Monday, May 14, 2012
I am, in many ways, my father's child. He was, I think, thoughtful, not given to rash judgments; I like to think of myself that way too. Like him, I think I may well have aimed to please more than I should have, a characteristic that may have kept me in the classroom for all of my professional life. I don't think of myself as strident or steeply opinionated, although I am, as he was, quite sure of what I do believe. We are both believers. At his funeral we sang "Blessed Assurance" because he always was deeply assured. Like him, I've never been deeply haunted by doubt.
His expertise was finance, facts and figures and numbers. He was a banker. Lord knows I'm not. One of the most humiliating moments in his life occurred when his son's brand new bride, who, like him, loved balancing checkbooks, had to take over the riotous mess that was his son's.
He was a tinkerer, a man who wanted to be an inventor. He was constantly thinking of ideas that might work--a "bugaboo," a screened-in tent people could use right in their backyards in Wisconsin, where mosquitoes daily rose from the grass like an Egyptian plague. He made such a thing himself, dreamed of a string of patents.
See that gizmo up top?--that's his. It's 27 years old. Here's my problem--the basement window above my desk sticks sometimes, especially when it gets humid, which is just about all summer long. I got to get out a jackknife or a screwdriver to get the thing open. "Wait a minute," Dad says, looks around the basement, picks up a hanger, and fashions this little neat dohickey for opening the window. It's worked for all those years.
And here's another. Same blasted basement window. The problem?--the window, which latches to the ceiling come summer, needs occasionally to stay shut. Here in Siouxland, the wind blows. Often. Hard. Dreadfully. Rain comes in basement window, killing computer.
"Try this," he says, again, 27 years ago. He looks around in a cigar box full of junk, finds this little chunk of aluminum and creates what amounts to a makeshift latch. Takes him, what?--thirty seconds. Both gizmos are still there today, a testimony to his genius and my sloth.
I didn't get a bit of his mechanical aptitude--the most used tool in our home is the phone. I'm relative good at toilets, having fixed hundreds in a state park where I once worked; but in every other area "around the house," as they say, I'm hopeless.
So anyway, the neurologist tells me, last week, that due to the stroke, I may well discover that some little task or characteristic has been modified; after all, who knows what indiscretions those two microscopic blood clots may have wreaked in my brain? Don't be surprised, he says, if there's something awry.
So Saturday, a perfect early summer day, I thought I'd whack some weeds. The whacker didn't think so. I could barely pull the cord. The whole complex thing seemed jammed. I tugged and nudged and pulled and teased until it finally popped, spitting its oily gas mix all over the driveway. But I got it running. Immediately, the plastic wires snapped, popped, and the thing got useless again. I ran to Wal-Mart, got replacement wires, figured out how to replace them, and whacked every last errant weed on the property.
Next, the lawn mower. Last time I used it, it quit. I ran it up on blocks, got myself on the driveway and beneath its deck, then wrenched the belt back into bracket where it was supposed to be, started it up, climbed on, engaged the blade and voila!--I could have cut the lawn.
Here's the thing. I am an absolutely klutz, couldn't fix a basement window with a whole set of Sears or Snap-ons. On Saturday, inside an hour, I'd fixed an ancient Toro and a crabby Weed-Eater. I'm not making this up.
Generally, when such astounding miracles happen, my testosterone levels gin up considerably. My voice lowers, my shoulders get thrown back, and I take on a kind of rock star sullenness. It's the closest I can come to macho.
So I walked into the house and told my wife that I'd seen the first change in character, post-stroke. I told her that just now, single-handedly, not a instruction book in sight, I'd actually fixed two things right there in our own backyard. Then I grabbed her buns.
What hath a couple of microscopic blood clots wrought? Nary a week after retirement, six days since a stroke, I've miraculously become a mechanic. It may be time to work on my checkbook.
Somewhere up above, my father is smiling.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:13 AM