But Fear Itself


Notwithstanding a certain rhythm, the sound of running water is not music to my ears. Not, at least, when and where no water should be running.


Like a dogged douser, I track it to its source: the toilet in the main bathroom is definitely shh-gurgling. As I lift the tank cap — shh — my eyes quickly confirm what my ears have already diagnosed. The tank is emptying as fast as it’s filling.

Trained to show no fear in this sort of emergency, I authoritatively jiggle the flapper to reseat it and wait hopefully for the change in tone that will indicate the tank is filling. I wait in vain.

I squint at the chain affixed to the flapper and see that the doohickey — which should loosely connect the chain to the flapper — is wedged into an unnatural position. I unwedge it, releasing the slight tension it had put on the chain.

With an almost audible sigh of relief the flapper subsides almost imperceptibly, and that beautiful toilet-tank-filling sound fills the room.

Pretty darned pleased with myself, I return to my routine, but I can still hear a funny noise.

Oh, that’s one of those noises in my head.


It’s 1975 and the bathroom fan in my parent’s house is making a hell of a whacket. Uninclined to press my father into ill-advised service, my mother has decided to wait the few weeks until my next visit to town. Well, to wait for my then-husband’s visit, truth be told. After all, the fan is electrical. Who better than an electrical engineer to tackle this problem?

And so it is that he is standing on a stool, unscrewing the cover on the ceiling fan. I’m thinking maybe he should have turned off a breaker. But before I can offer my professional advice, the cover drops a half-inch into his hand, and something else drops with it: a hardened piece of electrician’s tape. The house was built in 1972 and this piece has finally dried up enough to come loose and whack around inside the fan. Problem solved: No electron negotiations required.

My mother is grateful for the cessation of the whacketing, pleased not to have incurred an electrician’s bill for a house call, and a little chagrined at how little there was to it. After all, she could have unscrewed the fan cover and let a piece of electrician’s tape fall into her hand, too. As she heads down the hall with the noise-maker in her hand, she acknowledges ruefully, I guess it helps if you’re not afraid to look.

As it was with the fan and the toilet tank, so it shall be henceforth with all my problems.

Large and small; mechanical and electrical.

Personal, inter-personal, political.

Animal, vegetable, mineral.


I shall, damn it, not be afraid to even look.

whackety-whackety shh-gurgle-shh

What’s that funny noise? you ask.

Oh, that. It’s just the world, playing my song.


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12 Responses to But Fear Itself

  1. Ted Spencer says:

    So few of us can properly identify a “doohickey” these days. Even fewer of us can see, in a trice, its relationship to a “flapper”. And then there’s the comfortable use of technical terms like “whacket”. You have dimensions that we, your appreciative readers, had never imagined. I, for one, stand in awe.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Ted – Well, it is sort of a natural gift (ahem, modest blush here) but I also fault the educational system. What the heck are they teaching kids anyway? Certainly nothing about doohickeys.

  2. Things rule. We mere mortals call in the Thing Expert.
    The natural order of things…usually.
    But not today. Not today. Braveness incarnate is our Isabel!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Just avert your eyes respectfully (or gaze worshipfully, your choice) when I go by – that’s all I ask. In this incarnation, at least.

  3. Raised on the paternal side by an engineer, I learned not only to rely on but to draw from that vast store of how-tos and fix-its, although I never considered my role to be household chief tinker. Surely, the engineering instinct was imbued in the male. Or so I believed until my male and I spent several hours trying to assemble the crib-in-a-box for our impending first-born. My sentimental illusions in tatters, I bit my tongue until Dick went to brew a pot of coffee, during which ten minutes I assembled the crib. Our three mechanically adept sons uneasily accept the feeling that they learned their superior skills from their mother. Nope, it’s genetic. Your grandfather was an engineer.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Nurture so often reinforces nature (for good and for ill) as we are raised by the folks who bequeathed us their genes and pay the favour forward. As we watch kids develop in our homes, it is tempting to conclude that we’re teaching them this stuff. If only. Although maybe we should be happy we have a more reliable form of transmission . . .

  4. Jim Taylor says:

    Biiiiiggggggg grin!

    Actually, I had the same problem the other morning when I could hear water running. No taps on. No flapper valves unseated. Eventually I traced it to the hot water tank in the basement, which had, umm, developed a bowel malfunction. No, I didn’t try to fix it myself.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – But at least you went looking! When I bought an old and badly maintained rental in Edmonton – to live in, my own self – I looked at the old hot water tank and decided to have it replaced as soon as I had access. The installer said, after he lugged it up the stairs (it was heavy even after being drained), “That’s the longest lasting tank you’ll ever own.” I guess they used to design them for 15 or 20 years and they routinely lasted for 30. Now they’re designed for 5 years, and you might get 8 . . .

  5. Judith says:

    As my mother used to say, none so blind as he who will not see. Not sure if that is as gender specific as it sounds nowadays. Thanks for a laugh.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – There was a 1972 movie with Goldie Hawn and Edward Albert- Butterflies are Free – where the hero is blind and Goldie is a flower-child. His mother tries to protect him from what she sees as a total flake, and at some point says gently, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” I forget the point that this supported, but it should have been a devastating blow in the argument. Instead, Goldie wandered off into crafting similar sayings (There are none so deaf as those who will not hear, and so on), wondering why they didn’t exist and missing the put-down entirely. Your mother always made me laugh – thanks for another one in her name!

  6. Alison says:

    I like to think I’m “handy” – and I’m certainly the one in our household to attend to any plumbing concerns. Apparently, I always had the ability to read and follow instructions (helpful for fixing things) although I must admit, these days, I “google” the problem, watch the YouTube, and then away I go! Problem fixed! I’ll hope my children have inherited the same skills??

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Alison – Yes, yes, following instructions – always a good thing. Not sure how we learned how to do things before YouTube gave us the visual component. I have to admit that sometimes I remember to check; sometimes I don’t even think of it, and just continue to fuss or bumble through it. I have used YouTube origami videos with the grandchildren – of course, we have to keep stopping the video to catch up or to consult (What did he/she just do?!?).

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