She did it herself before do-it-yourself was cool

Published 12:39 am Saturday, August 5, 2017

While sitting under a dryer at a beauty shop, I flipped through the pages of a magazine filled with decorating ideas. My mother came to mind. She was a “do-it-yourselfer” long before many companies began catering to that kind of market.

Some of my earliest memories include Mother with a paint brush in hand; Mother on a ladder; Mother shoving a couch or chair to rearrange the living room; Mother sewing; Mother hammering brackets for curtain rods and hanging curtains; and Mother making dressing table skirts and hanging wall paper.

Although I always loved the results of her efforts, I preferred to let her do it. I did not inherit her flair for decorating. The smell of paint makes me ill. Sitting down to a sewing machine makes me tense. I am all thumbs when it comes to using a hammer or hanging wallpaper. To me, plunging into a project like that is about as much fun as paying a visit to a dentist. I was never much help to her in any of those endeavors.

Once when Mother got her do-it-yourself fever, I happened to be visiting her. She invited me to go along while she followed up on a newspaper ad for a sale on sleeper sofas. We dropped in at the furniture store, sat on a few of the sale sofas, checked the mattresses, discussed what styles and colors were suitable and she made a selection.

Thus began several days of rearranging. She was inclined to keep everything (a trait I inherited) so it took a bit of doing to make room for the new sofa. During a four-hour period, we removed and replaced five drawers from a chest three times so we could either move it or place another piece of furniture beside it. I lost count on how many times we misplaced the tape measure. When the last drawer was put back for the third time, I lost my composure, flopped down in a chair and collapsed with laughter. Mother indignantly informed me that she wished I had “gone visiting or shopping somewhere” so I wouldn’t make fun of her. She really was not mad at me, but she was dead serious about arranging the furniture her way. I had been mostly standing around waiting to help her shove something wherever she wanted or remove and replace those drawers, but my motor ran down long before hers.

I asked her how she knew how to do all those things she tackled. She explained a lot of it was by trial and error. When she wanted to try something, she plunged right in. Daddy helped, but never initiated anything. If he liked to do something, he helped. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t help. She learned some things standing at his elbow, handing him tools and cleaning up behind him as he built or repaired things.

Mother enjoyed an active and long life. I sometimes wonder if her do-it-yourself interests contributed to her longevity.


Nina Keenam is retired from the newspaper business. Her column appears on Saturdays.