Thursday, May 16, 2013


I’m currently sitting in my car dealer/mechanic’s waiting room, waiting (what else?) on a mechanic to finish changing my car’s oil and to replace worn wiper blades and a burned-out tail light. The total cost hovers around $115, which isn’t bad considering the cost of labor and synthetic fuel. I can’t help but think, though, of how this same job cost probably half that amount when my husband did all of those things.

Routine car maintenance wasn’t the only mechanical or practical thing my husband did during our almost-25 year marriage. He built the shell of our last home, put on the siding, and did all of the finish work -- constructed the interior walls, installed doors (even 2 pocket doors), laid the hardwood flooring, ran the electrical work, installed the cooling systems, installed all of the plumbing, put in windows, and made and installed all of the trim work. He also took care of all car repairs, fixed broken stuff of every kind and performed all kinds of household repairs, hung the Christmas lights, put in a garden, built a chicken house, and many, many other tasks that needed to be done. As a result, the only times we used “hired help” were when we had the hardwood floors in our first house refinished, when we installed the heating system for our new home, and when the time came to install, balance, and rotate tires.

I think I could figure out how to do some of the things my husband did, but many of these tasks require either much more knowledge than I could glean from the internet or more physical strength than I possess. As a result, since my husband died I’ve had to outsource almost all car and home maintenance and repair. Except for 2 or 3 jobs over the past 3 1/2 years, outsourcing has meant finding and hiring someone.

Of course, people have offered to help, to do these things for me. But soon after my husband died, the lawn mower broke down, and I was determined not to become that person we’ve all heard about or read about in books -- the neighborhood widow who always “borrows” other women’s husbands. When my retired father-in-law heard about my lawn mower problem, he immediately said he’d take care of it. Because he is very mechanical and loves to fix things, because he had lots of time on his hands and sometimes got underfoot of my mother-in-law, but primarily because I knew it would make him feel better (relative term, of course) to take care of this for his son, I gladly let him fix the mower.

Ten months after my husband’s death I moved to a city a few hours from our home (to take a new, full-time job). I bought a small house in a very friendly, close-knit planned community and settled in. I got to know my neighbors, particularly the family across the street. The husband, a fireman, is very mechanical and skilled at all sorts of things. He has offered to hang my Christmas lights, but so far I haven’t taken him up on it, choosing to decorate only the inside of the house. He’s offered to clean out the dryer vents, change the batteries in the smoke alarms (I have 9’ high ceilings), and do various odd jobs, but I hesitate to take him up on his offers. He works long hours, and when he’s home, I’m sure he has his own “honey-do” list to take care of. He is also an active & involved father of 2 boys, one of whom has special-needs, and other activities he’s involve in. In short, I continue to be determined not to be the proverbial husband-borrowing widow.

Which brings me to the car dealership/shop. It’s also brought me to a painter -- no way was I going to attempt to paint the open stairway in my living room with its 18’+ walls. But it’s also brought me to searching YouTube for a tutorial on fixing a toilet that won’t stop running; I was pretty darned proud of myself after I finished and even shared my success on facebook! It has also brought scared-of-heights me to teetering atop a ladder and removing the entire smoke detector cover, only to discover after I had changed the battery and strained and struggled to get the cover back on that if pushed, the small square on the cover pops open for battery changes. The first change took me 10 minutes; the next 3 took less than that altogether. It’s also brought me to using liquid graphite to lubricate the stuck lock on the back door and to using WD-40 to fix a squeaky hinge.

The local community ed program offers both a “powder puff” car repair class and a general home maintenance course every fall, and I’m seriously thinking of signing up. Doing at least some of my own repairs would save money and give me a sense of accomplishment, I know. Who knows? I might learn enough to take the big step I’ve been considering for the past 2 years -- buying a small, inexpensive, fixer-upper home and doing much of the renovation work myself.


What about you? If your husband took care of car repairs and/or repairs around the house, how have you chosen to handle these issues since his passing? Have you learned (or maybe you already knew) how to fix at least some things yourself? I’d love to hear your home or car-repair stories, and I’m hoping there’s at least one funny one out there!


  1. I am not a widow, but have recognized through years of my own health issues, how much my husband does for me and how much I rely on him. As I age, I too am more determined to learn some of these things you mentioned, as none of us know if/ when we may face being forced to do these things, like it or not. I am a slow learner. I recognize that learning some of these skills may take me years. This past year, I am learning more computer-related skills and the information that deals with our budget and important papers. Not sure I could climb that tall ladder though! You are obviously becoming stronger as you tackle these things, one by one. (I would however let a fireman neighbor clean my dryer vent and change my batteries--might make him feel good to know that he won't have to be saving my house from a fire in the future! LOL) Can't wait to hear about that fixer-upper you find in the future!

  2. I agree with Cheryl on letting the fireman neighbor help with cleaning the dryer vent. Perhaps you could watch their two children for an evening to give them a break and barter for services. I think if you have the interest in the two classes you should take them. Personally, I won't ever get into car repairs and would willingly pay someone to do anything car related. Hooray for you on figuring out the "to do" items!

  3. First, I'm impressed how much you learned and done already! Second, I think the general home maintenance course is a great idea, as - even if you don't end up doing everything yourself - it will make it easier for you to explain to somebody else what needs to be done and to estimate if the time they suggest it will take (and therefor the costs) seem reasonable. What I'm wondering though is, third, why do you hesitate to take up the offer of help? Do you think it wasn't sincere or something with being dependant on? Getting help twice or three times a year doesn't make you to the husband-borrowing-widow, and even if it does, so what? Better being the husband-borrowing-widow then the, let's say, gossiping and nosy widow or the mean and grumbly widow or the always fidgeting with her stick widow or the .. do I need to continue? ;-)

  4. Cheryl,
    I applaud you for learning these things. I'm sure your doing so also gives your husband some peace, knowing that should something happen to him, you would not be completely in the dark. I know that was important to my husband; after he found out that he did not have long to live, his first focus was on making sure I knew some things we hadn't had a chance or reason to talk about (life insurance, for example). I could tell he needed me to be prepared. I'm sorry to hear you have health issues yourself and will add you to my prayer list. Thank you for taking the time to share!

  5. Debbie,
    I'm with you and Cheryl on the dryer vent checking, and I love your suggestion about watching their two boys. I've watched them a couple of times in a pinch, and I had a wonderful time. Thank you for the reminder to offer again. Thank you for taking the time to share.

  6. Daniela,
    I really believe the offer is genuine, but he already has so much on his plate that I hesitate to take up his time. I thought today, though, that I could help them with their yard work (weeding the flower beds, mulching, etc) when I see them out working or offer to babysit (as Debbie suggested), and do other things to help their chores take less time. As for not wanting to be a husband-borrowing widow, I think it's primarily (again) the time issue. I'll have to ponder this a bit to see why it really bothers me. Thank you for asking those questions!

  7. My partner is alive and kicking but entirely not mechanical. I laughed reading that list of things your husband did, as my guy could not do any of those things! If the car's oil needs changing I do it, or one of us pays for it.

    I lived alone for a long time before this relationship, and I highly recommend taking those courses. If nothing else, it will make you feel more confident about hiring and negotiating for assistance with those tasks you choose not to do yourself!

  8. Daniela,
    You make a good point about taking the courses if only to be more educated when hiring someone to do the work. Thank you!