Are We There Yet: It's quite handy to have handy helpers

Are We There Yet: It's quite handy to have handy helpers

I came home the other day to find underwear hanging in the carport.

We did not host a block party gone wild.

Visiting us last week was my environmentally minded brother, who eschews Blog Photoconventions such as dryers. Even in the rain. Hence the clothesline under the carport.

He and his wife are doers. They love to fix things and organize. And nothing makes my brother happier than bringing something old and broken back to life.

Before they arrived, they called and asked us to make a list of household projects.

“I really can’t think of any,” I said absently.

Then I remembered the year-old cardboard patch over our garage door window.

“Maybe one,” I said.

Make that about 30 — starting with the windows that had been painted shut several years ago by a contractor who promptly disappeared. My brother attacked them (the windows, not the painters) after his first stuffy night’s sleep.

You know all those irritations you learn to live with when things break? Just about every day, he wandered in to say, “What kind of handle do you want on your screen door?” (I don’t even remember when it broke), or “What’s the story with the outside faucet?”

Well, I told him, the handle broke off and we tried lots of different styles, but none of them fit because it’s too old, so we use pliers to turn on the water every time we need the hose, because the crawl space in our house is so tiny only a leprechaun (is that offensive?) could get in to replace it.

No, he said, the other faucet, out front. Which leaks.

Oh yeah, I said, that just happened last week.

Then he asked me where the water line was. I tried not to look too blank.

“Out by the air-conditioning unit,” I replied vaguely.

That, he said, is the gas line.

I think he’s a bit exasperated.

Every time he asks about a repair, I try to drudge up the memory of the last time I tried to tackle it. We do try to fix things ourselves (or at least hire someone to), but inevitably I get in over my head or hit some obstacle, and then run out of time.

Case in point: the brass doorknobs in our house are beautiful but most of them are missing at least one set screw, so sometimes they turn endlessly instead of opening the door. Not a good thing when you’re in the bathroom. I tried to find new screws once, but the hardware stores didn’t have any that fit. They advised me to search online.

By this time I’d used up my allotted time for that crisis, as something else always crops up — say, dealing with a recurrent computer virus or installing a new printer or wondering why our brand-new Amazon Kindle isn’t working (all of which happened in the last few weeks).

“Does anything in this house work?” I growled one night.

Thank goodness Mr. Fix-it is here.

I should note that he does not like to throw anything away. And by anything, I mean not even the smelly turkey in the fridge, the dehumidifier with a crack in the fan or the toilet paper rolls that somehow got wet but no one (read: the children) claims to know how.

He acquired this trait from my father, who literally would go through the trash to see what my mom had tossed and give old meat to the family dog. “That’s not gonna hurt that dog,” he’d say as we held our noses.

So my brother doesn’t buy much new; he recycles, reinvents and repairs old stuff.

We now have several previously stalled clocks that work, one dehumidifier back in business (thanks to some duct tape and wire), and screen doors with latches that operate.

He also has a talent for finding trash and turning it into treasure.

Last fall, as my husband was recuperating from a heart attack, I woke one day to find someone had stolen my son’s bike, a hand-me-down from a friend. I am not ashamed to say I hope the thief crashed on it.

Our other bike was broken. So I dragged it to the repair shop, where they fixed the loose handlebars but then promptly exploded three inner tubes trying to fill the tires because of some problem with the rim. They told me the bike wasn’t worth the expense of the repair.

Last week, my brother found a way to make it work. I’m pretty sure duct tape was involved. Then he FOUND a bicycle in the trash in an alley. He’s still working on that one.

He also figured out the best places for my herbs and tomato plant to grow in our sun-starved yard. And he was contemplating building a rain barrel and some type of animal-proof compost operation (possums are not my friend). He brings out the environmentalist in me.

His wife, meanwhile, is helping me organize indoors (we all know what a job that is), evidenced by the bags of shredded paper (waiting to be recycled, of course).

I am proud to report that I can now see the top of my infamous dining room table and even my antique desk. We actually ate dinner — twice! — in the dining room last week.

I still have boxes of old stuff to sift through — another super-organized sister-in-law packaged up the debris for me while I was out of town — but it’s progress. It takes a family ...


Julie Wurth writes about families and kids and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 351-5226, or

Photo: Kerry Rossow/

Sections (1):Living
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ErinMB wrote on June 11, 2013 at 3:06 pm

This really made me smile!  They are the best helpers - what would we do without family?

Julie Wurth wrote on June 11, 2013 at 3:06 pm
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Living with a lot of broken stuff! Seriously, I'm not sure what we would do without our family's support. We are very lucky. Thanks, Erinc.