At noon on Thanksgiving 1975. Kent and Helen stood in the front door of their Austin Texas home and greeted their Thanksgiving guests, two couples about the same age as themselves. These were the lost souls too young and penurious to have started their own families and too distant from their own parents’ locations to afford trips ‘home’ even though such a trip would be odd as Thanksgiving, that uniquely American celebration, is not celebrated in either New Zealand or the United Kingdom. They crowded inside shaking off their wet clothes and stacking umbrellas in a neat row along the porch.
Everyone seemed to be talking at once. The question they were asking was, “What is going on? It is Thanksgiving for goodness sakes and yet your driveway is full of phone company vehicles -it looks like a convention.”
Kent and Helen looked at each other and smiled. It was one of those smiles which is exhibited to help mitigate anxious embarrassment. Moments when internal grief is either expressed by manifestation of anguish or is supplanted by an expression of ridicule. Helen said, “Come right on in, let’s get comfortable. I’ll fix some drinks then Kent can tell you everything. It’s his story.”
“Well,” Kent began, “as you already know this morning the weather was glorious, but the front bringing this cold rain was forecast to arrive by noon. And, yes, today they were spot on, it arrived as predicted.”
Everyone nodded in agreement. Their words flowed in unison, “You never can tell in Austin. At Thanksgiving or Christmas, the weather might deliver a glorious 80-degree day of sun, a chilly freeze, or a dark overcast cold rainy day as we were now experiencing. You just never know.”
Helen handed out glasses of wine while Kent told his story, “Well, this morning the weather was glorious. Since we finished our Thanksgiving preparations yesterday all we had left to do today was to get the turkey on the oven. So, we decided, or I talked to Helen and got permission.” This comment was greeted by sniggers from Kent’s audience. “Anyway, we decided that it was okay for me to take advantage of the good weather and plant a Wax Leaf Ligustrum that we bought last weekend for the back corner of the yard. The ground is hard, so I was glad to be using a new sharp spade. About a foot down I encountered a large brown root. It was so big.” Kent demonstrated with his thumb and forefinger. “It ran straight across the planting hole. It had to go! I had great difficulty breaking into it and kept thrusting my spade down with all the force that I could muster. By the time that it severed I was quite winded. I was surprised to see that the severed root was no root, but some sort of flexible conduit stuffed with a multitude of colored wires. “Hmm,” I thought, “this must be another piece of abandoned construction debris.” I pulled on each end as I tried to remove it but without luck. By now the cold front had arrived and my beautiful morning had morphed into a miserable rainy day. I decided to abandon until the weather cleared and came inside.”
Helen took up the narrative, “Less than an hour later the phone rang. It was the phone company checking if we had service. I told them that everything was fine. They responded that everyone ‘downstream’ from us was not fine for they were without service. They delicately inquired whether we knew of anything which might explain this anomaly. Helen looked at her audience as she shook her head, “I had to tell them that my husband had severed what looked like an abandoned conduit or cable in our back yard. They thanked me and rang off.”
Kent added, “For a while we continued kidding ourselves that the severed cable was abandoned debris. But not for long, the crews now parked in our driveway arrived faster than an emergency ambulance. Their foreman came to the front door to inform us that I had cut a main trunk putting a whole neighborhood in telephone back-out on Thanksgiving Day when everyone wanted to talk to distant family. He informed that they would immediately set up in our back yard and repair the line.”
The group stood and peered through the rain. They could see a large bright yellow tent set up along the back fence. It glowed from light within. A portable generator hummed from a location on the grass outside. Before the gathering sat down to eat Helen put on her raincoat and protecting herself under an umbrella went out to the crew working on repairing the lines. She offered them hot drinks and food. They greeted her with smiles and high spirits. “It’s okay,” they said, “we will be finished in time to go home to our families for a late dinner. Right now, we are on triple time, the tent keeps us dry.”
As the friends sat down to eat Helen described the crew. “It is quite cozy in the tent. One man is in Kent’s hole making repairs, another sits on a folding chair reading instruction from a manual, the third sits on another folding chair – I’m not sure what his role is. They are in exceedingly good spirits. They said that they are on triple time.”
“You realize,” Kent and Helen’s friends told them, “that the phone company will bill you for this little fiasco.” Someone attempted a laugh, “it will probably be your most expensive Thanksgiving ever.” Helen responded, “What is, is. Let us put it aside and enjoy our time together.” She went on to deftly lead the conversation to other topics.
Kent was quieter than usual and kept letting his mind wander to a mental calculation. He wondered, “What would three men for, say seven hours, on triple time cost. Three times three, times seven that’s sixty-three. But what would their hourly rate with overhead be? Overhead is probably about three-point-five so about twenty-four an hour might be reasonable. Oh no it can’t be so much. $1,500 would mean a second mortgage for Helen and I. (Note $1,500 in 1975 is estimated to be equivalent to $7,260 in 2020).
Kent’s mental calculation was close. The telephone company bill came in at $1,549. Before an unhappy trip to the bank Kent looked up their home insurance policy. He and Helen struggled through the lengthy legalese. It seemed to imply that the Thanksgiving event was a mishap which might be covered. Coverage or no coverage appeared to be a decision left to the discretion of the insurance company’s claims assessor. Kent made a telephone call. The agent listened to Kent’s narrative in silence. “Well,” he said followed by a long pause, “this is not a cut and dried case; but believe it or not I, many years ago, had a similar experience. Your claim is approved.”