In order to avoid a stay at Via Christi’s ICU Unit I stopped climbing on the front porch roof to put up and take down the Christmas star a couple of years back.
Last winter I went a step further and - rather than call my son over to do it - decided to just leave it up. But, alas, when I plugged it in this week only the bottom half lit up.
A couple years back the same thing happened so I just bought a new one and stored the other one in the basement. So, this year, after my son brought the half-lit one down, I dug the old half-lit one out and lay it over the other so the two halves made a whole.
“Ha, yer goin’ full hillbilly there, dad,” my son said with an Ozark accent as he watched me plug in my new creation. Soon we were giggling and talking hillbilly about producing a do-it-yourself YouTube redneck video series on how to patch your Bethlehem star and various other Christmas decorations. Brought to you by “Redneck Beer Eggnog.”
Redneck or hillbilly ingenuity – aka using creativity and common, everyday items to solve a problem or fix something – has always appealed to me.
Sometimes it’s ridiculous – like inventing a riding mower by sitting with your push mower on the front of a four-wheeler while your wife drives you around the yard. Other times funky - like making a power window on your pickup by attaching a small cordless drill to the peg. (Come to think of it, I did something similar on my dad’s old Ford F100 … but with a small set of Vice-Grip pliers.)
Grandpa Matt fixed lots of things (like the muffler and tailpipe) on his truck with baling wire. (These days zip ties most times take the place of baling wire.) Grandpa also fashioned a shower in his garage by punching holes in the bottom of a five gallon bucket, hanging it from the rafters, and running his garden hose in to fill it.
Grandma Mary was something of a wiz, starting with her prowess with a sewing machine on which she could create, recreate or patch anything from a dress to overstuffed chair upholstery. She also jerry-rigged appliances for the neighbors, fabricated planters out of tin, painted walls to look like wallpaper and floors to look like linoleum.
When the remnant rug for my basement bedroom in our newly built house didn’t reach all the way to the wall, she duplicated the rug design on the concrete floor by painting a brown base coat and using a sea sponge dipped in gold paint to recreate the rug’s textured design.
I have memories of Grandma twinkly-eyed and totally engrossed as she did these things. She appeared to see them as a combination of challenge and fulfillment. Took on an aura like she was “in the zone.”
Call it what you will, to me it’s something of a high to get quirky and creative about problem solving. For example, the picture-hanging-wire-and-electrician-tape replacement door handles I fashioned on my wife’s aging Camry and the plastic pipe and cement barrier I constructed to reroute basement wall seepage away from my furnace. I’m proud of ‘em.
Getting back to the hillbilly star, the day after my son hung it I pulled into the alley and stopped my Pathfinder (with the Labradorian in the backseat) to visit with my across Euclid Street neighbors, Ethel Lawson and Phil Harries.
When I mentioned the star Ethel smiled wistfully. “Oh yes,” she said. “I saw it. I always know Christmas is on the way when I see your star.”
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LOOKING FOR A CHRISTMAS GIFT? Last summer at the Frontenac Homecoming I had a high quality audio recording of my presentation made which I’ve edited into a CD. It’s an overview of growing up there in the 1950s and 60s in stories, poems and songs featuring iconic locations and notable characters in the Republic; price - $10. You can get one at Pallucca’s, call me to deliver in Frontenac - Pittsburg area, or order by mail (add $4 for postage). My address and phone # are below.
— J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and celebrant. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Training in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 620-231-0499, email@example.com, or 401 W. Euclid, Pittsburg, KS 66762