Several dead trees loomed near our home since my wife and I moved in four years ago. We mulled over the possibilities of a healthy wind dropping one of them onto our house on numerous occasions, and, therefore, the need to cut them down before that disaster occurred. A January ice storm that caused the deceased deciduous growths to lean a tad further than usual encouraged us to schedule a weekend when I could enlist some help.
With the sun shining and temperatures in the low 70s––the second unseasonably warm February in as many years––my kids and grandkids gathered for a family work and play day. I prepped my chainsaws during the week. Sunday morning, I assembled all my lumberjacking equipment in the back yard. Shortly after everyone arrived, we donned our boots and gloves, and got at it.
My two sons took to the task without question. Both handled the saws as if they’d been using them for years. For my sons it wasn’t a matter of how, but rather what next? Dead trees fell, were cut to manageable lengths, and the wood was gathered. As the day progressed, I was reminded of a piece I wrote in my first writing class, and choose to share. Enjoy!
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” A common phrase used to encourage folks not to meddle with items that seem to function well. But what if something does break? What would you do? Would you panic and call the repairman, or try to fix it yourself?
When I grew up in St. Louis during the 1950s and 60s, if anything in our household malfunctioned, we typically fixed it ourselves. My father’s example taught my two brothers and me that if an item was man made, we could analyze its assembly and most often repair it––for a lot less money. Whether it was a shattered pane of glass, or a knocking engine in the family car, we’d gather the necessary tools and tackle the job––and possibly improve overall performance.
This Tim Allen approach within our family was hereditary, handed down through several generations. My great-grandfather was the first to develop the paternal “fix-it” gene when he established the Miller Lightening Rod Company in St. Louis, during the mid-1800s. By the early 1900s, he and my grandfather expanded the business so that when Granddad took over, the company was a complete manufacturing facility, relying only on raw materials. Grandpa’s hands-on development also encouraged an inventive attitude. If he recognized a problem he’d create a solution. If saw he something he liked, he made one––or more–– for himself.
My father was raised in that lightning rod plant, absorbing every aspect of the business and its function. His education varied from sweating by blistering hot castings that became decorative rods to adorn the tops of houses and buildings, to dangling from those same rooftops installing the completed product. Dad’s total involvement in the company not only afforded him a wide range of experience, it also increased his self-confidence, and furthered his mechanical abilities. He quickly realized that, given the opportunity, he was capable of comprehending and performing many different tasks, and become proficient in them all.
Dad continued that mindset throughout his life and, in turn, conveyed it to my two brothers and me. None of us were deterred by the feel of grease and oil on our hands (or clothes), the heat and smell of metal, liquefied by a welder, or the occasional black and blue thumb if our hammer missed a nail. When it came to building or repairing most anything, we didn’t ask “How?” Instead, we reviewed what it would take to accomplish a task, grabbed the tools, and jumped into it. A bruised thumb or scraped knuckle was merely part of the learning process.
During my years of employment, my occupations included: instructor; bus driver; machinist/designer; service technician; service representative; park ranger; and now I’ve chosen to write. Each new position brought unique challenges to conquer, often without prior experience to rely on. The “I can do it” attitude acquired from my father not only allowed me to perform my varied duties well, but to also strive to excel at them.
As a husband, father and home owner, I’ve also encountered my share of repair and remodeling chores. Because of the philosophy I learned as a youth, minor fix-it jobs to major renovations are dispatched without fear. Although my outlook regarding home repairs remains “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” thanks to my father, I’m not overwhelmed when something fails. He instilled a trait that has helped me persevere throughout my life, an attribute that I’m proud to observe, has continued with my sons.