turned out those drain-scouring wizards weren’t available to come until the next afternoon. Meanwhile, it was takeout pizza on paper plates for dinner, and bedtime toothbrushing down at church (just four blocks away). When at last the jaunty Zoom Mobile pulled up to the house, we had gotten ourselves into quite a state. What was stuck in/growing in the pipes? Matchbox cars? Tree roots? These moments are always embarrassing, revealing us to be sub-par homeowners who let their little ones flush teddy bears and Legos and Lord knows what else, willy-nilly. We prepared our apology for the Zoom guy, and prepared our ballpoint pen to write him a check with lots of zeros at the end.

But no! This time it wasn’t anything we did wrong (whew!) The ancient iron pipes were just very rusty (wouldn’t you be, after almost a century underground?) After cleaning them out, Mr. Zoom advised us to have the rust removed from the pipes sooner rather than later. We solemnly promised to de-rust them, and of course we will.

The older I get, the more I identify with our house. I’m delighted that our kids still love our Grande Dame, and still want to spend time with her. Maybe that means I won’t be relegated to the discard pile either? But I guess I owe it to both of us to stay in decent shape, until age 82. Or even beyond.


    I am an author (of four books, numerous plays, poetry and freelance articles,) a director (of Spiritual Formation at a Lutheran church,) and a producer (of five kids).

    I write about my hectic, funny, perfectly imperfect life.

    Please visit my website: or email me at



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