I stood on a 12 foot ladder in the middle of the family room stretching to reach the smoke alarm fastened to the cathedral ceiling. It had been chirping since the night before, a side-effect of searing half-racks of lamb before finishing them in the oven for Louise's birthday dinner. Heidi's folks are both in their mid-70s, and still very independent, but wise enough not to climb tall ladders anymore. I pushed the reset button, and the four of us waited, anticipating an annoying alert to break the silence in a minute or two.
"That was it?" Louise scoffed, when I clambered down a few moments later, satisfied that the beeping was over. "How stupid! I told the electrician not to put it up so high! What are we supposed to do when it's time to change the batteries? Pay a handyman 87 dollars? Ridiculous!"
She had a good point, of course. Heidi and I put the ladder back in the garage, both of us thinking how hard it is to be of help and support from 400 miles away. At least we fixed one thing, I thought, checking it off the to-do list we always encourage them to make for us when we visit.
Later that night I woke from a sound sleep, certain that I could hear the alarm bleating about its low battery. I lay in the darkness straining my ears for the persistent warning that something needed attention. It was not my imagination. We heard its piercing alert every 28 seconds for several hours until we dragged the ladder out and, at Louise's direction, just disconnected the whole thing so that it would never bother them again.
We offered to get a new battery and change it once a year on one of our visits, but she declined. This time as we stowed the ladder, I wished for a different resolution.
But it's her house.