The Home-maker’s Tale

I’e2’80’99ve always been the repairman in the family.

Which may introduce the topic of inclusive language, but suffice it to say, for some purposes (generally these include felicity of language) I don’e2’80’99t mind being referred to as ‘e2’80’9cman’e2’80’9d rather than ‘e2’80’9cperson.’e2’80’9d

My husband grew up in India where there was an appropriate servant caste for every job, and it was all one’s reputation was worth to pick up a hammer oneself. He jokes that he was never much for sports, since there were coolies to do that sort of thing. Nurture is one explanation for his quite alarming ineptitude with tools, although I personally think it merely provided the social framework to support what was his by nature. The very idea of Noel picking up a contractor’e2’80’99s-grade Skil saw is enough to make blood run in cubes.

So by inclination, necessity, and to a certain extent by training, my childhood basics grew to fill adult needs, and I became a homemaker in the fullest sense of the word. These days I am too wary of my carpal tunnel to take up a hammer for any length of time, and tend to phone my beloved contractor when there’e2’80’99s a job of any great scope. But when it comes to replacing the glass in a cabinet door or fixing the leak in a toilet mechanism, I’e2’80’99m your man.

In the early days of my transformation into jill-of-all-trades, the local hardware guys in my rural community tended to greet my questions with a politely concealed trace of amusement, glancing out of the corner of their eyes at one another while asking me, ‘e2’80’9cWhat do you have going now, Mrs King?’e2’80’9d (Of course, I usually showed up at the hardware store in mid-project, and therefore in something of a state of desperation and disrepair myself.)

Still, one advantage of living in a small community for any length of time is that the local guys get to know you, and although they never got over their amusement–hey, who am I to begrudge hard working retailers (particularly those feeling the icy breath of Orchard Supply and Home Depot on their necks) their minor pleasures and amusements? I would just grin back at them, brush my disheveled hair out of my sweaty face, and hold out the offending part to say I needed one of these, please, or could he remind me where they kept their L-braces, and fast, because one of the kids was at home holding the shelf up.

However, I have to admit that there have always been areas of hesitation in my discussions with the hardware store guys. I find my tongue hesitating briefly before admitting that I need a male or female end to repair my garden hose.

And when faced with a toilet repair, I generally wave away offers of help and skulk on my own up and down the aisles, because I’e2’80’99ve never yet managed to march up to the man behind the counter and ask where he keeps his ball cocks.

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  1. Anonymous on March 31, 2005 at 9:10 pm

    Oh, you made me laugh out loud with your tales of the local hardware store; I know just what you mean. My husband and I built our own log home so, for the better part of two years, I pretty much lived in stained blue jeans, baseball caps, work boots and my trusty Carhartt. I was often sent to the local hardware store looking like this and for a while the guys behind the counter didn’t quite know what to think of me. After multiple trips on an almost daily basis, they eventually got used to me and stopped glancing out of the corners of their eyes as I roamed the aisles. Then, after the house was finished and I went back to looking like a civilized, female member of society, it took a while for the poor guys to stop looking suprised everytime I walked in. Poor fellows, they were very nice and helpful though and I think they’re finally used to seeing me in all of my vaired guises now.
    Keep up the good work, these bloggs are great!! Christy

  2. Dee on March 31, 2005 at 10:38 pm

    Hello there!

    This is my first posting to your blog, but your comment just cracked me up (and on a particularly cranky day, too), so thanks for that!

    In the interests of reciprocal sharing: When sweet husband and I were shopping for our house, we very nearly bought a home with a cracked foundation. We gnashed our teeth, rent our garments, and bought a book the size of a coffee table titled “Renovations.” The book describes, in detail and with pictures, the different types of foundations, and then how to replace them if needed. Step One for replacing a foundation reads like this: “Make sure help is within shouting distance.” Not running distance, as if the house fell onto one of us (a la that unfortunate creature of Oz), we weren’t going to run anywhere. We did not make an offer on that house.

    Thanks again for the funny story – I love reading your books, and am just about to restart The Game, having just finished Folly and Califia’s Daughters (LOVED that one – more please!!), and am now pining for another dose of King. I’m very much looking forward to the latest installment – happy writing!


  3. 2maple on April 1, 2005 at 5:37 pm

    Ah, the joys of home-ownership’e2’80’a6the stories are great, just not while you’e2’80’99re actually living through them.

