Guys grow up and get old. And somewhere along the way, we find ourselves doing stuff that our Dads did. They are the very things that drove us crazy when we were young. And being adolescents without working brains of our own, we resolved never…and I mean never…to be anything like the old man.
If we are lucky enough to survive the stupidity of youth, we transform into Dear Old Dad not just physically…which is bad enough…but mentally as well. It is one of the great life pranks. And it happens to nearly everyone because, after all, God is a first-rate practical joker.
When I was a kid, I flat out loved television. The picture was grainy, the number of channels was in the single digits, the comedies were stupid and the dramas predictable. It was heaven in a glass tube. What could be better than that?
My Dad didn’t watch very much television. Oh sure, he might sit through the evening news. But after that, he would disappear into his bedroom and check the stock market reports. Boring!
My mother and I would bask in the glow of the TV and peer through the fog of cigarette smoke that constantly engulfed the living room. Good times!
Dad didn’t want to be entertained. He wanted to keep up on news, politics and the market. And when he wasn’t doing that, he was fixing something. Dad was a child of the Great Depression. He wouldn’t pay someone to fix anything if he could do it himself. And he could fix anything. Anything.
A perfect example of his uncanny mechanical ability was the repair of his 1969 Cadillac. He had bought the car from my cousin who, as far as Dad was concerned, was foolish enough to buy a new car every two years. This model was one of the first vehicles packed with high tech features. It was a great ride brought down by an electrical short in the wiring harness. Dashboard lights flickered and it wouldn’t start. Dad went down to the dealership and asked how much the replacement part would be. $400. That was a boatload of cash in 1974. There was no way that a guy who spent a good chunk of his youth hoboing his way across the country was going to fork over that kind of money on an overpriced part. No siree. Instead, he went home and took the dashboard off. He was going to fix it himself.
The insides of that dashboard were the most amazing thing I had ever seen. There was nothing but wire. It was like the bionic man. Spacecraft was less complicated. I knew my Dad was smart. But smart enough to get this modern engineering marvel back on the road? No. No way.
Of course, I was wrong. Dad pulled out his little Redi-Tester and systematically tested every single wire in the harness. He found two shorted wires, fished them out of the harness, measured their gauge and replaced them. He put the dashboard back in place, turned the key and varoom! The caddy sprang back to life. He never had another problem with its electrical system after that.
And that repair only took him three and a half weeks to complete. That was every night after work and every waking hour on the weekends.. How many hours? Impossible to say.
It was an amazing accomplishment. But a job like that was definitely not in my wheelhouse. I couldn’t be bothered with fixing things. I was much better at breaking them. Dad was a chemist…organized and patient. I was nothing like that. I was a crazy creative type. I wanted to be a playwright. You don’t get less practical than that.
My Dad and I didn’t have a single chunk of DNA in common. That’s what I thought at the time.
Fast forward a few decades. I am knocking on the door of sixty…the gateway to old age. Our refrigerator has decided to stop making ice or serving cold water. Over the past couple of years, we had a GE repairman out to work on the assortment of good looking but poorly built kitchen appliances. And I had enough of it. I had watched the GE guy fix the microwave on a previous visit. The repairman was a nice guy, knew what he was doing and was in and out in forty five minutes. But that bill almost sent me to the hospital.
When the refrigerator went on the fritz, I saw no reason to call in GE. Hell, I was a smart guy. Between my undergrad and doctorate I had eight years of college. I cruised through biochemistry. There was no way I was going to pay someone to fix something that I could fix myself.
I had already done minor repairs on the refrigerator. I had replaced and patched the 1/4 inch hoses running up the back of the box. The water/icemaker feature would be more complicated. Fortunately, I had access to the Great Oracle…Google.
After several hours of searching the vast internet, I came to the conclusion that the problem was either a solenoid or the water pump in the upper part of the refrigerator. If it was the pump, I was sunk. The part wasn’t available. But the solenoid was the more likely culprit. I decided to head over to the the local hardware store, Nichols, to see what I could find.
Nichol’s is not a modern hardware store. And thank God for that. When you walk in, you think you have time-traveled into the past. Like 1920. You won’t see a computer here. The receipt machine has a crank. But they have everything. Missing some obscure part that you can’t find in Home Depot, Lowes or Amazon? Have you spent an entire day web surfing in vain? If so, the odds are excellent that the old boys at Nichol’s Hardware will answer your desperate request with a question. “How many do you want?”
They didn’t have the solenoid but they supplied me with life-saving information. I told them about my previous water tubing patches. They asked what I used to join the tubing. I pointed to a similar metal unions on the shelf.
“You’re not supposed to use one of those,” he told me.
“Because of the lead.”
Yes, friends. I had patched the water line with bronze pressure unions that were leaking lead into our water supply. How much? Dunno. What I did know was that the dog and I loved ice. It was no wonder that we both seemed to be getting dumber every day.
