My grandfather would be very disappointed in me, Grandma too. I’m pretty sure my wife realized she’d made a mistake not long into the marriage. My kids just laugh at me. Sometimes snidely I might add.
There are a number of subjects the above paragraph might pertain to, but in this case, the topic is gittin’ things fixed. In particular, I am referring to my lack of skill in being any kind of useful handyman around the casa.
(This also, by the way, applies to cars and other mechanical challenges. I am not sure yet if I have told the tale of the beautiful Opel we bought from a fellow retired from Sandia National Labs who refurbished cars. He loved Opels, and cared for each one he worked on like it was one of his talented daughters. Long story short, I expected that a little light would come on when it was time to change the oil. One never did. So much for that engine. Jim, that was his name, just looked at me in disbelief when I told him his car had mysteriously stopped running. He wouldn’t sell us another one.)
My grandparents would be disappointed I think, because I spent time, often long summers, working on their farm. Fixing things on a farm and keepin’ ’em fixed is part of the day. Whether it’s preventive maintenance for the all-purpose tractor or rehabilitative surgery on a fence that the latest tornado defeated (it did not persist) is SOP. That means understanding how things work and what needs to happen to keep them working.
I never took to this.
It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy being around, giving a hand, admiring Grandpa as he figured out just how cattle were slipping through barbed wire and onto a country road or fixing a broken-down combine during the height of harvest. I did. And my grandmother was just as much the hands-on problem-solver in her arena.
I can visualize my grandfather using a church key to crunch open two triangles facing each other on the top of a quart of oil, Quaker State or Valvoline comes to mind, and then using a metal funnel to pour that slowly-smooth-silky-amber-rich liquid into the engine, hanging on until the final drops came more slowly than they were worth waiting for. Lubricating, like keeping oil in my Opel, is of course preventive maintenance – the best kind. It was not, as rehabilitative surgery is – fixing broke things. Fixing broke things on the farm was often accompanied with my grandfather’s “Well, I’ll be diddly-damned!”. He had a “how in the hell did this go wrong” quick and quickly-over temper.
I spent enough time on that farm, helping with whatever a boy could help with, to know some stuff and I think my grandparents would be disappointed if they knew I didn’t carry those practical skills into later life. Probably not surprised, as they knew the hearts and souls of people far better than people in our rushing-around society do today, and they knew me.
Today, I look back and realize that I could have saved a lot of time, money, and stress if I had spent more time fixin’ things or, better, making things and making things better, and less time trying to do “something important” in the world for which I would get accolades, a suitable fortune, and the thanks of millions. Time would have been better spent with my son, daughter, and wife putting up blinds or using a grease gun. For whatever grease guns are used. Lawn mowers I think.
My wife Lana fixes things and puts things together far, far better than I do. My lack of interest in or understanding of simple plumbing, hammering, and yard work has made me the butt of much cold-hearted banter in our house over the years. I have felt so, so misunderstood.
My friend Louie became my friend because I hadn’t fixed the fence in my backyard. He came rustling around to our front door one day and surprised Lana – she thought he was mad – telling her that this fence we shared just needed to be repaired. When she called me, I thought “Who in the world is this guy?” I had to take a breath and go over to try to assess the damage to fence and relationship. Confrontation is not my forte.
Louie became a great friend and a fishing buddy. Maybe the best neighbor we have ever had and, really, part of the family. Like most things with Louie, he knew what he was doing about fixing the fence and I became just his helper, trying not to get in the way. The same goes with dropping a line. He fishes while I sit and pretend to fish while resting into a long beautiful summer day on the lake. Fishin’ with Louie is an example of one of those simple pleasures that make life rich.
There are many things I admire about Louie, but one of them is his kind and helping spirit. He, literally, helps little old ladies. Broke a bone in his neck once falling off a roof doing some volunteer work for one living in his neighborhood. I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who goes out of his way to help others like Louie does. He fixes things. Helps people. Has a genuine heart of gold.
Which brings us to this last Tuesday. Tate, Brian, Justin, and Jason all showed up at our house the same morning at my request. Each brought a “fixin’ things” specialty – electric, plumbing, appliances – and I wanted to get the misery over all at one time. Stove, dishwasher, hot water heater, ice-maker, water softener, light fixture and lamp. Stuff wasn’t working or wasn’t working right.
I always dread it when contractors like these, experts in their fields, come over. I know that in comparison I’m a bumbling Clark Griswold without the obliviousness – I know that I don’t know beans about what these guys know. In fact, I always have this angst that experts look at the problem I’ve presented, thinking, “Who is this guy? Clark Griswold?”.
Me’n Clark, inseparable in the minds of so many. A meme of some merit, but conceived with so little compassion.
Turned out, as it almost inevitably does, to be a great morning. I always stick around because I’m hoping to learn something. I think most of the time people like to be asked about their work and their own journeys. I often learn a lot while people are checking, diagnosing, cleaning, replacing, repairing – doing well in 30 minutes what would take me hours to do poorly – and so it was Tuesday. When these gentlemen left I was pretty sure the stove wouldn’t blow up, the dishwasher was hot enough to safely clean dirty dishes, the hot water heater wasn’t going to leave us freezing anytime soon, and so, so much more. And I thoroughly enjoyed chatting it up with them while they were over.
Fixin’ things. There is so much to be said for it. I extol those who do it well. I am grateful for people in the world who know stuff, who enjoy trouble-shooting problems, and who are willing to help people in a way that is respectful and understanding and educative.
Now…how do I get this electric screwdriver to work?
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