I opened my Appliance Repair business in 1990 and answered my calls on a cellphone. Not many people had cellphones back then, probably because they were the size of a brick. It took me two batteries to get through the day and cost hundreds of dollars a month.
Anyway, I was a one man show, was hungry for work and striving to build a customer base. I don’t remember exactly when Esther called except it was in the summertime. She said the pipe under her washing machine was leaking and she needed it fixed right away. I tried to explain I wasn’t a plumber, but she sounded desperate so I told her I’d get there as soon as possible.
She lived in a doublewide trailer behind an overgrown row of bushes. I wouldn’t have known where her driveway was if she hadn’t told me. There was a beat up old yellow Dodge van with a wheelchair ramp parked in the weedy gravel, and two or three big dogs appeared out of nowhere when I got out of my pickup.
A thin little woman with short, curly, black hair came out and shooed the dogs away. At the time I was probably in my early thirties. She looked to be about sixty but I found out later she was older. I mentioned she was thin, but she wasn’t thin like frail, or weak. She was wiry. Her muscles were stringy, they looked like thin cables under her skin.
She talked fast and sometimes repeated herself. I got the impression she wasn’t used to sitting still. I called her Mrs. -I’ll leave her last name blank, and she said to call her Esther. She said she had to have the washing machine pipe fixed because she did laundry everyday and she had to have her washer.
I followed her around the doublewide to the crawl space door. Luckily, the ground the building sat on sloped and it had been built up on a foundation. I opened the door and Esther pointed to a black plastic drain trap that had come loose. I didn’t have any ABS Cement but I had some adhesive from Maytag that was pretty versatile stuff we in the trade called Maytag snot.
I glued the tube together, taped the joint and told her to wait until the next day to do laundry. Esther was overjoyed I got it fixed so fast and invited me up to meet Sonny. Sonny was her son. I never knew his real name because she always called him Sonny. He was older than I was by fifteen or twenty years and had to be tied into a wheelchair or he’d fall out. His arms and legs were bent and his hands gnarled.
She needed that washing machine because she had to do his diapers every day. There wasn’t one bodily function she didn’t have to do for him. From the minute she got him up, until the minute she put him to bed she did everything. She’d been doing it ever since he was a baby. That’s why she was so wiry. That’s why her muscles looked like cables under her skin.
Esther had given up everything for Sonny. Her husband had wanted to put him in an institution, but she wouldn’t let him. So he left. She had a daughter who was healthy. I met her once. She seemed nice. She was married but I wasn’t sure if she had children.
I brought my daughter to see her once. Esther needed something and I scheduled it so I could take my daughter with me after school. I wanted her to meet Esther, and I wanted her to meet Sonny. You can’t pass up a chance to show your child an example of selfless love. I’m not sure what my daughter got out of the meeting, but I knew she needed to see her.
The last time I saw her, Esther was the one being taken care of. Her memory wasn’t good anymore and a married couple was living with her to help out. I asked about Sonny. They said he finally had to be put in the institution Esther had tried to keep him out of. It seemed like a let down. Like everything she’d done had been futile. Later, I realized it hadn’t been. Later, I realized she’d given him her life to make up for his.
It’s been twenty years since that day and I assume Esther is dead. More than likely Sonny is too. But a thought just occurred to me, I remembered something Esther said. She told me once her little boy used to have such a bright smile. She said it used to light up her heart. Then it dawned on me. She wasn’t calling him Sonny like her son. She was calling him Sunny like the light of a beautiful summer day.
You don’t meet many saints. But then again, maybe there’s more around than you think. I’ll always remember Esther. The little woman with the giant heart.