The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

August 25, 2012

Mr. Fix-It is still at work; so thanks again, Daddy

The Back Porch

By Nerissa Young

— August 2002. I was sitting on my brother’s deck with family and friends who had gathered to wish me well as I left for a new job in Oklahoma. Each person had been asked to bring an inexpensive gift to send me on my way. Some were homemade; others were bought. I still have all of them.

Daddy’s gift was a couple of plastic wrenches. I don’t know what their technical name is, but for purposes of this discussion, I’ll call them slip wrenches. They have a piece of rubber that is wrapped around whatever is supposed to be loosened. The rubber loop can be sized to what needs loosening. One was large, the other small.

At the time, I had a Dodge Dakota pickup with a 318 engine, too big an engine for the small truck body containing it. Daddy had changed my oil and nearly wrenched off his arm trying to get under the crowded hood to loosen the oil filter. I believe that’s what he was thinking of when he bought my wrenches. This new-fangled tool could wrap around that filter or any other and get it off without the user losing an arm.

Through all the moves that followed, I held onto those wrenches. I didn’t really know how to use them, and I’d never gotten into a situation where I needed them. But I rarely throw anything away, and so they sat in a tool bag in my outbuilding until Wednesday.

I was trying to get the big screw off the head adjustment on my weed eater to feed more string. I couldn’t budge it with my hand or a set of channel locks. Without much hope of getting it off, I dug around in the tool bag and found the wrenches Daddy had given me a decade earlier.

I looped the smaller one around the large plastic disc. Nothing. I tried again, not really sure I was using it correctly. I determined to try once more before giving up or beating the thing into submission. It moved.

That was when I remembered what Daddy said to me all those years ago when he presented me with the wrenches. “This is for when I’m not there.”

We lost Daddy in December 2009 from a heart attack. I couldn’t stop crying for half an hour. I choked back sobs behind my dust mask as I ran the weed eater and hoped the roof crew on the next house over couldn’t hear me. It would be too hard to explain to them why a stuck weed eater head had reduced me to tears.

Life, no matter how many years it includes, always seems too short. In the rush to pay bills and do the existing part of life, it’s easy to forget to do the living part — those little acts that seem inconsequential but that lighten, or loosen, the burdens of others.

Daddy always had the knack for fixing things, whether it was a broken appliance or a broken heart.

Thanks for being there, Daddy, right when I needed you.

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist. E-mail: