I was at work in my cubicle when the phone rang and the little old lady said, “Would you stop by sometime this week to look over some legal papers?”
“Uh, sure, Mom, what’s up?”
“It’s insurance stuff and I don’t understand it.”
I stopped by on a Tuesday, which was two days before she was to venture off to see my sister in St. Louis, an 8-hour drive away. Mom handed me three travel insurance policies. I skimmed each one and said, “Well, I’m not sure what you’re thinking here, Mom.”
“That if I get hurt I’ll get lots of money and be able to go other places,” she said enthusiastically.
“Uh, huh. Well, let’s look at this policy. This one gets you $50,000 if you lose an eye and a limb in a car accident. If you only lose an arm and no eyes, you won’t get anything. And if you are lucky enough to lose both an arm and an eye, well, as you’re winking at people with your one good eye and waving with your one good arm, do you think $50K is going to make you feel any better?”
I grabbed the next one and said, “This one is pretty incomprehensible, which means it’s bad.” Then, before she could say anything, I added, “Then there’s this one, which is really awesome, because it says that if you die in a car accident, your benefactor could get up to $100,000. That’s the one I really like, especially if I’m your benefactor.”
“No!” I practically yelled. “These are all stupid. I don’t want any money if you die in a car accident. And I don’t want to have to fight lawyers if you only lose one arm and your eye is still intact but not working right. And I certainly don’t want to hire a lawyer to figure out what that other policy means.”
“But what happens if I get in a car accident?”
I put the papers down and said, “Your existing insurance will pay the bills.” I put my arm around her. “And believe me, nobody is going to kick a little old lady out of an emergency room just because you don’t have travel insurance.”
“You got travel insurance before, didn’t you?”
I was telling her about the travel insurance we’d gotten for our trip to New Zealand and what it covered when all of a sudden we heard this horrible noise coming from the freezer. She jumped up and ran to the freezer, opened the door and said, “Oh no.”
I walked over and commented on the nifty icicles in the back of her freezer.
“They weren’t here two hours ago.”
“And the plumber was here today,” I nodded. “What all did you have him do?”
“He fixed several leaky toilets and faucets and he added a line to the freezer.”
“We need to call him and find out where the valve is to shut the water off.”
She asked whether the plumber was responsible for “this mess” and how much it might cost to fix, and before I could answer said she didn’t have the money to get it fixed, and how she and MaryAnn were going to a seminar tomorrow to learn why old people don’t sleep well. I tried to listen and also get her to get me a phone number. Soon I was on the phone with the plumber, then running downstairs and turning a shiny new valve to cut off the supply of water.
“And of course you knew that anything that goes on inside an appliance is something we don’t deal with,” the plumber said, “so you’ll have to call a repair man.”
“Well, gee, thanks for help,” I said and hung up.
Mom was fit to be tied as indicated by her puckered up mouth and her hands defiantly on her hips and her eyes about ready to bust out in tears. “Now what?”
“We call a repair man,” I said. “Because you want to be able to use your ice maker and I’m not sure how bad it is to have ice inside your freezer and your freezer making that awful noise.”
She had tears in her eyes as she said it would cost her even more money and she’d just spent money on a plumber, and that she wasn’t going to be here tomorrow. I told MaryAnn…”
“I might as well tell Aby I won’t get to St. Louis until Friday.”
“Mom, let’s call someone and find out how soon we can get someone out here.”
“It’ll cost double if they come out tonight.”
“Let’s worry about that if we need to.”
“And what about my food in the meantime?”
“Uh, it’s frozen in there. Icicle frozen. It’s all good.
I interrupted her again and asked her to look through the phone book. She found a GE Repair number and I talked to a kindly woman who said someone could be out between 1 and 5 tomorrow, Wednesday. Mom reiterated that she wouldn’t be here and I said I would take the time off and meet the guy. I hung up and asked Mom if there was another number we could try. She found another repair place and learned they couldn’t get out until Thursday. We agreed to stick with the first place we called.
I left Mom with her rattling freezer and ice formations and met the freezer repair guy at noon the next day. After I shared my theory on the cause of her new stalactites, he said, “What possessed your mother to start using an ice making machine when she hadn’t used it for so long?”
“One will never know.”
He opened the freezer and said, “This freezer is what, 18 years old?”
He laughed as he pulled out the top shelf, and the grin didn’t leave his face until he’d unscrewed something at the back of the freezer and said, “Yup, the plumber just stuck the new hose in and didn’t get it into the tubes inside.” He wiggled the tube, screwed the piece back on. And then he stood there for a second.
“How about I go turn the water back on downstairs and we make sure the ice maker works?” I offered.
“Okay, and I’ll see if I can just charge you for an educational stop, not the full charge for labor. See, we charge $69.95 just for the call, and our labor rates are outrageous.”
I ran back downstairs, turned the shiny valve and ran back upstairs. As we waited for the ice maker to cycle, I said the icicles inside the freezer bothered my mom and asked whether he had a heater and sucker-upper to get rid of them.
“I do, but you don’t want to pay me any more labor to do that. Besides, it’s a frost-free freezer and it’ll just go away over time.”
I shook my head and smiled. “You don’t know my mom.”
He handed me the bill for $120 and I resisted asking if this was an educational price or the price of all the effort he’d exerted in the 10 minutes he’d been here. As I wrote the check, he said, “It’s cycling through like it should,” then, satisfied, shut the freezer door, took my check, reminded me that the average appliance lasts only 12-15 years, and wandered out the door.
I pulled the dozen neatly stacked bags of peas and carrots out of the freezer, along with two chickens and some ice cream, banged the ice chunks over the sink and set the food on the counter. Using a warm cloth, intermixed with some banging with my fist, I soon had a sizeable pile of ice on the bottom of the freezer. I picked up the ice by the drippy handful, wiped and dried off the freezer, restacked the food as neatly as I could and rushed back to work.
An hour later, the little old lady was on the line, thanked me for coming out, and said that the ice maker wasn’t making any ice. I suggested she call the repair man and ask him how long it should take to make ice, and she said she wasn’t going to be around the next day if he needed to return. I said I could cover for her if need be, that she wouldn’t have to delay her trip to see Aby.
I called the little old lady when I got home from work and she said she’d gotten 5 ice cubes . . . and had thrown them all away because, “Well, you know, the first ones that come out may not be good.”
“Uh, hm. So, did the freezer guy say anything else?”
“Yes, to call him if I didn’t have a bin full of ice by Friday afternoon.”
I got into work the next morning and there was a message from the little old lady saying she had a full bin of ice cubes, thanks for my help, that she was on her way to St. Louis, and that she loved me.
Eleven hours later, my sister called to say that Mom hadn’t arrived in St. Louis. I suggested she call OnStar–tell them Mom’s name, the make and model of her car–they should be able to find her. A half hour later, my sister reported that Mom had only made it to Indianapolis–4.5 hours away–because she’d gotten turned around several times.
It turns out the little old lady didn’t need any of that travel insurance she’d been looking at. OnStar was all the insurance we needed.
Our having to use OnStar to find her was all the information we needed to start down a new road with the little old lady.