My papa could fix anything.
His garage was always full of tools and various bits of machinery or plumbing or something else I couldn’t begin to identify.
He operated Greenville Appliance Service, primarily working on furnaces and air conditioners and using word-of-mouth referrals. I still remember the big, ugly brown van he used to carry his tools and equipment to jobs.
My parents never had to hire a repairman. When the gas valve on the furnace under the house needed fixing, Papa talked my dad through it on the phone. When the air conditioning was out, Papa would drop what he was doing and drive to Atlanta to fix it.
It didn’t matter what was broken — plumbing, electrical, appliances, kids toys — he would tinker with it and more likely than not fix it.
In a home video my dad recently dug up, I’m 3 years old riding a tricycle with purple wheels and a basket on the front along the sidewalk at our house on LaVista Road in Decatur.
My grandmother is watching. Papa watches for a bit, then he’s installing a latch on the door to the crawl space. Later he’s on the floor assembling a red wagon for my little brother. I imagine he also assembled my new tricycle.
Whenever they visited, something was getting fixed up, whether it was tweaking the carburetor on the Chevy or building an outdoor shed.
Long before I was born, he worked for Sears Roebuck. When they lived in Atlanta — next door to that house on LaVista in fact — he traveled for Sears opening catalog sales stores.
He took a job in Greenwood, South Carolina, to manage service delivery for Sears and get off the road to spend more time at home. The department serviced any of the appliances Sears sold, including televisions, which were more like a piece of furniture in those days and a far cry from the sleek flatscreens that can be hung on walls today.
Later he managed the parts department for Sears in Greenville, South Carolina. He started Greenville Appliance Service about the time my dad was in high school and slowly tapered off business when I was in school until he eventually retired completely.
Papa died 10 years ago March 29. My husband and I were in the midst of buying our first home. He never visited it, but when I showed him a picture, he advised cutting back the bushes that were touching the siding.
Shortly after we moved in, I heard water spraying one morning in the crawl space below our master bedroom, but there was no Papa to call for advice. My dad, of course, offered some tips but he didn't inherit Papa's skills. But more often than not, we call a repairman when something springs a leak or breaks.
I wish I’d inherited some of Papa’s interest in taking things apart and putting them back together. Most of the time I’d rather skip the frustration and pay someone else. That may be indicative of my hurried generation. Of course, fixing things can be a lot more complicated today, when a refrigerator or washing machine runs on technology that can be controlled by an app. And much of it is more disposable, where a fix might cost more than a full replacement.
I always imagined that everyone in Papa’s day fixed things themselves. Then again, if they did, he wouldn’t have had a career fixing things.
My house needs a new faucet in the master tub and a light installed on the deck. We’ll likely handle one of those tasks ourselves and hire out the other.
None of it will get done with the kind of love Papa showed in serving his family, instructions spoken in his West Virginia drawl, patiently tinkering until the job was done.