Archive: Fixing Things


I got a call yesterday in my office. My son and daughter in law–who live with us–called to tell me that the doorknob to our outer door had broken. It was exposed to the weather and several years old, and the mechanism had been sticking for a while, so I knew it was time to replace it.

I left my office and drove over to Home Depot. I found the section that had doorknobs of various colors, sizes and brand names, and picked out one that looked like the one we had just lost. Then came the task of trying to find someone to help. After wandering the aisles for a few minutes, I asked a orange-aproned worker there to rekey the lock. I had learned years ago that Home Depot and comparable stories will change the lock–if you ask them to–so that you don’t have a different key for you new lock and your other home locks.

“Let me look for John,” the worker said. “He’s the one you want helping you.”

I shrugged and followed him, wondering about this John that seemed to hold his reverence.

We found John in the door department. He was on the phone with a customer. The worker waited patiently and reverently while John finished his call, and then turned me over to him.

John wasn’t much to look at. Probably in his early 60s, John was missing his four lower front teeth. He was gray and weathered looking. I had been at Home Depot a few days before, looking at patio doors with Shelly, and had seen John then. I knew he didn’t remember me, but I remembered him. A guy with missing front teeth tends to stand out. He had seemed a lot happier then. Obviously, he was having a bad day.

“How are you doing?” I asked him as I handed him the knob and my key to rework. He sighed heavily, and we both listened as his radio continued to call for him time and time again.

“I’ve never seen a week with so many Mondays,” he said heavily. He then began taking my doorknob apart, completely familiar with all the small parts inside the lock. As he lay the pins, springs and tumbler out on the table in front of him, I thought of my father. He was a jack of all trades, master of none, as they used to call it. He learned by doing, and taught me the same way, though I didn’t learn everything to the extent that he had learned it. One thing I did learn was that the best way to learn how to fix things is to take them apart and know how they work. Once you knew that, you could logically figure out what wasn’t working.

Taking things apart worked for my father, it worked for me, and for my son Matt. Now I see my grandson Gavin doing the same things. He loved to take things apart. The trick came in putting them back together again, which the 11-month-old still hasn’t mastered.

“This key is pretty well worn out,” John told me, continuing to work on it.  Aren’t we all, I thought to myself. But I watched silently, waiting to see what John would do. Five minutes later, John handed me the new mechanism.

“Thank you kindly, sir,” I told him and went off to pay for it.

A few hours later, I was at home. It took me a few minutes to take off the old, broken lock and install the new one. Rekeying the lock and installing took different levels of ability, but they were both things learned over time and through experience. I went into the living room where my grandson stood, taking a stack of blocks apart and spreading them everywhere.

“The door is fixed,” I announced.

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