Taking pleasure in small victories

Posted: Sunday, July 25, 2010

Range vent fan over the oven doesn't work. No problem. Get the voltmeter and check continuity. If that's good, test the motor. Swap out a new motor for the bad one. Easy.

Being handy around the house is both a blessing and a curse -- and I could tell you stories that illustrate both sides.

But what you really need to know is where my handiness came from -- my Dad.

Dad was an incurable tinkerer. I think most professional pilots are, at heart. Part engineer, part inventor, Dad's idea of a good time was tearing down a Buick engine. He welcomed broken water pipes. Dad's idea of a shopping trip was buying TVs to fix at Salvation Army (remember, this was the 1960s; electronics still used tubes).

This is the fathering my younger brother Russ and I were exposed to. Dad brought home a jukebox one Saturday. A Wurlitzer. We figured it was from the late '50s.

"We can have this running, no problem," he said, beaming. "It'll be easy, boys."

We'd heard that line before. I don't think we ever caught on.

We spent the entire day and that night messing with the switching mechanisms, the amplifier, the neon light connections. Late that night it was spinning 45s and lighting up the basement.

We grew up in a garage full of tools and gadgets, half-repaired lawn mower engines, reel-to-reel tape recorders, lumber and carpet remnants from when we finished the basement -- Dad, me and Russ.

It was the basement project that taught me the value of little victories.

The project involved putting in a second bath for the two new bedrooms we'd framed in. Dad had it all planned out. We'd solder in most of the copper tubing in the evening. Then, after Mom and my sisters went to bed, it would be a simple matter to shut off the water supply to the house and finish the main connection. An hour, two at most, Dad said.

"It'll be easy, boys."

We shut off the water at 11 p.m. After correcting for a few measurement miscalculations and more copper tubing cutting, I was finishing the last sweat joint for the shower riser. It was 5 a.m. Russ was on a step ladder above me, holding the pipe upright and snoring.

Dad turned on the water. One -- two -- threefourfivesix -- seven, and -- uh, yeah, eight. OK, eight minor leaks.

"Hey, hey, boys!" Dad exclaimed. "That's not bad at all!"

Russ and I sat on the concrete floor and looked at each other. The leaks were spitting on us.

"We'll let the girls do their morning thing and then shut the water back off and fix these little spots," Dad said. He was smiling with satisfaction. "Russ, get a mop."

Little victories.

Postscript: The jukebox still works. It occupies a prominent spot in the basement.

Larry Campbell is the executive editor at the Peninsula Clarion.

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