Warning - Power tools, duct tape

Friday, May 31, 2002

This past weekend was ideal for projects around the house.

It seemed like a good time -- Memorial Day weekend -- to put up a new American flag to replace the one that has been waving in the wind by our front door since Sept. 11.

And there was the new hanging fern that had to be installed. And some of the shrubs needed a trim. And those terra cotta thingies on the brick patio wall next to the fountain needed to be lowered.

I like to work in the yard. When we first moved to Cape Girardeau and lived in an apartment, I actually volunteered to mow the lawns of ailing and vacationing friends. They thought I was doing them a good deed. I thought I was having fun.

Which reminds me of a businessman I knew in Maryville, Mo., who retired. Everyone asked him what he was going to do with all his free time. "I'd be happy to wash your windows," he replied. "Just drop them off at my house."

One of the reasons I like to do projects is because I get to use power tools -- and everyone knows the only thing better than a power tool is duct tape.

One of my newest power tools -- and the one I use the most -- is my bright yellow cordless power drill. I had no idea our house needed so many holes until my wife bought me that power drill.

One power tool is like one potato chip. You can't have just one. Through the years I acquired a power sander, a power hand saw, a power table saw, a power jigsaw, power hedge trimmers, a power grass trimmer, a motorized chipper-shredder, a motorized snow blower and a power paint roller.

All of this is in addition to my lawn mower, which still starts on the first pull after nearly five years and one oil change.

For the record, I no longer have the snow blower, because there's not enough snow, or the power paint roller, which exploded the first time I used it. I got my money back -- and bought several old-fashioned rollers and brushes.

Every time I use one of these power gizmos, I think of the toolbox I had when my wife and I were first married. Her parents gave me this enormous metal toolbox. The only problem was I didn't have tools. Relatives donated odds and ends: Uncle Alf provided the pliers that barely gripped and the screwdriver with the bent shaft. Someone else gave me the claw hammer with one of the claws broken off. Someone else threw in a handful of nails just right for hanging things on the wall -- if you had a painting that weighed 900 pounds.

That was it.

So here was the fancy metal tool case with a few tools that were well past their prime.

I can't begin to tell you how many Band-Aids I used in those early years after gouging myself with the bent screwdriver or whacking my thumb and fingers with that old hammer.

Little by little, I bought new tools. Those were the days when any around-the-house project meant a trip to buy the materials I needed -- and the tools to do the job.

Those also were the days when every move to a new house or new apartment meant putting up curtain rods. Do you know how hard it is to put up curtain rods with tools from that old toolbox? Now that I have power tools, we don't have curtains. I'm still trying to figure that out.

One thing that goes along with having tools -- but can't be carried in a toolbox -- is the language of the handyman. Both our sons say any complaints we have about their colorful language can be traced directly back to my handyman projects while they were growing up.

So you can imagine how smug I felt last weekend when I was confronted with mounting a flagpole on the decorative stone exterior of the fireplace. Not a problem. I just grabbed my cordless power drill and the bit that chews concrete. I don't think I could have done that with a broken hammer and a bent screwdriver.

And the air did not turn blue.

By the way, do you need holes drilled in anything? Just drop it by my house.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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