Here in the US we will celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday. Many people will pause from the festivities, the family celebrations, the sports and the Black Friday sales to give thanks. Maybe they will offer a prayer, maybe a lingering thought of recognition to those who went before us and those around us who make it possible for us to live in relative peace. I have a suggestion – yes, it’s in the title. Pay it forward. Offer the small bits of help that will make others thankful.
When I share DIY stories here, I frequently get comments about how lucky The Editor is to have someone to do this work. Well, I’m not always sure she is lucky, some of this work can be disruptive, but I digress. What I do think about, and what I take very seriously is why I can do this work – I was taught by others.
When our father took on a project around our house, my brother and I were recruited for help. It was mandatory, but it wasn’t drudgery (although we may have felt like it was). My father would always explain why he was doing what he was doing. I remember having to chip bits of mortar off the block wall foundation of our house. Trust me, that job was every bit as miserable as it sounds. My dad gave me a chisel, a hammer and showed me what to look for. He explained that he wanted to paint the foundation and that those bits of mortar would interfere with a paint roller. He chipped a few chunks off to demonstrate where to put the chisel, how to hit, and, of course, to let the tool do the work. When it came time to paint, I helped him and he explained that task as well. He had me roll over one of the chips I had missed. I went back over that wall very carefully after that.
Dad did this with everything. Carpentry, woodworking, plumbing, electrical and for the love of everything holy, yardwork. I hate yardwork, but I know how to do it. On occasion, he would lend me out to help one of his friends, cousins, nephews, etc. who were tradesmen. His instructions were always the same, “keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut.” He let me work with people he knew would share their knowledge with me.
Years later, I met a man who worked with sheet metal. He taught me a little about flashing a chimney, but only because I was helping him, and I was asking questions. He made it clear that he didn’t normally share his experience with others. He actually bragged about sending an apprentice to his truck to get something at a point where he had to do some overhead soldering. “It’s hard work. I have some tricks, but I don’t want him to know them. If he learns how to do it, they’ll use him on jobs instead of me to save money.” “They” being the contractors who hire workers for those jobs.
I’ve met other people who held what they knew very close. I worked with a man who refused to document a particular mathematical process – a process that was important to our company’s operation. It was his job and he didn’t want to lose it. He got angry and quit one day. He left without sharing that knowledge – perhaps out of spite, perhaps in the hopes of being brought back as a consultant. A fellow employee and I spent weeks reverse engineering that process by analyzing the scripts and spreadsheets he used and several years’ worth of data and results.
Now that I am retired, I am trying new things and trying to get better at things I’ve always enjoyed. I am still benefiting from some people who have gone before me. I appreciate their help more than I can express. If I can help others, I will try.
Note: Since this Thanksgiving is a US holiday, Thursday Doors will be open for business as usual.