Congratulations to James Tipton of Laredo, Texas, the March 2015 Penn Cove Literary Arts Award recipient.
Plumber of the Year
by James Tipton
Henry Wellman never wanted to be rich. He only wanted to be the best plumber in La Perla, a simple town in south Texas near the border city of Del Rio. Rosalina, his wife, had never wanted to be rich either. What Rosalina wanted was, when they retired, to return to Agua de Esperanza, in the mountains of central Mexico, which she had left when she was just a little girl.
As often happens when a man organizes his life around one thing only and when he marries well he indeed becomes successful. As in the Mexican proverb, in most things their “four eyes saw as one.” Henry and Rosalina, although not wealthy, had money beyond their desires. Henry handled the pipes, Rosalina the books.
The only thing that bothered Henry was Rosalina’s belief that they would retire to the place of her birth, Agua de Esperanza.
Henry had become part of the history of La Perla, the best plumber La Perla ever had. The yearly visits to Agua de Esperanza with Rosalina had been a pleasurable duty, but Henry was shocked by the plumbing, which for the most part consisted of a few pipes extending through the village, tacked to the sides of the simple adobe homes. Behind each home was a large tank, of concrete, usually shaded, where dishes were washed, clothes were cleaned, and bodies were bathed.
Henry loved his life in La Perla. He loved the house he had created, which easily had the finest plumbing in town. Above the bathroom door he had mounted the plumber’s wrench—gold plated with two dangling gold feathers—that he had received after he had five times been voted Plumber of the Year at the annual meetings of The Apache Valley Plumber’s Association.
Of course Henry also loved Rosalina, and he remembered that night when he had proposed. She had made him promise her that together they would work hard, retire early, and return to Agua de Esperanza.
To Henry, promises were like appointments. You always kept them. Otherwise you would never become Plumber of the Year.
Thirty-five years earlier, Henry had been in Del Rio stocking up on some new augers and snakes when he had discovered in a coffee shop the young waitress with the sturdy body and beautiful brown eyes.
Their first date had been to the movies, to The Outlaw, where together they saw Jane Russell stretched out on straw, wearing a very sexy and revealing silk blouse slipped down off her right shoulder. The following week he found, across the border in Ciudad Acuna, a silk blouse in deep red that was almost like the one that clung so nicely to Jane Russell.
Rosalina wore it the next Saturday night to the West Star Drive-In. Henry told her she was a knockout.
“I may be ‘knock out,’ señor,” she said, “but I may also be very proper.”
“But you wore this,” he said, tugging lightly at the right sleeve.
“I wear this outlaw blouse only for you, because it was your gift to me,” she said, smiling. His eyes were fixed on the gold crucifix that dangled between her breasts.
When he left her at her door, she said, “Come tomorrow morning and watch me feed the chickens. I will fix you very fresh eggs.”
As she served him huevos rancheros she said, “I always want to have pollos.”
“I promise you that you will always have chickens,” he said.
“Gracias,” she said.
He stood up and put his arms around her.
“Besos solo,” she warned.
“Kisses only,” he said.
But what kisses they were, full and soft and sweet.
The years had flown by. Drain after drain had been unplugged, pipe after pipe carefully laid, washers replaced, roots removed. And Rosalina’s chicks continued to hatch. Now Henry was 60 and Rosalina was 55. Their only child, Teresa, was teaching Spanish in Tucson.
With some unspoken reluctance Henry honored his promise. They sold almost everything, loaded a box trailer with the few things they really still wanted, put heavy bags of plumbing tools and large cases of supplies along with three crates of chickens into the back of their red Ford 150 and headed south to Agua de Esperanza.
Soon Henry was happily at work repairing the plumbing in their little adobe home; and then, with the help of the villagers, he added on a large bath, with shower and tub—the first in the village.
“You know, Henry,” Rosalina announced after her first hot bath, “You have always been el plomero de mi corazón.”
The Plumber of Her Heart, Henry thought… good enough for me.
Then they helped Rosalina’s sister, a young widow, buy a house that had been abandoned and Henry added indoor plumbing.
Her sister’s son, Ramón, a boy of seven or eight, came racing in after school one day.
“Everyone wants to come see our house,” he announced proudly.
“But,” Rosalina said, “Uncle Henry hasn’t finished fixing it up. What did you tell them?”
“I said our house is very ugly, but it has a bathroom.”
And so it was, in casa after casa, that Henry—now called Enrique by most of the villagers—remodeled or installed for the first time, bathrooms, showers, sinks. Whatever they could pay was always enough, and sometimes it was only a basket of plump cherries, some ripe papayas, or a bucket of avocados. But never eggs, because Rosalina’s flock had prospered, happy in their new home.
“Enrique,” Rosalina whispered one night as she snuggled against him, “Do you still miss La Perla?”
“I’ve been too busy doing what I love to miss La Perla,” he said, although he had mounted his Plumber of the Year gold-plated wrench above the door into their new bathroom.
One warm summer night when everyone in Agua de Esperanza was in the plaza, the excited villagers, who were now like a large family, presented Henry a t-shirt that read El Plomero del Año.