Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

June 16, 2013

House laced with decades of love — and a few MacGyver fixes

— I stand in ankle-deep water in my basement and glare at a water heater whose only goal appears to be making my life miserable. On this weekend, it has decided to say “ka-put” to the world and go out in a burst of soaking fury.

I am the new homeowner of this old house, but one familiar with its myriad of aches, pains and idiosyncrasies. I grew up here. And now, a middle-age orphan, I am back at the homeplace, living out the rest of my life in the place where I grew up.

Frantically I pick up the phone and call my sister. My first words were terse: “I thought Mom bought a new water heater.”

Big Sister sighed. “She was going to but then Dad said he could fix it.”

Opening up the panel I see an array of wires, gadgets and do-dads. It’s a picture that could go beside a Wikipedia definition of “baling wire and chewing gum.”

Dad was Mr. Fix It. Be it a glitch in a water heater, furnace or car engine, he could figure out what was wrong and make it right — one way or another.

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I was a young adult before I realized most women trashed hair dryers when they went on the blink. At the time, I was still using one I had purchased as a preteen.

Our family was a poster child for recycling before recycling was cool. When an appliance died it never went into the garbage. Instead, it was taken to Dad’s basement workshop where it would be resuscitated and given new life.

As a newlywed I purchased a $10 coffee pot that I used at least twice a day, and often much more. Thanks to Dad’s skillful tinkering when needed it lasted nearly seven years.

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Growing up, I recall Dad’s shop as a magical place. It smelled of motor oil, grease and metal freshly cut by a lathe. Motors in various stages of repair lined workbenches, while tools of all shapes and sizes could be found hanging on peg boards and scattered about.

Frequently, a stray ball bearing on the floor would be mistaken for a steely and dropped into a bag of marbles.

Dad’s fix-it projects included repairs on items for our family, and those of friends and neighbors. He was always working on something — unless, of course, there was a WVU football game on television.

His mechanical skills were also intertwined with a MacGyver streak. He wasn’t one to go out and purchase new parts unless it was an absolute necessity. I think he took a certain satisfaction from rigging something to work when, theoretically, it shouldn’t.

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My father passed away 13 years ago, but it wasn’t until my mother’s death six years later that my siblings and I began cleaning out his shop. A plethora of tools, repaired appliances and firearms — including handmade muskets — were handed down to brothers and brothers-in-law.

Occasionally, a sister would grab a particular screwdriver or hammer, one that carried a personal memory.

I remember this as being a horrific time. We were grief-stricken and emotional. Many of Dad’s things had been left virtually untouched since his death, and so we were experiencing the pain of the loss of both our parents.

A box in a corner filled with old mining hats brought tears; a discarded wrench brought more before spurring stories of water pipe repair mishaps. Ultimately, laughter at fix-it projects gone wrong begin mingling with salty tears.

Wiping my face, the husband and I walked into a storage area near Dad’s shop. He gasped when he saw the vast array of items lining the walls.

Eyeing the room quizzically, he asked, “Why do you have so many broken TVs in here?”

My answer brought a smile. “Parts.”

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Looking for an item in the garage last week, I spotted some of Dad’s old tools. Continuing to gaze about, I spied a creative wiring job in the corner of the ceiling and a few of his old fix-it projects that still remain on a rarely used bench.

Walking back into the basement, I glanced at the peg board on the walls of his shop before continuing down the hallway and into the laundry room where a new water heater now stands.

Much has changed since my childhood and even in the years since my father’s death. But there are still many constants in my life, and in my home.

We continue to be amazed at the Macgyver “fixes” we uncover, but true to our generation and lifestyle we usually replace the well-worn item or appliance with a new one. Even if we wanted to repair some of the things, we don’t have Dad’s knack for breathing new life into weary wood, wire, metal and plastic.

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As I age, I continue to gain appreciation at my fortune at being able to live in the house where I grew up.

A house filled with memories, and laced with decades of love, laughter and tears.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPery.

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