If anything needed repair around our home, my father fixed it. I remember when he replaced the two-holer in the shed with a glossy white flush model. It required a huge pit in the backyard, so he picked up a shovel and dug one. Then he rocked up the sides, making a wide, shallow well. Curious neighbors who stopped by were told that he was building a basilica. I seem to recall “Brother” Cline telling me that his father, Ralph, dug by hand the cellar that housed the electric motors beneath his sawmill.

It was the way people did things. Lack of cash, or no desire to part with it, were usually the motivating factors. So, outside of moving a house or barn onto a new foundation, it never occurred to me to hire a man to help with household chores I could handle myself.

As I grew older, my habit of self-sufficiency was reinforced when I’d hear of pretty wives who ran off with a handyman who had only been paid to build new cupboards or lay a carpet.

There is a disadvantage to always doing things yourself – when the day finally comes when it is no longer fun to repair your gutters, you have no idea who will do it for you. And if you have not established a long, pleasant relationship with your local handyman, it might be weeks before you’ll see him. Some, who are inundated with work, conveniently forget you. If you don’t call and whine every four days, he likes to believe that you’ve changed your mind.

Long after you no longer run up ladders, nimble as a mosquito, it is still possible to replace parts in your washing machine or dryer. I’ve taken our dryer apart so many times that I have written in black Magic Marker, beside each hex-drive sheet metal screw, the socket sizes: “5/16.” If you’re lucky there is a three-minute clip on YouTube – with no background music – that will show you how to put brake shoes on your ’99 RAV4 or a suction pump on your washing machine.

Years ago, when I was handy with a movie camera, I considered putting up some how-to-fix-it videos of my washer and dryer. But I never got past doing a parody of a bullfight with the cows.


If you enjoy doing things on your own, there are also the how-to-do-it books. Because Maine winters are long and cold, isolated cabins in the backwoods are conducive to sharing one’s expertise, so I would not be surprised if you know even more of the folks who write fix-it books than I do.

David published a guide on mushrooms, which is just what you might expect of a member of the Maine Mycological Association. It was just today that my Facebook friend Joyce posted a picture and asked, “Anyone know what kind of fungi this is?”

Most of my friends have spent more time in the library than out in the woods, so no one was surprised when Hal very quickly wrote “Fungi is plural. This is a fungus.” This didn’t help Joyce who simply wanted to know if she should eat the thing or feed it to the cat.

Ben jumped in with “That is a hemlock varnish shelf, Ganoderma tsugae.” When David, the expert, quickly agreed, I teared up a bit and got a lump in my throat. If someone can make a true statement on Facebook that someone else agrees with, there is hope for the country.

Duane sells online a dozen or more books on brushless motors. I read that a brushless motor system can be a switched reluctance motor, and decided right there that when it comes to direct current, some things are better left to the experts.

After a lifetime of teaching old-window repair, John put together an excellent set of books on the topic. He is constantly in demand by small museums and the folks in charge of maintaining valuable historical buildings.


And then there is Charlie, who has written over a dozen books on how to fix everything in the home but a marriage gone sour. I’m impressed by the colorful and very clear diagrams in one book that explain electrical and plumbing systems, how to lay floor tile and more.

Charlie said that he was once cementing down tile just inside the door of his house when a man who didn’t know him showed up for a reason I’ve forgotten. This man, however, had a great deal of experience in cementing down tile, and he hadn’t watched Charlie too long before he had to compliment his work.

“How long you been laying tile?”

“This is the first time I’ve done it.”

“I can’t believe that. How do you do it?”

“Look here. See this book?”

The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at:

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