“The Somewhat Handyman”

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Reader Bob Miller sends us this delightful story.


I spent a good portion of Saturday helping a friend to paint a room in the basement of her house.

It is a room with a ceiling only slightly higher than I am – now 5”6” down from 5’7” at my peak. To digress for a moment, shrinkage is one of the peculiarities of aging that happens even to those like me who are shrunk to begin with.

To make the room comfy and usable, some basic carpentry was required and painting, one of my favorite occupations. People may be right when they say that watching paint dry is boring but I find that applying it is soothing and seeing the difference it makes is downright thrilling. All right, maybe it’s not thrilling but still it’s a good feeling.

So, though I was a tired puppy at the end of the day, I had thoroughly enjoyed spending my Saturday in this way. The company of my friend and another helper was enjoyable, the work satisfying and the results gratifying. Moreover, and this brings me to the point of today’s blog, work of this kind satisfies one of the basic needs of the soul – to be helpful. Absence of feelings of helpfulness or usefulness is one of the biggest impediments to happiness in those who are north of 70.

I discovered the pleasure of helping at an early age. I think it was the influence of our “hired man” who did odd jobs around our house. It was fun to hang out with him. He bought me a corn cob pipe and taught me how to light it, and he worked but not so hard that he put me off the idea of it.

One of my favorite gigs as a kid was helping the son next door clean the family garage and take the junk to the dump, which was a fascinating place. Besides the rats scurrying through the garbage, the highlight of these trips was getting to steer the old Ford pickup loaded with trash. Such are the joys.

In visiting nursing homes and other residences designed for the elderly I am struck by how little opportunity there is for the residents to be helpful. They may be kept busy and are generally well cared for but by and large they have little or no part in the running of “the home”, something most of them did in their homes for much of their lives. In this way old age becomes a matter of watching and being cared for rather than engaging and helping. I understand that some of the elderly are unable to help, though I suspect we underestimate many of them. But for those who are able, work that contributes to the running of the home and the well being of their fellow residents should be a basic feature of such places.

As for me, I am having business cards prepared with the following wording:

Bob Miller
The Somewhat Handy Man
“An odd man for odd jobs”