“I have a problem, Dad.”
“So I have this hollow sphere. It has 2 holes in it – on opposite sides.”
“They close with small plastic screws, so you need to have both screws out to empty it. Or the air holds the liquid in.”
“So, I emptied it, but now I have to fill it back up. But the hole is too small! I tried to make funnels, but it just leaks down the side because the air is trying to escape as the new solution enters.”
I wait for a response. None comes. I continue, feeling as if I’m describing a story problem, sitting at the kitchen table as I work through math homework that’s taking too long.
“I’m at home, trying to refill this sphere with a new solution I made, but I can’t get the liquid in.”
“What if you don’t put the other screw in so the air can escape from the other side?”
“No. They’re on opposing sides, so if I’m trying to pour some liquid in one side, it would just leak out the other side if the hole is open. You know?”
“So how would you fill this up?”
“I’d use some sort of squirting device. Do you have an eye dropper, only bigger?”
“Like a syringe?!”
“Sort of. But bigger.”
“No, I need a syringe! The hole is really small – a needle would be about right! Where do I get one of those?”
“I was thinking more like a turkey sucker. That thing your mom uses that moves the turkey gravy around? Something big.”
“No, the sphere only holds about a liter of solution. So something small would work. Even an eye dropper, though it would take forever.”
“Yeah, but you’re right. It would probably work.”
“Where would I get one? Wal-Mart? Would CVS have one?”
“Probably. Like in the medicine section. We have one for the little one. For liquid medicines.”
“OK, I have to go get one! Thanks, Dad!”
My father didn’t finish high school. Always having authority issues, he decided he could learn what he needed to know on his own. His parents weren’t the best, and he was always conscious of doing better for Brother and me than they’d done for him.
He’s smart though. Argumentative and superior sometimes, but sensitive and thoughtful at others. He can fix anything, and I can easily picture him sitting on the floor of my house here, staring at the garbage disposal, or the toilet, or the lighting he’d taken down. He takes things apart, looks at them, figures out how they work, then fixes them. Anything.
I sat behind my refrigerator the day I moved in, holding a flashlight as we stared at the motor that powered the water dispenser in the freezer door. I wanted to be unpacking, but I sat impatiently as he carefully took pieces off the refrigerator, then disassembled them. He’d clean some pieces, examine others for defects, and place them carefully in line so we could put it back together.
He’d explain how he thought the device worked, pulling water from the wall, then forcing it up the pipe he’d identified that lead to the ice maker and the water dispenser. We checked everything, carefully consulting manuals to find the right part number so we could order a new metal box.
We carefully constructed the motor again with the new part and the pieces we saved. Dad let me put it back in, and I remember pushing the first glass against the little lever and watching water come out. Triumphant, Dad and I grinned at each other, then moved on to the next task.
Now when I stare at something, impatient with my inability to think of a good solution, I wonder what Dad would do. Patient, thoughtful, inquisitive, he would look, draw on experience, and figure something out.
I have far surpassed both my parents in terms of level of education, I mused as I sat at my kitchen table, forcing liquid from my newly-purchased syringe into my hollow sphere. Mom graduated from high school while working part-time. She started a full time job in addition to working retail immediately after she finished school. Apart from two 6-week maternity leaves and a month-long stay at home for illness when I was in junior high, she’s worked ever since. That’s over 40 years of going to the office every day, doing her job, then coming home to care for us.
Dad aced the GED when he was drafted to go to Vietnam. He did well when he was there, was asked to re-enlist, though he declined. He returned home, married Mom, and worked as well. He mostly fixed things – all sorts of machines. Cars were his passion though, and he continues to putter in his garage behind the house.
They bolstered my confidence when it shriveled into nothing. I vividly remember receiving a bright white plush bear with a shiny black ribbon around his neck when I lost the 3rd grade spelling bee. “You tried hard, and that makes you a winner.” Mom told me gently, fixing a special dinner and letting Dad give me the bear.
They corrected me when I got too arrogant, overestimating my natural ability and my academic background. They have served as a constant reminder (sometimes silent, sometimes very loud) that the people I respect most, those who leave me in awe of their intelligence and talent, their compassion and sincerity, don’t necessarily have any sort of degree. They would have been proud had I made other choices, ended up somewhere else, found a different path. And I am completely aware and thankful of how blessed I have been by having them in my life.
When I have problems, I’m calling my parents. I still think they know most of the important answers. And when it comes to hollow spheres with holes that are too small, they know some of the little answers too.