    After renovating three houses – tools, dust, increasingly inventive ways cut your fingers and the occasional domestic disaster are part of the fabric of life in our household; as are the three brothers that run the local hardware, feed & pet supply (they should run a contest for the weirdest requests)…and unlike the big box stores, they’e2’80’99ll actually help you find those unusual parts that old houses cast off periodically. I think they like the challenge.

    We’e2’80’99re still dealing with the latest disaster. Our weathervane, a very aerodynamic blue heron with outstretched wings, has lifted of the sleeve it sits in and blown off the roof before in Maine’e2’80’99s winter winds. We carefully fixed its dents, straightened its wings and came up with a way to prevent this from happening again. However, after suffering through several more winters, the bird had other ideas. It decided to fly south this year on a screaming windy Christmas morning taking the cupola and lightning rod assembly with it. With all that baggage, it didn’e2’80’99t get very far. There was a path of destruction laid out in the hay field behind our house for 50 yards with a crumpled heron at the end. Fortunately’e2’80’a6it did not leave a hole in the roof. We are patiently waiting for spring to fix, no, definitely not fixable this time – replace it.

  4. Anonymous on April 10, 2005 at 7:18 am

    Thank you for the chuckles and the camaraderie … for we have much in common, Laurie – except that after serving a four-year union plumbing and pipefitting apprenticeship and eight more as Journeyman Pipefitter, I absolutely do not stammer when I go to the hardware store and ask for any type of fitting with either a female or male end! (I have, however, been known to arrive out-of-breath & frazzled because I forgot one part, etc.) Out of necessity, I developed a thick skin and an earthy sense of humor – and discovered early on (thank goodness) that humor works much better than temper in awkward situations. 95% of the guys I worked with (yes, I am a woman) were great – the other 5% I don’t elaborate on, as my speaking of them would “give” them more power than they deserve.

    After an on-the-job injury that eventually caused me to walk away from that career, I went on to college, majoring in Geology and minoring in Ancient Greek.

    I bought my handyman-special house almost 15 years ago – and had to install a bathroom and a kitchen, because neither existed in the house. The good news is that I had the training to do my own plumbing! (I call on my sister the electrician when I need any major wiring done.) The most pleasant surprise in my house was discovering that the old linoleum (underlain by even older newspapers) covered a gorgeous oak floor. The oak was made black over the years from the coal furnace emissions – but a weekend with a rented floor sander exposed the wonderful colors and grains of the wood. Two coats of polyurethane later, my floors were ready to go! My attic and, yes, my basement have yellow pine (another hardwood) floors, which wears like iron! My Grandma told me the trick to keeping hardwood floors beautiful is to clean them with a solution of vinegar and water – and boy, do they shine! (By the way, the coal furnace was replaced by natural gas, so there’s no more coal dust mucking up the house!).

    About your books: I love the Mary Russell series – and “O Jerusalem” and “The Game” are neck-and-neck as my favorite story so far! I can hardly wait for the new book! Thank you for many delightful hours of reading!

    – Deb

  5. Axia mathonta on April 10, 2005 at 4:36 pm

    Your blogs are great, Laurie … I can always count on chuckles and camaraderie!

    I bought my handyman-special house ~15 years ago – and had to install a kitchen, a bathroom, and the heating system. Luckily, I had the training* to do a lot of my own work. That did not mean, however, that I did not occasionally show up at one of the local hardware stores in a bit of a frazzle … because some of it was definitely “learn-as-you-go!”

    The most pleasant surprise in my house was discovering that the old linoleum (underlain by even older newspaper) covered an intact oak floor! A weekend with a rented floor sander and two coats of polyurethane later, I had the most gorgeous multi-colored-grained floors you can imagine! The attic and yes, basement, also have hardwood (yellow pine) floors … Not much purchase for my 17-year old cat’s nails, but he does rather well all the same!

    *One of the side-effects of working construction is a thick skin and an earthy sense of humor … After serving a four-year union plumbing and pipefitting apprenticeship and a further eight years as a Journeyman, I do not hesitate to ask for any fitting with female and/or male ends! (I was one of three women in a 13-county area.)

    I, too, do not make a big deal out of the “-man” terminology. It’s rather silly to go to those lengths when the point is to be accepted as an equal. After having to go the extra miles to prove to myself and to the guys that I could do my job, I deeply resent anyone (male or female) who takes on a job and expects a co-worker to do his or her work! If a person can’t handle the work, he or she needs to discover the self-respect to leave and find an appropriate job.

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