Hands on

Photo credit: Christie Kitchens

July 8, 2020–We have a quarter-mile drive I’ve tried to repair for 25 years.

When dry, it’s dusty and bumpy; when wet, it’s a muddy obstacle course. I’m convinced it has ruined the suspension on all my vehicles.

Over the years we’ve patched it, bringing in loads of rock, pushing dirt around with a borrowed tractor. We’ve cleaned out the cattle guard twice–by hand–only to have it fill in after the next rain.

I finally hired a local guy to do it right. The day he arrived, I knew I had been playing tiddlywinks even thinking I had the skills and equipment to fix a road. He brought a grader, a skid steer, two rollers, a water truck, and a backhoe. Plus five truck loads of base and a lifetime of experience. Within a few days he built a dream path with smooth surface and three culverts to divert water. Now it feels like the scene in Cars after Lightning McQueen repairs the road through Radiator Springs.

We’re having the same experience with our fencing. I was running out of panels, pallets, and old barbecue grill grates to patch the holes in our perimeter fence. So I finally called in a crew.

We had dithered with fixing the fence ourselves. After all, I grew up on a farm and understood the concept, having helped my dad string barbed wire and build board fence. But we never seemed to have the time and desire to actually do it.

The very first day, in the very first hour, those guys tore out and hauled off 650 foot of old fencing. By noon the brush had been cleared and the posts had been welded and set in concrete. A job I couldn’t start in a quarter century, they finished in half a day.

Some people just have the gift. I don’t know where it comes from. I know it’s not hereditary, or at least it skips a generation. I call my son the engine whisperer. He can fix anything with a motor, from a leaf blower to a diesel truck.

One afternoon I was mowing when I struck a metal hinge hidden in the grass. The lawnmower clunked and stopped running. He looked up from his work and said, let me look at it. Within one minute (I timed it) he had completely disassembled the housing. He figured out the issue and put it all back together, pulled the rope, and it was running. But he wasn’t satisfied. He bent over and stuck a finger under the housing. Instantly the idling smoothed out.

He responded to my quizzical look by saying there is a spring controlling the carburetor that sometimes gets kinked. He had simply unkinked it.

It took him a total of five minutes.

The neighbor’s cows meet the new gate.

You all know similar examples. The plumber who rebuilds the collapsed sewer line; the roofer who takes the time to bend over the ends of the tin roof ridges; the HVAC guy who has the leaks soldered and the switch rewired before you have time to fetch the wasp spray. The vet who sucks a blockage out of a horse’s throat with her mouth.

All I do is rearrange words on a page. And the page doesn’t even really exist. I’m manipulating pixels. These guys and gals move dirt, turn wrenches, stretch wires, and build things.

All I can do is write about them.



Writing a new script

July 1, 2020–Last week I ventured out. Out of the house, out of town, out of my comfort zone. I took a class. I’ve always been fascinated by the art of script writing. Which is unusual, because writing of any kind was not a plausible path out of the corn patch, and I never placedContinue Reading

M&Ms: A Parable

June 24, 2020–Note: This column is not a metaphor for any current situation, nor is the writer responsible for any lesson readers may take away. M&Ms have always been my favorite candies. So much so that when I was banished overseas for two years, it was one of the American treats I smuggled into theContinue Reading

Hometown History

June 17, 2020–When I first moved to the Hill Country, I was not prepared for how seriously Texans take their history. Growing up in one of the 49 non-Texan states, I arrived unaware of the colorful story of how this 6-flagged region became the Lone Star State. Apparently every public school student is required toContinue Reading

Ways to Say Nothing

June 10, 2020– “Our diversity is our strength” “We are all in this together” “Due to an abundance of caution” “Thoughts and prayers” How many empty phrases can one language tolerate? Our minds are a file cabinet of sayings. When a certain situation arises, we unconsciously flip the rolodex to an appropriate passage and dutifullyContinue Reading


June 3, 2020–They call themselves Influencers. We called them the cool kids in high school–cheerleaders, quarterbacks, the guys who could play the chords to Smoke On The Water, and the seniors who drove nicer cars than the teachers. We science fair nerds and future farmers envied them their clothes, fashion sense, hairstyles, and effortless masteryContinue Reading

Purging Stuff

May 27, 2020–As are many of you, we are using this time to clean house. We call it The Great Purge. So, so much stuff. When we moved to our little property, one of the perks was a 600-square-foot barn. Forget your hot tubs, decks, and “oak-covered views.” This place had a barn. Well, notContinue Reading

Black Markets

May 20, 2020–I’ve always held the controversial opinion that no one knows the true extent of our cash economy. All those reports of retail activity, employment, GDP, etc., are based on data of transactions taking place within the official economy. They don’t include handfuls of cash given to itinerant workers, dependents, and “I know aContinue Reading

Tightwad Times

May 13, 2020–During my lockdown-compliant travels through my silverfish-invested bookshelves, I came across a timely trilogy from the 1990s–The Tightwad Gazette, Volumes I, II, and III. These 300-page tomes were compilations of a popular newsletter produced by Amy Dacyczyn (pronounced like “decision”), who gained news notoriety for her dedication to pinching pennies, sometimes to ludicrousContinue Reading

Teaching Long Distance

May 6, 2020–With a boost from technology, Joan Speer is making sure her high school students stay in a “calculus community.” That’s what the Fredericksburg High School (FHS) math teacher misses most about the current suspension of public schools due to The Virus Which Shall Not Be Named. “I’ve taught this for 12 years, andContinue Reading