Theodore Decker: Chiming in on dad's fix-it habit, but with different purpose

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High in a backyard silver maple are two wind chimes that, on closer inspection, look not quite right.

Each fall, I pledge to take the chimes down for the year, and each fall I never get around to it, leaving them to take a beating all winter long.

So I’ve been forced to fix them, and I can’t look at the unorthodox repairs without thinking of my dad.

My father had a habit of fixing things using whatever he had around the house, and he had amassed a decent stock of old doorknobs, harvested wiring and junked household appliances from which to draw upon.

He was an engineer, so some of these repairs were comically impressive. The most legendary might have been resurrecting my tabletop Pac-Man arcade game. Damaged by leaking batteries, the game seemed beyond all hope. My father disassembled and cleaned it, then rebuilt it, using metal cut from a coffee can as the new battery contacts.

It worked just fine.

Improvisations like this could be found all over our house and in the garage. Some are likely still there. I wonder if the new owners have figured out that a white-painted margarine container encloses the base of the screened-in porch ceiling fan.

I’d forgotten about, but my sister hadn’t, another of Dad’s doozies: “the always frightening vacuum cleaner pipe used as an exhaust pipe on the Sentra.”

“Pretty sure that was illegal,” she texted. “It was a metal pipe from Grandma Stasicky’s old vacuum.”

These repairs would lead to the occasional kerfuffle between my father and my mother, who sometimes decried the fixes as low-rent or chintzy. But if frugality drove my dad to improvise — and I have no doubt that saving money was part of it — this criticism seemed a tad hypocritical, seeing how it came from a woman who washed plastic sandwich bags and hung them up to dry so she could reuse them.

I suspect the idea that he was saving money, while a bonus, was not Dad’s primary motivation. I think he just liked the challenge of it. Long before curbside recycling took off and life hacks became a thing, he was doing both.

As I grew older, I picked up the same habit, but for different reasons.

For me it is not about saving money or solving puzzles but avoiding a 37th trip to the hardware store. I am so desperate to limit my weekend hardware store runs that I’ve been known to whittle required hardware from fallen tree branches.

I didn’t have to whittle for the wind chime repairs, though.

I was out back a few years ago when I noticed the wind-catcher on one was gone.

I needed something light and flat to catch the wind. As I ran through my options, I polished off a can of Modelo Especial beer. I looked at the empty can. I looked up at the tree.

Tree.

Can.

Tree.

Can.

Then I went for the tinsnips. It’s been through three or four winters, but you still can make out the faded “Modelo” on the half-can as it spins in the wind.

A few weeks ago I discovered that the other chime, while still equipped with its wind-catcher, was missing the wooden ball that hung in the center to strike the chimes.

I needed something round and about the size of a quarter. Ideally, it would attach easily to the center cord that held the wind-catcher.

What checked all three of those boxes? A fishing bobber.

If the rain holds off today and I can squeeze in some Father’s Day hammock time, I’ll gaze at the fluorescent orange bobber overhead and reflect on my dad.

He may have used coffee-can shards and Grandma Stasicky’s vacuum cleaner to do it, but he kept the family running.

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