I enjoyed being raised in the suburbs, but lately I’ve been thinking I might be a wee better off today had I been raised on a farm, or in a lumberyard.
It’s not like I have a yen to hoe a cornfield or whittle my own dining room table; I just think knowing how to do more than screw in a light bulb would be useful from time to time.
In the nearly four years that we’ve lived in our house — which is the first item more expensive than a bread box either of us have ever owned — my husband Rick and I are still discovering that when you’re not living with your parents or in a rental, there’s no super, landlord or handyman on call to fix stuff around the house, and the bill gets sent to you (and you have to pay it) every time the plumber visits.
Last week, I broke the key in the lock on the front door. Since I know nothing about the art of locksmithing, I called Rick to come home, and while waiting for him, I also called a locksmith. Rick arrived first, armed with a pair of pliers, but before he even had a chance to ply, he reached down and simply took the key out of the lock (which it hadn’t occurred to me to try to do, because, as my dad has said forever, I have a burning need to learn everything the hard way). Then Paul the locksmith showed up and with way more kindness and patience than my ignorance deserved, gave me a thoroughly enlightening lesson on how to open a door without breaking the key off in the lock.
Thankfully, though, I’m not entirely useless. I unclogged the garbage disposal in our last place at least twice and only one of those times was I actually responsible for the clogging. (I’ll cop to being the one who put flour down the disposal without thinking it would turn into Elmer’s Glue when mixed with water, but I’ll be damned if anyone thinks I was the dummy who figured it was OK to put pistachio shells in there.) I once WD40’d a squeaky screen door. I’ve been known to locate a fuse box and figure out which switch needed resetting. And I used to be able to check the oil level in my car (if pressed, I could probably do it again, but I haven’t tried in years).
Rick has surprised me with how handy he is. Not because he isn’t an extraordinarily all-around capable person (who spent a year in college working at Ace Hardware as a licensed propane tank filler), but I automatically assume that no one I know is capable of doing anything more complicated than jiggling a toilet handle to stop the water from running. Whenever his car battery dies (which seems to be every few hours), I wince and shield my face from what I’m always certain will be a MacGruber-type explosion when he attaches the jumper cables and asks me to start the car and give it some gas. He gets a thunderous round of applause from me with each successful unexploded charge.
He isn’t the only one who surprises me with his skills. One of my girlfriends recently recaulked her shower. I have a friend who changes the oil in his car despite the abundance of Jiffy Lubes in his city. I know people who chop their own firewood (yet I still felt no shame having mine delivered and stacked the three years I had a wood-burning stove). One of my neighbors designed, built and installed all of the cabinets in house and hooked up a sink in his kitchen island.
When my parents visited a few weeks ago, we went to Lowe’s to buy some shelves to hang in our pantry. My dad urged Rick to buy some super-duper fancy laser level to assist in the placement. I marveled at how he hung the shelves with ease and was a little relieved when he couldn’t figure out how to use the laser level. I mean, if Home Depot turned me on, I would have married Bob Vila.
Rick and my mom also hung some pictures and art around our house, which was nice since I’ll live with bare walls before attempting to hang anything myself. Math isn’t my strong suit, and I’m likely to miscalculate the measurements, hang everything crooked or in the wrong spot, create unnecessary holes and then helplessly try to figure out how to fill them without screwing up and having to repaint the entire house.
It actually wasn’t so long ago that I figured out how to screw in a light bulb. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’m sure I’ve always known how to do it, but I think I always thought there was more than a slight risk of electrocution.
Hey, if it weren’t for people like me, just think of all the highly skilled people out there who would be out of work. No need to thank me. I simply do what I can and leave the rest to the professionals.
More at MeredithCarroll.com.