Monday, November 18, 2013

Marriage 601, Lecture 745: Happy as a pig in mud

Bless his heart, my dad was a worker. He was not one to sit around and do nothing.

[Note that I use "bless his heart" in the good sense here, not in the alternative sense that really means "bless his stupid, moronic, idiotic heart" that one uses when talking about one's enemies or the people who annoy one. "Bless his heart" is a useful phrase, as it can be defended as a nice thing to say about someone to those who would take offense - oh, bless my husband's mother's heart for sending me a purple crystal seashell for my birthday! - but can have the hidden meaning of "bless her clueless, oblivious, doesn't care what I might really want despite SH's conversations with her that we really do not need more tchotchkes in our house heart" to those who know the situation. And in some cases - as here, it really is a nice thing to say. Bless my daddy's heart. He was a good man and a good father and I was lucky to have him.]

When German blood flows through one's veins, it's hard to relax. Your genes are urging you to invade Czechoslovakia or Belgium or Poland. Sitting still is for lazy people. Germans are not lazy. We are doers. I can't lie in bed on Saturday morning. Saturday morning is meant for chores. Laundry, changing the sheets, cleaning the bathroom, cooking so I will have something to eat during the week.

My friend Heidi just returned from living in Germany with her husband and kids. He was stationed at one of the air force bases there, but I think they lived off base. Heidi told me that there are many rules in Germany. The ones she told me about seemed to deal with ensuring that people keep their yards and houses tidy and that they not annoy other people while doing it. That's the Germans - lots of rules. An emphasis on productivity and efficiency.

How to you overcome such a tendency? If it's in you, it's in you. I myself, even though I am less than half German - my dad's side is German and Flemish (to the American eye, there is not much difference between these two, except some geography), my mom's is Slovak and Norwegian, have that tendency. That German can dominate and turn a person into a bossy know it all who is unable to relax because there are Things To Do.

My dad had even more German in him than I did. I at least have some Slovak and Norwegian, not that either of those, based on how my grandparents were, have a strong tendency toward lying around doing nothing.

So my dad was compelled to act.When he would visit me, he would repair things. He would patrol the perimeter of my house, identify items that needed repairing, and get to work - even though when he was alive, I was only renting and problems with my abode belonged to my landlord, not to me. When I took him to my friend Terri's lake lot to go out on the boat, he identified a problem with the boat lift and helped Terri's husband repair it. Sitting on the dock drinking beer was for lazy people or for people who had finished their chores. It was not for someone who knew there was work to be done.

My mom, who does not have as much German in her blood as my dad did, is the same way. She showed up at my house in Memphis with her gardening tools and her regular toolkit. She took care of my garden, replaced the missing screws in my doorknobs, and did other stuff I don't even remember.

SH is a relaxer. That is what I thought. SH knows how to relax. On the weekend, when I want to clear the junk (not my junk) out of the dining room (a dining room is not a staging area for projects in my world but for SH to limit his junk to his office, the basement, and the dining room is a major triumph of wifely request over nature and nurture), he informs me that he is too busy.

I tell him that knocking on doors campaigning for someone else's run for office is not "too busy." I tell him reading political screeds online is not "too busy."

We do not agree on this issue.

This is how he is when we are at home. He is a relaxer, not an do-er.

He is of English extraction. I have never thought of the English as a particularly retiring race - they did have an empire for a while, but perhaps they are not as compelled to act as Germans are.

But when we are in Memphis visiting my friends there, he is Mr Fixit.

Which is cool, because it gives me street cred with my friends. A husband who can fix things is a valuable man indeed. Not that my friends have incompetent husbands. Two of these husbands have renovated houses all by themselves. Another one is in charge of all the maintenance for a huge property. These guys know how to fix things.

I don't recall ever having seen a repairman at our house when I was a kid. I suppose it could have happened - kids don't remember everything - but when there was a problem, my dad fixed it. He fixed the car, he fixed the house. When he and my mom wanted a patio in the back yard, my grandfather and two of my uncles came down to help build it.

And we have only had a repairman at our house the one time SH almost fixed the furnace but it turned out to be a problem that was unfixable and we got a new furnace instead.

Back to Memphis. SH is always telling me he doesn't have enough time to relax, but when we were in Memphis, at Leigh's house, he noticed one of the pocket doors in her 1895 house that she and her husband Stephen have renovated - she even learned how to plaster - was off track.

"I can fix that," he said.

Which is a slightly fraught thing for one man to say to another about a man's own house, because what you are not saying but what is understood is that house owner man cannot fix the problem. It's a little alpha-ish, but SH would never have intended it that way and would never have wanted to do anything to give offense to our friends.

Instead, for SH, it's because he lacks a filter for that kind of thing. He has no guile. When he sees a problem, he wants to resolve it. He's an engineer. And why wouldn't someone who has a problem want it fixed?

Fortunately, Leigh and her husband are also of an engineering mindset and also want to solve the problem and not get into a contest about anything. Leigh was thrilled - she had thought they would have to tear out the wall to repair it. So SH continued the pattern that has been held by the men I love - that of fixing things that need to be fixed and doing things that need to be done. He and Stephen repaired the door and it was done.

Then they moved a dresser from upstairs to downstairs.

Then it was time for beer. Once the work was done.


Gaylin said...

I am a sleeper-in, read a lot of books person. Don't know if that is the Basque or Norwegian part of me, either way, I excel at relaxing.

My dad was a Mr. Fix-It, everything in my parents house had been fixed by him at some point before he died. In the six months after he died, the washer, dryer, water heater, built-in vacuum and furnace all died. Without him tinkering on them, they all gave out.

Sayya26 said...

I always said if I had to migrate it would be to Germany. After visiting Frankfurt and Dusseldorf I fell in love with how everyone does what they're supposed to! Everything is organized and the law is followed - I LOVE IT! It totally goes against my Caribbean way of living but I LOVE IT!

Class factotum said...

Gaylin, the appliances all missed your dad.

Sayya, but do you want an old German man to scold you for crossing the street against the light even though there is NO TRAFFIC AT ALL?

Sayya26 said...

hehehe….that's the thing- I STILL won't cross against the light- drives my husband nuts when I do stuff like that.