The Fix-It Gene

I come from a long line of people with the fix-it gene. In fact I was almost sure that if I could find the original family crest it would have various hand tools surrounding the back side of a busy beaver. That would be opposed to a regal lion holding some kind of ancient weaponry. But, I got myself sidetracked.My mother tells the story of a boyfriend she proudly brought home to meet her family. Her mother had just broke the heel off of her shoe and when my Mom asked her new boyfriend what should be done he just sat in perplexed silence while her little brothers came up with their own fix. So my Mom broke up with her new boyfriend that obviously was not a fix-it kind of guy.My uncles’ heritage is proudly displayed in a farm museum in Hillsboro, Kansas. There one can find all sorts of inventions by my ancestors to fix things. Our ancestors came up with one contraption after another they used to make their pioneer lives a little easier.I remember in my early days watching my father tinkering on and fixing things like light switches, sinks and toilets, car engines, lawn mowers, bicycles, kitchen appliances, radios and television sets. He jingled-jangled when he walked by. Not because he was wearing spurs but because of the tools and leftover nuts and bolts he carried. He almost always had a screwdriver and a pair of pliers in a pocket. He liked to not only fix things that didn’t work like they were supposed to, but he also liked to improve things to make them work better. One year he spent some itchy vacation days lining the entire attic of our house with fiberglass insulation. That was before climate change and the oil embargo. My Dad was always ahead of his time.My grandfather, my Dad’s Dad told me stories of fixing a bad motorcycle magneto, looking for that bright blue spark. When he was homesteading in Texas he learned how to fix tools so he could clear the land and build a cabin. He also tried to fix people “but mechanical things,” he told me, were much easier to fix.My mother fixed things too. She would tighten a loose clothesline by clamping it with my Dad’s Vise Grips tool. Or she would use his 3-in-One Oil to get her sewing machine humming at full speed again. Sometimes he would overrule her methods but he would always do what he could to keep her fix-it project intact even if he did reclaim his Vise Grips or 3-in-One Oil can.As I got older I began the first step in learning how to make use of my own fix-it gene since alas; I am a carrier. The first step (and an ongoing continuing education method it seems) is to learn how to take things apart to see what makes them work.I started young by learning how a stick can prop open a window by removing the said stick. Unfortunately I didn’t move my other hand in time and I still have a slightly bent finger where the window slammed down on it. I was undaunted though. I took apart toys and whatever things we children were allowed to touch. Sometimes we weren’t allowed to touch things. But I learned how a jack-in-the-box toy is spring operated. I never did get it back together. And the toy piano makes that sound by little hammers striking a series of metal plates. And once you lose the screws that hold the plates in the piano it will no longer work.When I was five years old I noticed that our basketball didn’t have the dark black lines in the seams anymore. I also noticed that the bottle of shoe polish was black…about 20 minutes later the shoe polish was not only in the seams of the basketball but all over the basketball and all over my hands, my clothes and the floor of the kitchen. Surprisingly I didn’t get any shoe polish on my shoes.Little by little I learned how to fix things, sometimes in a creative way. Like the time the muffler pipe rusted through on our old Rambler station wagon. Sparks were flying out from under the car as I drove and I knew that wasn’t good. I pulled over to the side of the road and saw the problem. I knew I needed some way to tie that hanging muffler pipe up and looking at my Converse tennis shoes I came up with a solution. I unlaced one shoe and used the shoe string to tie up the dragging muffler pipe and loudly drove away. Not long after my Dad taught me how to install a new muffler along with some new words.A couple years later my younger brother and I were riding my Honda motorcycle when the throttle cable broke right at the end by the handlebar. We discussed: what was broken; potential ways to fix it; and what tools and parts we had available. Soon, Tim, my younger brother suggested we take the little Vise Grips tool and clamp that down on the cable and then use the handlebar as a fulcrum to pull the throttle open. I started to ask, ‘what’s a fulcrum?’ But luckily, Tim made a see-saw movement with his hand. And it worked good enough to get us back home where next we learned how to install a new throttle cable on a motorcycle.My brothers are carriers too you see. I remember Tim getting a lawnmower to run that had no gas by sticking a bottle of propane into the carburetor. And one time he showed me how to make a short muffler pipe longer by welding an empty orange juice can to it.My older brother Dan fixed complicated things like dilapidated television sets, ‘classic’ computers and sometimes buggy software. “It just needed a little tweaking…” he’d explain as he’d hand me back the mouse.All of this just points out the fix-it gene that keeps car parts stores, hardware stores, home improvement stores and hospital emergency rooms in business. And how do you know if you have the fix-it gene? Here’s a test I’ve devised: Ten Ways To Tell If You Have The Fix-It GeneYou may have the fix-it gene if:1. You are more interested in a gadget when it’s broken than you are when it works2. You spend your day off searching the house for something to fix3. You’re more impressed with a guy you meet with grease on his hands and pants than you are with the guy talking about his stock portfolio4. Your car seat is worn out and torn from constant assaults from the tools in your hip pocket5. You have three or more televisions or computers or cell phones but only one that works6. You keep a box of old wires and cables and various electronic components down in the basement, next to the furnace; just in case.7. You forget your children’s birthdays but you remember the anniversary of the first time you jump-started a car.8. At parties when it’s time to leave your wife is most likely to find you talking with a couple guys looking at tools or some project in the host’s garage.9. Your bathroom reading material includes Harbor Freight and Edmund’s scientific catalogs.10. When you come upon a stalled car you immediately go to the stalled car flow-chart tattooed into your brain.Will the starter turn the engine over? Yes. Is there sufficient fuel in the tank? No. Is the battery cable attached? And so on…By the way, if you are already trying to come up with a better fix-it gene test, you have the fix-it gene.