Meghan Cox Gurdon: A leaky pipe brings black flowers of spring

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Local,Meghan Cox Gurdon

Ah, spring! The time when pretty little yellow and purple crocuses push through dead leaves and remind us that the ground won't always be so bleak and colorless; when pink blossoms froth on the spindly branches of even the tiniest cherry trees; when daffodils bob their heads bravely in the chilly wind as if to say, "It's OK, it will be warm soon."

Spring flowers bring fragrance and beauty; they're harbingers of warmth and hope (and sneezing, for the allergic, but surely even they can appreciate the sight).

Is there any place that is not improved by the presence of fresh flowers?

As it happens, yes! There is a place that is not improved in any way. That place is a bedroom in your house when the flowers in question are black and stinking and blooming across the ceiling.

"Oh gross!"

"What the heck? What's that awful smell?"

"Look!"

Entering the room, I stared in the direction that my eldest daughter was pointing and gasped in horror. A corner of our clean and pleasant home had turned into something from the House of Usher.

Where a week earlier had been clean white drywall, there was a macabre stain of spreading black. Where there'd been the fresh scent of new carpet, the air now billowed with the mingled aromas of fungus, decay and old sneakers. And the carpet in the corner --

"Oh, yuck!" I cried, leaping backward. "It's soaking wet!"

"Should we get everything away from the wall?"

"As fast as possible."

"Has it reached the closet?"

I put down a tentative hand. Phew. No squelching. Still, we'd need to get the clothes out of there and somewhere dry or they'd absorb the musty stench. The same went for the thick draperies hanging at the window, which were --

"Ew!"

They were soaked a foot high. While our family had been innocently going about its business on the upper floors, water had been up to mischief in this ground-level room. Wicking up the curtains, saturating the insulation, stealing across the carpet, it had crept on little cat feet until it reached the ceiling, where it burst into those horrid blooms.

It turned out that a pipe leading to the outdoors tap had malfunctioned in some way -- possibly because certain feckless homeowners had forgotten to drain the taps with the frost -- and had found occasion to vent itself inside the wall. We reckoned it had been raining quietly for six days, undetected.

"Think of it this way," said a young optimist, "At least we caught it before it covered the whole basement!"

She was right -- it could have been worse. And within a few days, thanks to excellent outside help, most of the sodden, fetid material had been cut out, pulled up and dragged away.

Thomas Jefferson famously remarked that the tree of liberty must from time to time be refreshed with the blood of patriots. It's rather the same with houses: From time to time, like it or not, they must be refreshed with the contents of one's wallet.

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.

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