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Bay Reflections

Confessions of a Handyman’s Wife

How I learned to live in a construction zone

by Margaret Tearman

My husband is a do-it-yourselfer, a real handyman.

There are few home improvement projects he is unwilling, or unable, to tackle: He has restored century-old porch columns, refinished miles of hardwood floors and repaired dozens of broken window panes. Last week he installed a beautiful countertop in our kitchen, cut from a salvaged piece of Corian.

Usually, I’m grateful for his handiness. I can imagine the damage done by a husband who just thinks he is good with tools.

The upside to his enthusiastic ability is the money we save. In our marathon attempt to restore an old Southern Maryland farmhouse, we have rarely needed to hire carpenters, plumbers or electricians (except when county building codes dictate). My husband salvages what he can and rarely hauls anything to the dump, always considering future re-uses. A broken toilet seat, replaced with a new one, was saved — for spare parts. No kidding.

The downside is, because he can, he usually insists on doing it himself. This almost always means the task will eventually get done but rarely in what I consider a reasonable time. My husband is not result-oriented; he loves the process. He will stick to a project for as long as it takes to get it right.

Twenty-plus years into our 10-year restoration plan, wall sockets are still missing faceplates. Original window moldings, removed for repair and paint, have not yet been reinstalled. In some rooms, duct tape holds up crumbling plaster walls.

The to-do list is kept in a three-ring binder.

What money we save is repaid in time and often more money modifying things that worked fine to begin with.

Like plumbing.

Bathroom fixtures are ridiculously expensive. Couple that with my husband’s absolute need for a shower that shoots water with deadly force, and cha-ching.

The showerhead in our only shower was wearing out, probably from excessive water pressure. Several replacement fixtures were tried but refused, deemed too wimpy.

A man needs to feel the water, not just be cleansed by it.

Getting desperate, we ended up in a big-box super-store, way the heck out in Chantilly, Virginia, where my husband believed he had finally found the perfect shower head — a gleaming German import.


When it comes to showerheads, cost does not equal water force. This mighty expensive import looked good, but it didn’t deliver the required velocity. Disappointed, my husband muttered the phrase I dread most: I think I can modify it.

With those words, he disappeared into his workshop.

As night fell, I popped in to check his progress. It wasn’t a pretty sight. The new German model was in the trash. The handyman, brow furrowed in concentration, was bent over the old showerhead, now in a zillion little pieces.

I have learned my lesson from past modifications, and I backed out of the workshop without a word. I don’t want a divorce.

Hours later, I heard a triumphant shout: Got it! He’d figured how to modify the fancy fixture without breaking it. This necessitated another trip to Virginia for a second, very expensive showerhead.

Too many days later, we had a working shower, although I have still not mustered the nerve to turn the water to full force.

The old showerhead? Reassembled, it sits on a shelf in my husband’s workshop — because you never know when you’ll need spare parts.

Over the years, Bay Weekly staff writer Margaret Tearman, of Huntingtown, has developed genuine affection for power tools, duct tape and sturdy ladders.

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