Tom Kerr writing on old skills…

Last month I made a phone call, and while the line was ringing I could feel the apprehension building in my chest. I was concerned that nobody would answer, because I was calling my cobbler…and once he’s retired or dead and gone there won’t be many like him left.

Old Charlie’s still there, I’m happy to report, working with just a few old-fashioned tools and skills…inside a shop that’s not much larger than a walk-in closet. The first time I visited Charlie, 15 years ago, I brought a pair of well-worn logger’s boots that were handmade in the 1960s.

They triggered instant respect and rapport.

“I don’t get to work on real boots much these days,” he griped. “Nowadays they’re all just slapped together with rubber and glue. These are the real McCoy, with wooden pegs and stacked leather heels.”

I’m lucky to have a few pairs of well-made boots. Although I keep the leather conditioned and polished, I wear them hard. But with good craftsmanship, things last longer…which is why I had not seen Charlie for about five years.

This time I brought a pair of cowboy boots with the soles worn paper-thin. When I went to pick them up he apologized for the delay, but told me he had to call suppliers all over the U.S. to find a strip of leather welt. That’s the part of the boot that runs around the perimeter to bind the upper section to the sole.

“I’m sorry you had to go to all that trouble, Charlie.”

“No, I’m glad you brought me these boots. Before now, I didn’t realize there was a scarcity of leather welting. So, when I found some for you, I went ahead and bought all of it the supplier had, because I hate that plastic crap.”

Charlie’s glad to have leather welting, and I’m glad to have Charlie. Folks who are skilled with their hands are threatened with extinction.

You hear people like Charlie described as “handy,” a term that describes those among us who need little more than a few hand tools to get the job done. When you need a variety of miscellaneous repairs done you can call half a dozen specialists…or just ask a “handy” man who knows how to do it all.

Everyone took DIY skills for granted in your father’s or grandfather’s time…back when Americans didn’t spend an arm and a leg to have other people do our work for us. They just reached for a saw, hammer, or wrench.

In the 1940s, Boy Scouts were expected to know how to camp out in the wilderness for an entire month and start their campfires with flint and steel. They needed to know how to tie a number of different useful knots, fell small trees with a hatchet, and lash together a lean-to hut or Tom Sawyer raft. Boys built their own tree houses, and if they wanted a fort or clubhouse to play in, they’d construct a simple shack in a single afternoon.

These days, if you know how to unclog your kitchen sink, change a tire, build a fire pit, or sharpen a knife without an electrical gadget, you’re rare.

But more importantly, you know that rare and rich feeling of satisfaction, confidence, and pure fun that comes from using your own hands to build, fix, create, and maintain.

You and I grew up in a comfortably wired, push-button age that has now become a wireless experience of touchscreens, digital clouds, and hands-free convenience.

That’s a wonderful evolution.

But don’t let it disconnect you from that profound and authentic connectivity to yourself.

Thanks to Charlie, I’m going to put my boots back in action this weekend, kicking the posthole digger to mend a fence.

What’s on your DIY agenda…a home repair, helping a friend in his workshop, maybe a camping trip?

Whatever it may be, enjoy getting back to doing it with your own two hands.

P.S. Discover how you can enjoy a more laidback, authentic, independent way of life in Truth & Plenty. Sign up below to have it delivered – free of charge – to your email inbox.

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