Making do

Among the earliest requests that I made of my parents—and tried to follow if directed to me—was “Fix it.” Something was always breaking, wearing out or not working right. And lo and behold, the fixing could usually be done. Today we more likely announce, “We need to buy a new ….”

After every washday, a stack of clothes was set aside to be fixed before being put away. Socks had new holes worn in toe and heel. My mother would darn them by coal oil lamplight after supper dishes were done. Knees of britches were patched with a square cut from the leg of an old pair. Missing buttons were replaced with a similar size from the button box if the lost one wasn’t found when we emptied water from the washtub.

If a cooking utensil or water bucket sprang a leak, we plugged the hole with a mendet. We tried to keep a supply on hand; a tiny screw with a couple of thin washers and the nut to hold them tight against the inside and outside of the hole. If the pot continued to leak a little, the area would soon fill with sediment that would stop the leaking.

The screen door was frequently getting a hole punched through. We cut a square from extra screen stored at the shop big enough to overlap the damaged area. We unraveled lengths of the fine wire from an edge of the cut and wove it in and out to fasten the patch. A solid screen deterred a few of the flies that were always looking for a way to get in the house.

Two main supplies made possible fixing things around the farm—baling wire and grass string (twine). With baling wire, my father could twist a link for a trace chain, wrap a split wagon tongue and make a latch for the barnyard gate. And that’s only a start. Many pieces of worn machinery were said to have been “held together by baling wire.”

Grass string was for “softer” repairs, such as a broken suspender loop on overalls or to weave through and support a splintered chair seat.

Skinned knuckles and accidental cut fingers were frequently on the “fix it” list. There were no colorful adhesive bandages with smiley faces, so my mother lifted the head of the treadle sewing machine and stitched a custom-fit stall for the injured finger or thumb. She saved old sheets in a drawer of the washstand for such purposes, the softer more worn part of the sheet creating a bandage directly against the wound. The protective stall was held in place with attached ties long enough to tie around our wrist, and work went on.

Inventiveness kicked in when the need arose, and most things could be repaired one way or another.

On my refrigerator is the following bit of wisdom. Some people today might be insulted by it, but we accepted it as the challenge at hand.


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