Plumbing the depths of a flood
First Person

Plumbing the depths of a flood

Merri Ukraincik of Edison is a regular contributor to NJJN.

Illustrative image of an overflowing washing machine. Stock Image/The Spruce
Illustrative image of an overflowing washing machine. Stock Image/The Spruce

Our basement recently flooded. While I wish I could pin this on the heavy rains of recent weeks, I cannot. We have no one to blame but ourselves.

The story begins with the running of a load of wash on a Thursday afternoon, which caused the laundry room sink to overflow onto the floor. We investigated. We plunged. We carried buckets of mucky water outside and mopped up the mess. Soon enough, we discovered that a clog in the sewer line was causing the tsuris in the sink. 

With the confidence of someone who has had the foresight to take out sewer line insurance, I scheduled an appointment with the drain repair people. I instructed my family to limit their water usage in the interim, hopeful that order would be restored before sundown the next day.

The sink had filled up again with murky liquid by the time the repair guys arrived Friday morning and confirmed our diagnosis. But alas, they could not snake us out of our troubles. “Sorry, ma’am. Your policy doesn’t cover this.”

Shocked, I insisted we have the super-duper-all-inclusive plan, reminding them they’d tackled our clogs more than once before and that the repairs had always been covered.

“Yes, ma’am,” they said again, letting me know they’d gotten into trouble with the insurance company for it. They clarified that our policy does cover everything — for the outdoor sewer line only. With that, the drain men rode off to their next plumbing emergency, cautioning us not to flush.

I would’ve called our plumber Bill at this point in the story. Bill whipped our fixer-upper into shape when we bought our house 15 years ago, and had been our plumbing ghostbuster ever since. Well past retirement age, he loved his job, resolving to work until he could no longer crawl beneath a kitchen sink. Over time, he became dear to us, so when his wife took ill, we began sending him home with chicken soup and cake, along with payment due for repairs to our pipes.

The news that Bill had recently passed away reached me days before our flood. I mourned him as I stood there, facing the sewage that continued to back up into the laundry room sink as Shabbat approached. He would’ve reassured me, “What you’ve got here is a mess, but it’ll be alright.” He would’ve meant the plumbing problem at hand, but I always felt he was talking about the bigger picture, that he was referring to all of life’s challenges. He was wise in that way.

We knew it would be hard to find someone to fill Bill’s shoes. Still, I was frustrated that I couldn’t even get another plumber on the phone that Friday. With nothing to lose, my husband rolled up his sleeves and did what he saw the repair guys do the last time they were here. I shrieked with glee as he hoisted the source of the clog in the air. We could shower! We could launder the mound of wet towels we’d used to mop up the floor! Mostly, I was grateful we could go into Shabbat with the peace of mind that the basement wasn’t going to flood now that the clog had been dislodged.

My crew straightened up the laundry room while I warmed up dinner. Figuring the sink could use a good cleaning, my husband set a plug in the drain and turned on the water before running upstairs to dress quickly for shul. He planned to turn it off a few minutes later on his way out, which leads us back to the beginning of this story.

If God wants something to happen, it’s going to happen. So it should come as no surprise that the water was still running on Shabbat afternoon when we went to get something from the basement. Standing ankle-deep in water, we shut the faucet and opened the drain. The rest of the clean-up we could tackle only after sundown.

Though we are grateful that both our losses and the damage were minimal, we haven’t reached the point where we can laugh about the flood situation just yet. That said, I’ve made too many messes of my own to find fault with my husband. Perhaps it was meant to be that we chose the verse from Song of Songs, “Vast floods cannot quench love, nor can rivers drown it,” to adorn our ketubah.

I’m going to add super-duper-all-inclusive-indoor sewer coverage to our policy this week. When we have time, we’ll replace the items we lost in the flood while briefly lamenting the things we cannot. To paraphrase what Bill would’ve said had he been here to witness the scene in our basement, “It’s a mess, but we’ll get through it.”

Merri Ukraincik of Edison is a regular contributor to NJJN. Follow her at

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