Some stuff just needs fixin

The critics are evenly divided!

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“These stories ramble on and on.  I thought they were pointless, now I’m just confused.”

“How could one person suffer so much?  My heart goes out to Lillian.”

“I wish the vaccine protected me from these stories.”

“My husband sleeps on the couch all day.  Looks like I’m lucky after all.”

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“Not since Oliver Twist has there been a serialized tale so captivating!”  

“I’d gladly give up Thursdays if I could get these tales one day sooner.”

“I was cleaning the lint out of the dryer.  Then the email came.  With tears in my eyes, I ran. . . “

“I had to ask my spouse to pinch me in that special place to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.”

If you’ve ever owned a car or your own home, you have joined an elite club.  You need to fix stuff.  Stuff breaks and who can afford the plumber, carpenter, electrician or car mechanic that you always wanted to be?  So, without much prior training and less skill, you set forth.  In no time, you’re building a new kitchen, bathroom and of course a new den.  You know the den.  The one you were promised, in exchange for the new kitchen and bathroom.  You thought it was going to be your personal space only to find out your wife needs the room for macramé, quilting, bridge or whatever.  Thankfully you get the garage.

Don’t get me started on the garage.  The days when a car actually fit in the garage have long since passed.  Now, the camping gear you never use competes with all her stuff that doesn’t fit in the seven-thousand square foot addition you just built.  “Honey, can you put this box in the garage.”  Notice, that wasn’t a question.  Being the good and dutiful husband, you want to comply, you try to comply.  Carrying said box into the garage, you discover what you’ve known for years.  THERE IS NO MORE ROOM!  In order to put one more box in the garage, you need to remove two of equal or greater size boxes that are already there.  I recently assisted our son Jason in putting eighteen thousand square feet of flooring in the attic above his garage.  Thankfully he’s storing a few of my things while Lillian and I travel the country.  The bulk of the stuff that he, his wife and his mother store could fill the Mall of the Americas.  Now, Santa’s entire workshop is up in that attic.  As is Snoopy’s great pumpkin patch.  Boxes are filled with festive stuff for holidays we don’t even celebrate — just in case.  Anyway, Jason and I built more storage in the attic above his garage.  It was fun.  For now, at least temporarily, there’s room for that “Honey, can you put this box in the garage.”

Gary Paints while Jason clowns around

You got me off track.  Back to fixin’ stuff.  My father could fix anything, like his father before him and his father before that.  Lillian’s dad could also fix most anything and everything.  I think such skills must get lost with each passing generation.  I have no idea where Tony or my dad acquired their talent.  As I recall, they just always knew a bunch of very useful stuff.  Both built huge additions to their homes, almost entirely by themselves.  What they didn’t already know they could figure out.  They took pride in everything they fixed or built.

I guess I did learn from these projects.  But nothing compared to what I learned fixing things by myself.  Over the years, mostly by necessity, I’ve learned to repair most the problems I create.  Spending time on boats and living in an RV requires at least some passing knowledge of basic electrical, plumbing and mechanical stuff.  Like most do-it-yourselfers, I’ve earned more of a E for effort than an A for craftmanship.  I once and only once tried to put up drywall.  All I can say is that the seams which should have been rendered invisible are now a lasting memorial to my handyman skills.  So much for the passing on of critical skills to the next generation.

Lest you think men are the only ones who can fix things, let me tell you about Aunt Jeannea.  For many years Jeannea was married to Lillian’s Uncle Val.  Val was a master electrician who could fix most anything. Whatever he couldn’t repair Jeannea could figure out and she possesses the confidence to forge ahead.  Jeannea is an avid sailor.  She owns her own beautiful sailboat, teaches sailing and has a Captain’s license.  A most impressive tale about Jeannea is how she repacked her sailboat’s stuffing box.  For those few landlocked friends, let me remind you that the stuffing box separates the propellor, usually outside the boat, from the engine, usually inside the boat.  Yes.  Please keep up.  There is a hole in the boat and the stuffing box keeps the ocean on the outside.  Not only did Jeannea contort her seventy-years-young body upside down and backwards to reach the box, but she did this while the boat was bobbing in the water.  So, with the ocean rushing in, racing against time, she made the repairs and is still sailing to this day.  When Lillian asked her why she still climbed the mast, she simply replied, “if I don’t who will?”

I have two good friends who can fix anything, and they make our generation proud.  One is named Steve, not because he’s in the witness protection program hiding in the hills of North Carolina.  But because his name is actually Steve.  In addition to being able to fix anything, Steve is an artist.  He’s a sculpturer, master woodworker and has restored more old cars than Jay Leno.  Steve has that one trait everyone admires and many of us envy.  Steve is calm, very calm.  What’s not to dislike?  My nervous paranoia hides my calm.  My other friend is more of the squirrel hyped up on amphetamines type.  Let’s just call him Gary, no relation.  Gary and I grew up together in the concrete jungles of Southern California.  While we were in High School, Gary rebuilt the family station wagon.  So, out with the old pistons, carburetor and that whirly thing you stare at when you lift the hood.  It took a few months, but the car ran better than new.  It actually did run better than new.  The family’s new Rambler now sported a new supped up carburetor and modified exhaust.  Just what they always needed.  Gary can fix anything. More important, if he’s never encountered the problem before, he can figure it out.  Gary just retired from a career of fixing stuff.  Now he spends his days with his granddaughters, and you guessed it, fixing stuff.

Gary replacing our truck’s fuel tank

Every child, I mean the ones who are going to own a car someday, needs to learn a few things.  Change a tire, change the oil and of course, remove, clean and re-gap the sparkplugs.  These were important skills that parents were required to pass on.  New cars?  Today, not much can be done by the do-it-yourself mechanic.  In my day.  I said, in my day, we didn’t have all those fancy electronics.  Replacing the points and setting the timing where expected.  Nowadays, we’ll just settle with the oil, tires and staring at the spark plugs.

Years before either Jennifer or Jason got a learner’s permit or driver’s license, we assembled in the single car driveway of our Alexandria Virginia home.  With new sparkplugs in hand, I set out to teach them a valuable lesson.  They would learn to do essential repairs and save valuable time and money!  I would remove the first plug and then Jennifer and Jason could fight over the next three.  Having spent all of $9.50 at Walmart, I extolled the virtue of the proper tools for the job.  Jason quickly threw one of the new plugs as far as he could.  “I just wanted to see it explode.”  Undeterred, I placed the specially made sparkplug wrench on said number one sparkplug and twisted with all my might.  With surprisingly little effort, the plug came free.  Or at least the top half broke free.  Yes, you guessed it.  The top broke off the plug.  Nothing was left to put a wrench on.  Now, the remaining part of the plug was flush and securely seized inside the engine block.  I stared intently as Jason climbed on the fender to take a look.  “Yep, it’s broken.”  Jason was always wiser than his age let on.

As the tow truck carried our precious Honda Accord off to the mechanic, Jennifer remarked, “so Dad, is this how we save money?”  

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