Since we left our 100-year-old, four-bedroom house, I haven’t tackled many do-it-yourself home projects, but whenever I do, I wish my father-in-law were alive to guide me.
I needed him last weekend when an old lamp quit working. It isn’t an expensive or elegant lamp. We’ve had it for a long while, though. We’ve grown quite comfortable with it, and I wanted to make it work again. I’m guessing most people know what it’s like to want to fix a familiar old piece of household furniture rather than buy something new. It would be one thing if we could buy exactly the same thing, but they quit making many of the things I really like. Besides, this one is a great fit in Nancy’s office.
If my father-in-law were still around, he’d have gone down to his basement workshop, rummaged around in the coffee cans and Mason jars, pawed through the drawers in the work benches that lined the walls and found exactly what he needed. He’d have replaced the faulty part and smiled at his only daughter as he turned the switch and the corner of the room brightened.
The thing about my father-in-law, though? If he hadn’t found exactly what he needed, that wouldn’t have stopped him. He’d have had a sip of cold coffee that he had poured into the lid of his Thermos an hour earlier. He’d have gazed out the window and puffed his stubby pipe for a couple of minutes. Then he’d have pawed through those jars and cans and drawers until he found two or three pieces he could solder or glue or clamp or bolt together to make what he needed. With the pieces together, he’d have favored his daughter with a victory smile as he switched on the lamp.
In the basement of our big house, I had a smaller version of my father-in-law’s workshop. But we sold that house five years ago, and we’ve downsized twice since. In the process, I had to be a little bit like that “unclutter your life’’ guru, Marie Kondo.
Kondo is that person who tells people — this is what I understand she is saying, anyway — that they should look at things in their life and judge whether each thing sparks joy. If it does, it should stay. If it doesn’t, it should go. Apparently that applies to all sorts of things — clothes, shoes, books, silverware, plates, glasses, coffee cans filled with nails, Mason jars stuffed with washers and rubber bands, old power tools and seldom-used gardening implements.
I didn’t even know about Kondo the first time we down-sized. I simply had no room in the townhouse for half of the stuff I had kept in my basement and garage in the big house. I had to toss a whole lot of stuff that I wished I could have kept, and I didn’t give a thought to whether it still sparked joy or not.
After the second move and down-sizing, I was at a real disadvantage as I tried to repair the old lamp. Trial and error led me to conclude the gizmo that holds the bulbs had somehow failed. I made a quick run to the electrical section of the hardware store, where I discovered that, yeah, they don’t make those parts these days. Is there a good reason why manufacturers and merchants make their new stuff so different from their old stuff? The world would be much better off if everybody still drove 1958 Chevy Impalas (with, you know, updated, energy-efficient engines and better safety features.)
Stymied at the store, I did what my father-in-law would have done. I found parts that were close to what I wanted, and I lashed them together. When I was finished, the lamp looked quite a bit like it had before I started working on it. The bulbs push against the glass shade, but maybe they always did that and I just didn’t notice.
I couldn’t get the switch back in place, but I told Nancy it’s pretty convenient to simply plug and unplug the lamp from the wall socket. Somewhere right now, my father-in-law is smiling. He might even be laughing.