by Erik Deckers
American Reporter Humor Writer
March 4, 2005
EDUCATION OF A CONSTRUCTION KLUTZ
SYRACUSE, Ind. -- As I've gotten older, I've discovered there aren't as many handy people around as I thought. When I was a kid, everyone I knew could fix things, remodel entire rooms in a weekend, and build a small shed with an axe and three mature pine trees.
Well, almost everyone. My dad wasn't very handy. He could build a few things, but at one point during my childhood, I thought the entire house was held together with duct tape and baling wire. It was only through sheer determination of will, and the fact that the house rattled in a stiff breeze, that my dad finally began calling professionals to fix what he had already fixed.
Unfortunately, I come from a long line of unhandy people. My father's family comes from The Netherlands, and through extensive genealogical research, I've learned that my ancestors have been doctors, engineers, and scientists. According to family legend, there is a statue of one of my relatives near Monnickendam, Netherlands, in commemoration for all his accomplishments as an engineer.
However, none of these men or women were known for being very good with tools, mostly because they were doctors, engineers, and scientists.
Growing up, I thought I had inherited the "complete klutz with tools" gene, recently identified by genetic scientists, one of whom is probably a distant cousin. However, over the years, I've learned how to not only use tools without killing myself or the people around me, but to actually become a halfway-decent builder and woodworker (translation: I still have all my fingers and toes).
Usually this kind of knowledge is passed from father to son. And I did learn quite a few important tips from my dad as I watched him work around the house.
Is the garage door track going to collapse and all you have is baling wire? I can help you with that. Need a temporary fix on a leaky pipe with chewing gum and duct tape? I'm your man. Are you looking for a temporary solution to a problem that actually needs to last for several years? Give me an empty tin can and a hacksaw, and I can fix anything.
Unfortunately, when you have a house of your own and don't have a lot of money, duct tape and steel cans are no way to fix a house and keep your wife happy. So I had to learn how to be handy. Luckily, I had my father-in-law to teach me all of these things. He was more than happy to help me, despite the fact that I had married his oldest daughter.
All of my knowledge about construction and tools came from him. He took four years to show me how to hammer nails properly, install insulation, wire a house, and hang drywall. He did it with patience, thoroughness, and only had to whack me on the head with a hammer once.
It was a complete accident, of course (although he may not have forgiven me for taking his daughter away from him). We were working on the upstairs of my house. He was standing on a stool, hammering over his head. I walked past him just as he was lowering the hammer.
I quickly had a new respect for nails as the metallic clunk rattled my head. My eyes crossed and my vision went white, like I was staring into a searchlight. I was vaguely aware of my father-in-law apologizing profusely and asking me if I was okay.
But despite the whack on the head, my only thought was "what's the best reaction I could make to get a big laugh?" I wracked the portion of my brain that was still functioning and tried to come up with the funniest response.
"I could fall down. No, that would give him a heart attack. Wait, I could shake my head and make that noise like they do on cartoons. No, my head hurts too much. I could tell him he'll never get rid of me that easily. No ..." And so on.
I finally realized he was staring at me and trying to get me to answer. I mumbled that I was okay and sat down on a milk crate, disappointed that I couldn't come up with a witty remark, despite my near concussion.
But at the same time, a tiny -- unconcussed -- part of my brain was celebrating. Thanks to all of my construction education, I knew exactly what happened: I had just been whacked with a 16 ounce Estwing claw hammer. I was no longer a "complete klutz with tools."
Of course, everything tasted like apples for a month, but there's usually a trade off with these sorts of things.