From the Pastor: Another Christmas Story
Last week you got to read my written-in-advance story about what happened on Christmas. Some of you (you know who you are!) failed to read carefully and, skipping over the sentence where I told you that I wrote the article before Christmas, then didn’t stop to think how a Christmas Midnight Mass story might have been experienced on Friday, December 25, then written and published in the church bulletin before the evening Mass of Saturday, December 26. This week there was actually enough time between Christmas and the bulletin publication date to write about what really happened. Be forewarned, though: fact is sometimes stranger than fiction. This is one of those times. This time it involves real terror.
Friday morning, December 24, before the first morning Mass, our part-time maintenance man (Tien), whom I only see in the evenings so I knew something strange was going on, came rushing into the rectory and excitedly told me that I had to come with him to the church. He was trying to tell me that something was wrong with the water but I couldn’t make out what exactly the problem was. I still don’t know if my lack of comprehension was due to his Vietnamese accent or my lack of morning coffee. But I only got halfway to the church before everything became crystal clear. A geyser was shooting out of the ground at the base of the outside wall of the social hall’s kitchen. A more serene and holy pastor, properly prepared for the glorious Christmas celebrations just hours away might have stopped and admired the beauty of water shooting 15 feet into the air, perhaps would have noticed that the spray cooled off the early morning Florida winter heat, and might even have enjoyed the way the rays of the rising sun made beautiful little rainbows in the mist. Not me. I don’t remember which I pondered first but two questions went racing through my brain nearly simultaneously. “How long has water been gushing out of the sidewalk like this?” and “What is the water bill going to be like this month?” Fortunately, Tien snapped me out of it with his emphatic statement that he needed help turning off the water main.
I helped him pull the cover off the water main, he dug out the valve and turned off the water. He turned off the water. Let me repeat it. He turned off the water. The water to the church, to the social hall, to the school and to the rectory. Christmas Eve Day and no water anywhere. For those of you who don’t attend daily Mass, picture about two dozen people waking up, drinking a couple of cups of coffee or tea and driving 45 minutes to Epiphany. What is the first thing they need to do? Yep, you got it. But that day there would be no flushing and no washing of hands. Are you getting the picture? Now expand the view and picture hundreds of people coming in for the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Masses with similar problems. Both the Latin Mass community and the Vietnamese Mass community travel long distances to attend Mass here and so the restroom facilities are even more important than at parishes where everyone lives close by. All of this was going through my head as we posted “No Water, No Flushing!” signs around the rectory.
Fortunately, we had plumbing problems at the rectory just a few weeks ago. (I never imagined that would elicit a “fortunately” statement from me!) Dyser plumbing had done the work and I was very pleased with everything they did. So I called their number. Surprise! Someone answered and told me, “Don’t worry, Father, I’ll send a man right out!” Sure enough, he was there before the Latin Mass began and by the time I was done hearing confessions after Mass, two plumbers had broken up the sidewalk, dug up the broken pipe and were nearly finished replacing the broken pipe and valve. While that was being done we found out from Fr. Peter that he had turned off that very valve (which sprung a leak, leading to the geyser) the night before when he heard the sound of water from a broken pipe inside the wall of the church back by the organ! Sure enough, once the water was flowing again, the “original” leak could be heard throughout the church. They had to cut in the floor of the church and in the wall behind the organ, and a gusher equaling the outside geyser was seen spewing up and into the hollow block wall. With the newly replaced water valve we should have been able to turn off the water to only the church, stopping the newly found leak while still having water available everywhere else. That way Mass goers could use the restrooms in the school and rectory if need be, even if we couldn’t restore water to the church in time. Guess what? It didn’t cut off water to that broken pipe! So the main water valve had to be turned off again. Working feverishly, knowing the circumstances facing us, the plumbers fixed the pipe as quickly as possible and the water got turned back on at approximately 3:30, just before we began the 4:00 Christmas Vigil Mass!
So, if you are one of the many who benefitted from plumbers willing to come help us out on the day before Christmas, please be sure to offer a prayer for the good folks at Dyser. They certainly were on my list to be remembered at the Christmas Masses! And now you know the real story of how I spent my first Christmas at Epiphany. I am not sure which version is more unbelievable but I don’t want to face either one again!
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka