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Clawfoot Tub

There’s a small chip on the rim of our old clawfoot tub. Ilene won’t let me fix it and that makes me smile. We’ve been partners a long time, and I’ve learned to pick my battles. The old tub means so much to her. That tub, I know, is symbolic of our life together out in the country.So many years ago, during the interview process commonly known as “dating,” I told her of my dream of a ranch with an energy efficient home that I would build with land and climate in mind. Didn’t know how or where it’d be, but I wanted to build it myself and it had to make sense for where it was built. I remember us sitting on a mountainside, overlooking distant city lights when I’d spoken of this idea. Somehow she could tell it wasn’t just idle chatter. She loved the idea, this dream and adopted it as her own. And so after marriage we shared the immediacy of day to day living, children – and our dream of a ranch and home that we’d someday build ourselves, to fit our life together.Years passed, children were born and grew. There were several moves of the kind young couples must make to chase a dollar. During those tumultuous lean years I acquired the tub. A Fort Collins friend was remodeling his old house and wanted to be rid of the thing. The clawfoot is big: six feet long and quite deep.We had no immediate plans or money to build, but I had learned a thing or two about womenfolk by then. Looking at that rusty hundred-year-old tub with its yellow/green flanks (painted in the late 60s, no doubt) I saw its potential. Women love hot, deep baths completely immersed with only their noses and eyes showing out of the water. I smiled at the thought of Ilene in this tub. The “Calgon Lady” in her bubbles. The tub became a talisman. A solid, heavy reminder of long-range plans. I dragged that tub around for years. First in Ft. Collins, then to the Black Forest, northeast of Colorado Springs, and finally to the Palmer Divide and our burgeoning ranch dream.Carrying 200-pound roof trusses up one at a time, I admonished Ilene and the kids for standing beneath me. Ilene really wasn’t much of a builder. A “daddy’s helper,” I eventually had to gently run her off. And so what? She kept the home fires burning. She kept me fed and cheered. But most of all, she believed in me. Through all the years of scrimping and saving for our dream, she never worked against me. As our kids grew, she knew that our life together wasn’t about endlessly tight finances. There was a purpose to our saving that we shared – a light, a dream at the end of a pinched financial tunnel. This she never doubted.After 12 years, I was laid off from my job. There were no immediate job prospects. It was time for a family meeting. For seven years we had lived in a rustic mobile home and saved. Now it was time. Unemployed, I could no longer save, and so it was time to build. How daunting. A jobless guy, now I was to single-handedly build us a house. Guess I had a doubt or two.Ilene said: “I know you – and I know you can do this. But if for some unforeseen reason it doesn’t work out, that’s okay. We’ll make the best of it in this trailer. We’ll do fine.”I’ll never forget her words, her love and her staunch belief in me. Oddly, her permission to fail and her love for me no matter what gave me the freedom and push to succeed. There’s an old saying that’s been much maligned. It’s been used to bash men and to bash women, but I find the saying to be true in its original meaning: “Behind every successful man is a good woman.” Men would be happy to live in huts and caves if not for the love of a woman to show us what we are capable of. If I’m building it for me, well, I can get by with whatever. If I’m building it for her who loves and believes in me so fiercely, only my very best will do.I really did a number on that old tub before I installed it in our new, snug ranch home. The rusty iron feet now gleam like silver and have a clear coating to prevent them from ever rusting again. The yellow/green paint job has been stripped from the sides and under the white porcelain rim the tub is now a very light dove gray. Ilene just won’t let me fix that little chip on the porcelain rim. She says the tub is 100 years old; the chip gives it character and by golly, it’s entitled.Who am I to argue with someone who, despite my chips and rough edges, has always seen my true worth? Okay old tub, keep your chip if it means so much. Keep it another hundred years.

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