Maybe I should have stopped right there and called GE. I didn’t. Instead, I went home and ordered the solenoid online. Then, I made the first of the three trips to Home Depot to pick up other supplies for the job.
And that’s something I just don’t understand. It doesn’t matter what kind of a job you are doing, it doesn’t matter how many tools you already own, or what parts you have on hand, there is no way to complete a Harry homeowner job without returning again and again to Home Depot.
Four days later, the part arrived and the repair job began in earnest. My wife and I have a long standing agreement…one that has allowed us to stay happily married for over thirty years. She never helps me on domestic repair tasks. If possible, she finds something to do outside of the house. It is far better for her to come home and find that I have electrocuted myself than endure hours of unending screaming and cursing by yours truly.
I examined the solenoid upon arrival and discovered it needed not one, but two different sizes of tubing. That was trip number two to HD.
I didn’t need to exercise that day. The shut off valve to the refrigerator was in the basement. And the refrigerator wasn’t light either.
The repair went smoothly.
Slide the refrigerator out of its cutaway toward the kitchen island. Slam hand into the counter. Repress urge to begin swearing. Crawl behind the appliance. Say hello to the dust bunny population. Wife comes by and reminds me to clean up the dirt and dust while I’m back there. I growl and she leaves the house to go on errands.
After examining the poisonous bronze couplings, I decide to remove the complete run of the tubing by disconnecting it from the top of the fridge.
Water sprayed. Forgot to turn off the downstairs valve. Squeeze out from behind the fridge and run out of the kitchen across the dining room and down the stairs across the basement to the valve and shut it off. My scampering wakes up the dogs. They follow me back to the kitchen. As soon as they figure out that food preparation is not part of the program, they give up and sack out for the rest of the day. Some best friends.
I grab a roll of paper towels and head to the refrigerator. It’s still humming. I unplug it before stepping into the small puddle. Close call there.
I squat down and get to work at the bottom of the box. The existing tubing was old, hard and brittle. At that point, I was feeling pretty old and brittle myself. I spent forty minutes trying to get the solenoid attached before I gave up and decided to replace every inch of tubing in the fridge. Let’s just say that my language had become exceptionally colorful by this point.
I worked the tubing underneath the fridge, snaked it around unseen obstacles until it made it to the other side. I willed my body into an erect position, ground my teeth and emitted the well known and often ridiculed “old man sound.” I squeezed out from in back of the fridge and pushed the beast back into the wall. Now there was room enough between the box and the island to open the door. I opened the door and miserably sank into a squat. I guided the new tubing underneath the produce drawer and installed it into the water bladder on the back wall of the fridge. All well and good.
I stood up (which was arguably touch and go for a little while), pulled the refrigerator back out and squeezed behind it again. I squatted down for what I hoped was the final time and checked my work. That’s when I realized that the tubing still wasn’t in the right place.
Rinse and repeat. Three times.
Eventually (and by eventually I mean another hour and a half later) the new solenoid and tubing were in place. It was time to test. I left the job site and walked slowly…because that was the best I could manage at this point…back down to the basement Mentally, I gave myself an attaboy for a job well done. I turned the basement valve back on and made my way up the stairs. Halfway up, I heard a familiar, unwanted sound.
I stopped walking and started running.
One of the tubes had slipped off and a miniature Trevi fountain erupted in the kitchen. I squeezed behind the refrigerator, smashing my hand in the process and tried desperately to shove the hose back into place. No go. The water pressure wouldn’t allow it. I had to get back to the basement. I was soaked so…bonus…it was easier to slide out past the fridge. I ran, drip, drip, dripping through the kitchen, across the dining room, down the stairs, into the basement and finally to the shut off valve.
Another clean up job awaited upstairs. I didn’t curse my luck or lack of competence. I didn’t have the energy for it. I made my way back to the kitchen, retrieved a couple of dog towels from the laundry and began the mop up operation.
The disaster was cleaned up by the time my wife returned home. Her timing was impecable because I was understandably more than a bit apprehensive about retesting the repair without a helper. She stayed in the kitchen while I turned on the water in the basement. Success. Nothing leaked this time. I pushed the appliance back into place, gathered my tools and called it a day.
What a great job and so much fun. And it was well worth it. The repair by a GE professional would have cost $250 and been done in an hour.
My refrigerator repair project summary
Parts approximately $50
1 trip to Nichol’s hardware
3 trips to Home Depot
5 hours of Googling
6 hours actual repair
2 hand smashings
2 stiff and somewhat swollen knees from squatting, kneeling and other abuse
1 painful low back that was far worse by the next morning.
Still, somewhere in the great beyond, I wanted to believe that my father was proud of me. I told myself that as I whimpered and licked my wounds. Later, I found my way downstairs and collapsed in front of my computer. There were no more replacement parts to search for and no more repair projects on the horizon. I hit the power button and keyed in my password. I relaxed and settled into reading the news and checking stock market reports. My wife called down to me and asked if I wanted to come up and watch TV.
Now, why would I want to do that?
Like father like son.