Substituting ‘words’ for skills

Published 12:38 pm Saturday, November 10, 2012

Son Adam called the other day from Nawth Caihlinuh, where gun deer season was about to open. Freshly back in the States from a couple’s tour of exotic places like Hawaii, he updated me on their travels, then switched the conversation to more familiar ground: hunting. “You’d have been real proud of yo’ little baby boy yesterday,” he proclaimed. “For the first time in 43 years, I changed the oil in something too large for me to pick up and turn upside down to drain the old oil out of.” I could hear him thumping his chest.

“Your four wheeler?” I guessed, and got an affirmative grunt. “Durn, how many years has it been since you changed it? You got it as you were about to leave for Nawth Caihlinuh nine years ago!”

“Nine years,” he nodded rather smugly, over 700 miles away.

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“Of course, I’ve lost the manual, but it was just two bolts on the drain plug, and a couple more on the filter. They were really tough to get loose, but I put the old double whammy on it, and I remembered all the magic words you taught me when I was growing up, to fix things with.”

“Was Cynthia around?” I dropped my voice and looked to see was my own spouse close by.

This has never been a particularly mechanically-inclined family, going ‘way back. Big Robert I never recall with a wrench in his hand, although I’m sure he did work on farm equipment when Mr. Mac, our place mechanic, needed a hand. On hunting camp, however, he could do wonders up under our ’48 Jeep, “The Ghost,” by crawling up under it with a hatchet and a WWII bayonet about 18 inches long. He had a fine fixing vocabulary, and I knew well enough to stay out of the way. If Daddy needed help, Uncle Sam was always right there, and he had an engineering degree from Vanderbilt. He seldom needed tools, just fixing the problem with whatever fixing vocabulary they used to teach engineers in Nashville. Of course, he ran the cotton gin for his living, so I’m sure that knowledge was put to good use in that noisy place. Uncle Sam passed on and left running the cotton gin to his unmechanical nephew, who ran the place for 13 years and hated every minute therein. But our Gin Man, Vernon Skelton, could make a lint cleaner from a chandelier, two elephant ears, and five pounds of sheet iron, so I reckon Uncle Sam wasn’t broke down too much, nor was his nephew.

I never wished to be mechanical-minded, but if I had, I’d have wished to be like Big Dave Bradham, who just flat-out seemed to know everything about everything. From a fluttering propane space heater to a seemingly-unshootable 30/06 rifle to a badly-cut knee on a ten-year-old boy to even tuning a guitar and picking out “Red River Valley,” I never saw Big Dave stumped. Remind me to tell you sometime about the time when Little Dave, about three, was rocking over the fender of the car his Daddy was working on shirtless in the summer shade, asking every few minutes, “Is it tix, Daddy? Is it tix yet?” Until finally, Big Dave arose, wiped the sweat from his eyes, and declared, “Naw, David, it ain’t tix!”

My old classmate’s baby reply was priceless, but it ain’t exactly for family publications, even in baby talk. Sorry.

The moral of that incomplete story is, daddies, do not teach your sons the necessary vocabulary to fix stuff that you may have learned at Vanderbilt or Ole Miss or Harvard until they are old enough to understand the restrictions we as a proper society place on such vocabulary. Obviously there are other places where they will hear these words — a five-year-old kindergarten, I am learning now — but they will learn them soon enough, and can then be instructed in not using that type of fixing language. Of course, daddies, you ain’t got to fix with that word anyway.

“Anyway, Dad, thanks for teaching me how to fix stuff,” I heard from N.C.

“Glad you picked some things up along the way; happy hunting!” I replied.