The Old Man: “I got this”

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With one hand, my nephew scooped the toddler out of her car seat in the World’s Manliest Pickup Truck and slung her onto his hip, whence she proceeded to giggle and admire the world while he asked me what I know about alternators – which is next to nothing.

It seemed that his truck, a snorting diesel beast that is old enough to vote, had a new alternator that he himself installed while in the parking lot of a supermarket two nights before. The new part was not working properly. Investigating the mystery of why would keep us happily engaged for the next hour.

My nephew is not a poor man. Some say he is a cheap man. But I know he prefers to think of himself as a self-reliant man.

I was thinking about this the other day as I was passed on the highway by a far less manly pickup truck, swathed in advertising for a dog poop removal service. Seems that you can pay this company a weekly fee and they will send someone to pick up all of Fido’s landmines from your yard, presumably just before the lawn service arrives. There is apparently nothing we won’t pay somebody else to do.

Cleaning up after your dog doesn’t require any skill (although a subscription to the New York Times is useful, because then you get these convenient blue plastic bags that are perfect for this purpose).

For the household repairs and chores that do require some skill – especially for old homes – if you don’t have an Old Man around to mentor you, and you are bookish like me, I suggest a few old books that I found at yard sales over the years that I think are terrific:

1. Better Homes and Gardens Handyman’s Book. My copy comes from 1951; it’s a red covered three ring binding like the BHGH cookbook. Everything is arranged in tabulated sections with lots of black and white photos showing how to repair practically everything in a house.

2. Manual of Home Repairs, Remodeling & Maintenance. (Fawcett Publications, Inc. 1969) This book adds a lot of depth to various home repair subjects by discussing how they were originally constructed. I think this is so that if you really screw something up, you can rebuild it.

3. House by Tracy Kidder. (Houghton Mifflin 1985). This isn’t a do it yourself instruction book, but it is a great non-fiction account of a young couple having their dream house constructed and of all the drama and tension that naturally arises when you have someone else charged with putting your hopes and aspirations into wood and plaster.

Dog of the South: You Have Probably Heard That Buck Hates Cats

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Twice-orphaned, the big white gun dog was running low on luck when we met at the local SPCA. We happened into the place on a whim, when my wise wife and daughter told me it was time to get a new dog, a year after our old collie died.

Mostly lab with a few other ingredients thrown in, he calmly followed me around the dog pound yard and leaned against my leg.

“Looks like he picked you,” the SPCA woman said.

I reckoned so.

They had called him Samson at the pound, because he is big and strong. But I thought that was a dumb name for a shorthaired dog. I call him Buck. That’s what Jack London named that big dog in “Call of the Wild.” It seems to fit.

He is a serious dog with yellow eyes, and he furrows his brow in obvious puzzlement when he watches his little buddy the cocker spaniel pursue a lizard into an azalea or when he regards a flock of ibises high-stepping across the yard.

He only loses his composure when he sees a cat come yawning up to the fence. Suddenly, you would think he had been poked with a sharp stick. All hell breaks loose. With voice that sounds like it is coming from inside a cave, he stands with his front paws atop the fence dog-cussing the cat, all her cat relatives and the very alphabet for containing the letters c, a and t.

Since he seemed to have been bred to be somebody’s hunting dog, I figured he might have learned a few commands along the way. And I discovered that if I speak his name sharply followed by “off” that he calmly stops, issues a low-disappointed moan and then trots over to me with his tail wagging.

My wife used this command, too, and found it remarkably effective. Then, one day, a neighbor stopped by the fence while my wife was out gardening to ask why she had been so upset the other day. It seems that while the dog’s barking had gotten the whole neighborhood’s attention, everyone was trying to figure out just whom my wife was telling to “Buck off!”

The Old Man can be found teaching vocabulary to his gun dog in the back yard of the Old House and occasionally typing his ridiculous and profane thoughts on an 1943 Underwood typewriter.