Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, things were pretty gender-specific in our house. There were five of us girls before my brother was born, and our father would often yell, “Don’t go near the toolbox!”

There was something to be said for the advice, because one of my sisters stubbed her toe on it going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and that incident bumped her up to a new shoe size that she never got over. But the downside was that, although my father wasn’t Bob the Builder, there were skills he never shared with us.

When we were in our early 20’s, I took an auto repair course with one of my sisters. I kept the spiral notebook with my scribbles about locating the grease fittings and gapping plugs for many years, and it never stopped smelling like dirty engine oil. Although I never felt confident enough to do brakes since I had the flu for Part One, that class gave me confidence to try some of the traditionally male work that my father discouraged.

Many times, I tuned up my Chevette (I owned my own dwell-tachometer and timing light), changed the oil, checked things out on a regular basis and knew what I was talking about when I dealt with car repairmen. I had my own toolbox with everything in its place ready to go, and full sets of wrenches. When a traditionally male job was posted at work, I wasn’t afraid to give it a try, and was a forklift driver and yard jockey for a couple of years.

Over the years as a married woman, my socket set became mixed in with my husband’s, cars became too complicated with hard-to-get-to places under the hood, and we settled into the roles we did best. My ex was a mechanic at the time, so I began to do less and less of the maintenance on my car. Household maintenance was done by my ex, too. This worked for practical purposes, but, looking back, not for self-esteem. My organized little toolbox was no more, and the confidence I’d gained by bridging a gender gap was fading fast.

Like my father, my ex didn’t answer my questions about mechanical things in a clear or encouraging way. That really pissed and pisses me off, because when I teach people things, it’s a positive experience in which I really want them to master things. So after I’m pissed, I notice that all people aren’t me, so I get passed it and encourage myself. This brings me to the clogged toilet…

We had a problem that the plunger wasn’t solving. People told me about using a snake, so I bought one.

Wouldn’t it be cool if I could do this? I actually looked forward to coming home from work and trying my new tool, because since becoming head of household I’m starting to get my groove back.

It was so easy to do. Where did I get the impression this would be so complicated? When I heard that water-sucking sound, saw the water level go down, and had a working toilet a couple of flushes later, I felt like a plumber.

And confident.

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