My son has always loved fixing things — all kinds of things. He was a “fixer” from early childhood, finding items that needed work of some kind just about everywhere.
For years, I lived in a condo development that doesn’t receive many city services, including regular curbside trash pickup, so I took my recycling to a nearby schoolyard with huge bins for collections. And on certain days I’d see piles of “stuff” outside neighborhood homeowners’ houses, always reminding me of my son, who’d go out in the early evenings of those long-gone days to size up what was sitting in front of every house, planning how to fix many of the broken things. He’d often pick up something, take it back to the house, ring the doorbell and ask whoever answered if he might try to fix it and then return it, free of charge. He called this procedure “Shopping at the Curbside Boutique,” and eventually had many “customers” who insisted on paying him for his work, so he already had a small business going while he was still in high school.
Sol’s specialty was what he always liked best: telephones. Eventually someone from the phone company reported to the higher-ups that there was a kid who regularly approached repair trucks, asking for specific parts, so they figured he must know what he’s doing. The official who came to our house to investigate arrived during school hours, so I led him upstairs to Sol’s bedroom, which had a door into the adjoining part of the attic that had become Sol’s workshop. After completing his inspection, our visitor asked me if I knew what my son was doing, but of course I said no, since I really had no idea. “Well, HE knows what he’s doing,” the man said. He waited that day until Sol came home from school, when the two had a long talk that resulted in my son’s first regular part-time job!
Sol is now a much-grown man, father of three daughters and grandfather to two young schoolboys. Rather than pursue the engineering career he trained for, he decided to make “fixing” his life’s work. Today he takes care of maintenance in all its many aspects for a very large Jewish school — students from nursery age through eighth grade. Sometimes he’s invited into classrooms to give demonstrations of various kinds on how certain things — mechanical or chemical — work; always, after school hours, he’s busy with projects of his own, including work for others in the family. One of his daughters — the unmarried, dedicated career woman — recently bought her own house. Guess who has helped most with putting it into top condition? “Dad” has replaced floors, installed carpeting, reconfigured clothes closets, cleaned and painted, and all is now ready for her to move in! I hope I’ll be able to be there in person when the rabbi hangs and blesses the special mezuzah I’ve sent to Rose for outside her front door.
On city pickup days here, when they meshed with my own recycling removal, I had to restrain myself from parking the car and taking a walk in the neighborhood, just to size up more closely what was available on the local “Curbside Boutique.” I’m always thinking of the many folks I heard from so many years ago, telling me how my son had truly “recycled” something from their personal junk pile and restored it to good use: perhaps a TV, or some small appliance, or — still his very favorite — an old telephone. Some things never change. And sometimes, that can be a very good thing!
Harriet Gross can be reached at