I changed the battery in my son’s car last weekend. Man, am I pumped!

I know it doesn’t seem like much but, to a bookworm like me, flirting with the alchemy of wrenches, grease and electricity and not making a hopeless mess was a pretty big deal. So, I’m going to take a minute and celebrate. Woo-hoo.

It’s not something I do every day — in fact, the last time I did it was, let’s see…hmmm. Never. Yes, never would be the last time I changed the battery in an automobile.

In fact, I’ve never done any car repair of any type at all. Like many Americans, I find it far too complicated. A simple cost-benefit analysis leads one to the conclusion that paying someone whatever price far outweighs the hassle — and the fear — of disassembling and assembling parts of your engine only to find in the end a few extra bolts and washers left over on the garage floor.

When I was growing up, this was the kind of thing my father — and I suspect many other men — did all the time. He built our garage with the help of a friend, constructed about 40 percent of our in-ground pool, repainted at least one of our cars, and generally built, fixed, and altered things as needed. He always knew the right tool to use, too.

He did these things, I think, because he could, but also out of a sense of frugality.

Frugality existed as a core value of many, if not all, previous generations of Americans, and rarely, if at all, in the current one. I would have to admit that I place convenience and comfort far ahead of frugality in my daily life.

One result is — for me, I now realize — an unnerving lack of skills necessary to thrive or survive in a period of enforced frugality — in other words, a severe or prolonged economic meltdown in which I was personally affected.

I cannot repair my own car, and I cannot fix a roof on a house, nor a leak in a basement. I cannot — heaven forbid it comes to this, ever — grow or kill sufficient quantities of food to feed my entire family (let alone my voracious sixteen-year old son). 

I imagine I could learn. I imagine necessity, hunger and pain would be effective, swift teachers. But, it would be nice to be able to do these things for yourself because you can — and because you never know when you might have to.

But I’m getting there. I can change the battery in a car.

AuthorJoseph Fusco