This Side Up

The music of clean gutters


There’s music in gutters.

That’s not always the case when it rains. More often than not, gutters become problematic when nearby trees fill them with leaves and twigs. Then instead of a lullaby of tinkling there’s the splattering of water running down the side of the house.

My father had a lot to do with my attention to gutters.

He was diligent in seeing they were kept clean. At least twice a year and more frequently if circumstances demanded it, he’d get out the ladder and with a long stick push the debris into a pile before scooping it out. His objective, apart from cleaning the gutters, was to complete the task as quickly and efficiently as possible. The stick he used was about ten feet long. At its end he affixed a tennis ball – in later years he also used them on my mother’s walker not to scratch the floor. The ball fit perfectly in the gutter ensuring a clean sweep as he pushed sticks and leaves.

With age he reluctantly relinquished the ladder climbing and handed over the stick with the ball. But that wasn’t always the case, as I got calls even after his 90th birthday that he was “up there” cleaning the gutters.

The lesson surely applies to more than the preservation and smooth functioning of a system designed to keep a home free of moisture and the havoc it can create. Cholesterol was never an issue for him and while he didn’t talk about it, he was a careful eater and paid attention to his health.

Not that I thought this would be a defining life lesson, I introduced my grandson Eddie to the gutter some years ago following a June thunder storm. We had pedaled bikes up to Louie’s Barber Shop for haircuts and on the way back the threatening skies opened up. We made it to the porch before the deluge where we watched windblown sheets of rain followed by the splattering as partially clogged gutters overflowed

“Let’s clean those,” I announced once the storm had passed, the sun was shining and steam was rising from the roof. Eddie didn’t know what I had in mind until we went to the second floor and I climbed out the window onto the roof. It’s not a step roof, but it’s up there and commands respect no matter how high.

“Are you coming?”

Eddie was game. I told him to move slowly, keep his weight low and if he wanted to retreat that was fine. He stayed back as I worked my way along the eve scooping out a combination of soggy leaves and roof single grit. There was no stick with a tennis ball, just my hand. The next step was to clip back branches that had grown over the porch roof and toss them to the drive below.

It was about then that the rest of the family drove in. There were looks of disbelief. It wasn’t extraordinary that I should be on the roof, but Eddie who was probably 6 at the time, well, that was carrying things a bit far.

Eddie, on the other hand, was thrilled with the attention. Even now he remembers it as a highlight of that summer visit to Rhode Island.

That episode crossed my mind this Sunday. It was a gentle rain that quickly turned the frozen yard to puddles and made it impossible to tackle the outdoor projects I’d planned. We packed away the rest of the Christmas decorations, which was reason to visit Dave’s and buy a bouquet of colorful flowers.

I thought of getting started on taxes, but that was depressing.

And then there was the music of the gutters, a soothing reminder that everything was fine and it was good to be inside. Even Ollie seemed to like it as he watched from his crossed paws – a lullaby on a drab February afternoon.


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