between-our-steps-08-01-18-doubleA few years ago, the person replacing the roof on our house noticed how rickety the cupola on the wood shed that held the old school bell looked. We knew but hadn't figured out what to do. Two days later, he came back with a new cupola that would fit in the same spot and had the original building date carved in the side: 1887.

It was lovely to have a bell that rang, until the rope broke. Which was a good thing because after 5 years the bolts holding the bell's brace in place came loose from the weight of the bell. The cross piece kept it from falling, and it sat for a year and a half on the ledge. Finally, last week, my brother helped me get it safely to the ground.

The same day, he was repairing shingles on a dormer. To do so he had to remove a metal panel with old glass insulators for the hydro wires that had been moved ages ago. But the nut on the end of the bolt, which went right through to the inside of the house, was seized. We almost broke a window, did tear the plaster, before finally getting it apart. The new shingles look great, however. I am working on repairing the plaster damage.

Sometimes I put off repair jobs because I know that fixing one thing sometimes involves breaking something else.

For example, replacing a belt on a piece of farm equipment requires unjamming everything that went wonky when the belt broke, then getting a new one of exactly the right length and width. Putting it back on requires freeing everything between the reels the belt runs on and the outside. Sometimes, there are two chains and another belt as well as a shield to get out of the way.

Chains are easy. Find the link that links the chain and take it apart. Even if you bend the clasp that is easy to replace, and I have a box of links for the most common sizes of chain. But a belt is one piece. It has to have free space to go over both reels and the tightener. (One reel receives power from the machine's drive, the other runs part of the equipment; the tightener keeps it from slipping.)

The situation is studied carefully until it is clear what absolutely has to be taken apart. The bolts and nuts holding things that are in the way may be seized. Or stripped. Something may break. A lot of penetrating oil is sprayed. If this is a lucky day, everything comes loose.

Often, something does not move on the first try. Someone suggests a crowbar. That idea is discounted because it would bend something crucial. Other techniques are considered. When another tool you don't have is suggested, one of the fixers is sent to get it.

This can be a miraculous moment in my experience. The repair crew is tired and frustrated. But send one person for an essential tool, and another idea comes up, is tried, and when the person comes back with what you asked for, things are ready to be put back together.

Not that this always works. When stuck, I've tried the technique without success. But sometimes, the conversation isn't helping. The person left alone looks at things again and attempts something different.

On Monday, I decided to stain the deck. I'd noticed one board was broken at the end and replaced it. The whole thing looked silly with this brand new yellow board beside the grey ones. Staining the deck was on the to do list, but the new board jumped it to the top. When I opened the second can of stain, I considered pouring some into the first can rather than carrying the full one. I chose not to, thinking I might spill some. So, a third of the way through that can, I spilt almost all the rest. I quickly dabbed the brush into the pools on the ground. I used up the rest of the can, knowing I would need more to finish, wishing I'd poured some into the empty can, even if I dripped a bit.

Today's lesson might be: never fix anything. Better: keep your sense of humour. Or: stay flexible because every adjustment has consequences. Getting things right may well take a second effort.

Cathy Hird lives near Walters Falls.

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