My father was in his mid-eighties, and living in an assisted living apartment, when he began mentioning that he wanted to have a little metal teapot repaired. He asked my handy son-in-law to come over to have a look at it. Dad was sure the pot could be soldered.
Everyone in the family heard my dad mention the pot, and we mentally put it on our someday lists. I have a teapot collection, and I told Dad I would willingly give him another teapot. He seemed disinterested. I knew that he rarely made tea in his room, because his meals were served in the dining hall. In their social area, hot water was available on tap to be poured over a teabag in a cup. I dismissed the idea of repairing the pot, assuming he would forget about it.
One day, when I was helping my father file papers, he mentioned it again. I looked up to see him leaning on his cane, pleadingly reaching the pot toward me. He looked like a little boy with a big problem, and it made me sad.
I listened to the whole story. This teapot belonged in the dining room. One man, who had recently moved out, had been served tea from the pot each day. This man dubbed my dad the keeper of the pot before he left. The teapot held exactly two cups of water, providing just the correct amount of tea for a meal. It had a little bar across the inside top, which kept it from dripping when you poured. The little pot had history; it brought prestige to the pourer. It wasn’t just a teapot.
The problem was that the spout had developed a leak right where it joined the pot. The leak ruined everything, because it no longer provided two full cups of tea, and it made a huge mess on the table. It was stainless steel and not aluminum, so my dad was sure that my son-in-law could solder it. Once I realized that this was no ordinary teapot, I knew I had to arrange the repairs, immediately.
The next day, at my daughter’s house, while my grandson napped, I tested the pot. I filled it to the top with hot water and waited. Slowly, a single drop emerged from the area where the spout joined the pot. Then another drop pushed its way through. Then another and another and then the drops began to run together, in a tiny stream. Yes, this pot leaked, and, indeed, it lost almost a cup of water from an invisible separation, between the spout and the pot. I left a handwritten note, beside the pot, asking my son-in-law to solder it. He had to test it, again, because the leak was simply invisible. My son-in-law was able to fix the leak. He even made tea in the pot to test his work.
I returned the pot to my father the next day, while he was sitting with a group of his friends in the social room. The little metal teapot became the center of conversation, as Dad told the story of its perfection. Everyone was fully engaged. My dad was smiling, proudly, as he pulled the teapot closer to point out the wonderful job my son-in-law had done. I was aware of the similarities this exchange had to a kindergarten show and tell session. It was a bittersweet moment that I will never forget.
Ever since the leaky teapot incident, I have strived to be an even better listener. I try to ask for details, whenever I am presented with a request that seems like it can wait. I have found this helpful for dealing with young grandchildren, my mother-in-law who has Alzheimer’s, and my husband, the boy from the Get a Bigger Wagon stories. As you know, if you’ve read the Get a Bigger Wagon books, much of what the boy says does require the backstory, if you hope to ever understand his thinking.
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