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This Single Mom Became Handy at Fixing Up the House

With her supermom’s toolbox—and the help of everyday angels around her—she felt confident and grateful.  

Illustration by © Phil, 121art.com
Credit: all phil artworks are copyrighted by phil and www.philart.ca
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I pulled my bathrobe tight around me. It was a cold night, and the thin walls of the house did little to keep out the chill. The floor furnace popped and crackled, but it seemed to be fighting a losing battle. I wandered from room to room, dashing out cobwebs and examining cracks in the walls. The linoleum floor in the downstairs washroom was starting to come loose, curling up in places. When I discovered yet another lighting fixture that needed replacing, my frustration gave way to tears. It was all so overwhelming. And I didn’t know where to start.

I’d recently left my husband of 15 years. He was abusive, emotionally and physically. When I finally worked up the courage, the kids and I moved to the small town of Marion, Kansas, where I had family, our things packed in disposable garbage bags. We stayed with my cousin until I got on my feet, after I found a full-time position at the hospital. We couldn’t afford much, which is how we ended up in the old house on South Lincoln Street. Funnily enough, I knew the place well. It had once been my grandparents’ house. My dad grew up there. Built in 1915, the vintage two-story had character and charm. Meaning, of course, that it needed a lot of repairs.

Walking through those drafty, dusty rooms, I missed Dad more than ever. He’d always been the handyman in my life, coming to the rescue with his trusty toolbox and reassuring smile. What I wouldn’t have given for one of his pep talks from heaven. “You know, Jenni, you have always been smart, bullheaded and stubborn beyond belief, just like your old dad,” he’d told me once, a twinkle in his eye. “If you put your mind to something, even as a little girl, you would somehow figure out a way to do it all by yourself.”

I jiggled the broken fixture. But, sometimes, I need help too.

The sound of shrieking laughter and racing footsteps upstairs snapped me out of my pity party. The kids were still up playing. After I got them settled in bed, I turned down my covers. I picked up the Bible on my nightstand and opened to Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” With those words in mind, I hoped to get a good night’s sleep.

The next day, as we drove downtown for our weekly grocery run, my daughter pointed to a sign for a garage sale. “Can we stop, Mom?” Always on the lookout for a bargain, I pulled up in front of the house. The yard was lined with folding tables piled with possible treasures. I headed straight for a bright red tackle box and opened it, the rusty hinges protesting. If I was going to fix up the house, I’d need tools—and somewhere to put them. I approached the old man overseeing the sale. He looked as worn as the tackle box, but his hazel eyes were bright and warm.

“Would you take seven dollars for this, sir?” I asked, holding it up.

“Sure thing, young lady,” he said. “Anything else? My wife insists I clear out the garage, so I’ll make you a good deal.”

His words felt like an answer to my prayers. I picked out some screwdrivers and wrenches, a jar of nails and a hammer, and even found a dog-eared book on how to do basic home repairs. “Exactly what I needed! Thank you,” I told the man before rounding up the kids.

In the weeks that followed, I tackled small projects one at a time. I patched the cracked plaster walls and sanded them down. A new coat of paint did wonders! I graduated to bigger jobs and became a regular at the local hardware store. Whenever I needed help, one of the retirees who hung out there would appear at my side. They were always quick with good advice and recommendations. Winter turned to spring while I labored in my spare time, and in the sweltering heat of summer, my uncle helped me install the window AC units.

Even the kids noticed that I’d become quite handy around the house with my supermom’s toolbox at my side. Today it sits on an easy-to-reach shelf in my garage. Whenever I pull it down and feel its heaviness, my heart fills with gratitude. Gratitude for a father who believed in my ability to figure things out, and for the Father who sent everyday angels when I couldn’t.

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