Big plumbing issues: Decatur MLK Service Project, Day 2
Addie Jones sat in her living room on Sunday, Jan. 19, and listened to soul music on her television as friendly strangers moved throughout her house.
The strangers, volunteers with the city of Decatur’s annual MLK Service Project, banged on cabinets in her kitchen and fixed pipes in her basement. Jones shifted in her chair. She wore a blue face mask on top of her straight, gray hair. Jones said she put the mask on earlier because she’d “sprayed stuff” in her house.
In another room her husband lay bed-ridden. Jones said she has trouble walking. She used to go to church every Sunday.
“You know,” she said. “Circumstances change.”
Jones, known to her friends and neighbors as Ms. Pat, has lived in Decatur’s Oakhurst community for 50 years.
She said when she moved to her home, all of her neighbors were black. Now they’re all white. Many of her former neighbors passed away or sold their houses and moved out.
“I guess I’m about the oldest thing on the street,” she said.
Her plumbing is far older. According to the project list, the 1920s-era home has “big plumbing issues.” That’s the main reason the volunteers spent the first two days of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend fixing up her home.
Mike Curtice showed me the basement of Ms. Pat’s home, a place carved into the side of a steep hill. Someone just passing by the place wouldn’t know how steep that hill is unless they saw it from the backyard. There’s a high, wobbly wooden staircase leading into her kitchen from bottom of the hill, and on Sunday the kitchen door was gone. The volunteers removed it because it had nearly rotted away due to the water damage.
Portable lamps illuminated the brick pillars in the cavernous basement below. Zhi Geng and Hunt Yang, Chinese nationals who came to Decatur by way of Emory University, stepped carefully around a black tarp spread out the floor. Curtice pointed to a section of plumbing where the older cast iron pipe ended and the newer PVC pipe began.
Curtice said volunteers had removed hundreds of pounds of the old cast iron in an attempt to alleviate Ms. Pat’s plumbing problem. He said the iron pipes tended to capture more solid waste, especially anything found in cooking grease.
The MLK service project began in 2003, and Curtice said he first became involved with it about eight or nine years ago. He retired from the construction business. I asked him what drew him to the MLK Service Project. He got this wistful look, his eyes looking down at the black tarp for a moment.
“Growing up, I didn’t have all that I could’ve used, and I was fortunate enough to be able to put something back,” he told me. “I realized there were a lot of folks that didn’t get that far. Hopefully, it’ll be good karma for me someday.”
Curtice’s co-captain, Tom Johns, is a retired structural engineer who founded Business Management Consultants, an international project management firm. He gave me the short history of his company, said they’d had offices in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. He sold his share of the company to his partners and retired to Decatur. Now he makes his own schedule.
Johns worked in the kitchen above the basement, replacing doors and drawers. The project officially ends at 5 pm each day, but Johns said the plumbers worked on Ms. Pat’s house until 7 pm. the night before.
He said he first became involved with the project last year at the invitation of Gary Garrett, husband of Decatur City Commissioner Patti Garrett. “It was a kick,” he said, and it got him interested in coming back this year.
“The MLK project is a very good thing,” Johns said. “It’s a very good thing this community does for people. Everybody’s got their heart in it.”
The MLK Service Project will resume Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, at 9 am and will end at 5 pm. People interested in volunteering, even if they just want to rake leaves and bag up debris, can show up at The Solarium in Oakhurst, located at 321 West Hill Street.
There’s still plenty of work left for anyone who wants to help.