Last night, Amy Hill Hearth, author of “Strong Medicine” Speaks: A Native American Elder Has Her Say(book 31 of 52) and Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years(book 32 of 52), spoke at the Barnes and Noble in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square. I saw about the last ten minutes. I had planned on getting there early to say hello before the talk, meet Strong Medicine, settle in and enjoy, but my plumbing had other plans.

Have you ever had one of those days you wish you could redo? That was yesterday — at least the first part. My toilet backed up, and after 20 minutes of plunging, I went downstairs to get my keys and head to the hardware store. That’s when I saw where the water was draining: through my dining rooms ceiling. I ran to the basement to shut off the water and saw it was coming down the wall and into the basement, too.

Panic? You could say that. I just bought my house in May, and aside from a broken washer, nothing much has gone wrong. I ran to my neighbor’s house, and he came over to take a look. He works for a local contractor (sometimes — he’s retired), a local contractor who also happens to be friends with the person next door. Together, the three of us cleaned up the mess, called the contractor who then called a plumber, who then told me to sit tight.

Which I did, in my house with no water, mentally tallying how much this was going to cost me. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not exactly rich. Freelance writing has been going well, and I was just starting to pull ahead when this happened. After the events of this weekend, I was already drained. So I put my head on my desk and cried before I straightened up, blew through four press releases I needed to write, and started in on a last minute assignment about the Jersey Shore.

Right around dinner time, the local contractor and neighbor came in with the plumber on the phone. At first, they thought they’d have to take a chunk of the dining room ceiling down. But then they tried plunging the toilet and the bath tub at the same time. Voila. All systems go. They did put a small hole in the ceiling to let the water drain and everything dry faster. My father, who used to be a carpenter and still works for a general contractor, is coming over to patch and seal it in the next week or so.

Total cost to Jen so far: zero. Well, two free copies of my book for my neighbor and the contractor, to be paid when it’s published.

An amazing thing happened at that point: Once I realized that crisis had been averted and that I wasn’t going to need to tear up my house, I didn’t feel good. I felt great, amazing even. It was about 7pm, and Amy was speaking at 7:30. So I very quickly washed up, threw on jeans and t-shirt, put my hair in a messy bun, and ran out the door. I caught the 7:20 PATCO train into Philadelphia, for once not carrying a book with me — there was no time. Once I got out of the PATCO station, I ran to the Barnes and Noble. I was surprised at how easy the running came — yes, I run a lot, but this was a “dash through the city” in jeans, “casual” sneakers and a trench coat.

I made it for the last ten minutes, popping up in the back of the room and trying not to breathe too loudly. I got to talk to Amy, talk to some of the tribe members and meet Strong Medicine. I wish the article that I’d written about Amy had already come out, but, well, the world’s not perfect.

I should have been exhausted after the ordeal, but I felt electrified. So I went to the Black Sheep, my favorite bar in Philadelphia, got a beer and the mac & cheese and had a spirited conversation with three lab scientists from Drexel and Penn. It was half way through beer two that I started to flag, so I swapped numbers with the guys and headed home. I landed my favorite seat on the PATCO train — the very back seat of the very back car, and watched the track snake behind the train the whole ride home.

I’m still tired, yes, and my disheveled dining room and the hole in my ceiling is not pretty, but my house is whole. Even after my health scare this weekend, I am whole. And that’s something to feel good about.

Back to Amy: if you weren’t able to see her last night, she’ll be signing with me at Cape May Harbor Fest on June 21 in Cape May. Maybe I should say I’ll be signing with her! She’s the best seller!

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.


  1. Trish Ryan on March 26, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Wow-what a day! Hooray for how it worked out, though 🙂

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