For several months (it actually may be longer, come to think of it), I have been living with a broke-down front gate. Both the gate and fence were once brand spanking new, crafted and tailored to fit our curved patio and side yard. But, like everything, the fence and gate have aged over time and needed more than just a new coat of paint.

Under Temporary Repair

For quite some time I found ways to shore up the old gate. I removed the hinges and changed how the gate opened. That worked for a while. I changed the locking mechanism, and that worked for a while. I re-set the hinges at a different level.

Some of these worked for brief periods of time, but none were really addressing the problem. I knew I had hit the proverbial end of the road when the delivery folks refused to even attempt to open the damn gate and just threw packages into the patio instead. And then COVID hit, and I just gave up worrying about it anyway.

Finally Motivated!

It was only in the last few weeks that I got up the gumption to do something. At first, I took action in my head, imagining the steps I would need to take to hire someone to put up a new gate. Calling friends who might recommend handymen. Going through the phone tag/texting match that would result in my saying, “Thank you, but no …”  Then talking myself through the money-saving DIY conversation of, “How hard could this be?  I have a college education!”

Die-Hard This Old House Fan

Of course, this delusion was fueled by the fact that I have been watching This Old House since Bob Vila hosted. I have been a virtual assistant on so many of those projects. I can use the name of most of Norm Abrams’ power tools and I can sling a hammer with Tommy and his crew. (I will leave the plumbing to Richard, though . . .)

So, in my head, I took my old gate apart. I rebuilt the frame, made sure I measured twice and cut once, pre-drilled all the necessary holes, and slammed those screws home. Hung that puppy, finished the hardware, came inside after 30 minutes and had a beer.

Well, Actually . . .

Somewhere along the way I forgot that I am out of shape, stiff jointed, and lacking in day laborer construction stamina. Here is what actually happened.

Day 1

Thought about what I would need to fix the gate. Did nothing else.

Day 2

Went into the garage and found my hand drill. Had to reorganize the tools on one side of the garage in order to turn on the work light that is connected to the charger for the drill. Charged the drill.

Day 3

Removed the gate from the hinges. Set the gate aside.

Day 4-5

Contemplated just how I would go about fixing the gate. Stopped off at at local hardware store to see if they had pre-made gates. They did, but not in my size. Walked all over the store and came home with nothing. Took a nap.

Day 6

Went to local hardware store and found a kit for framing a gate that was on sale and guaranteed to only take 20 minutes. Brought it home. Took a nap.

Day 7

Began to take old gate apart. 16-penny nails are highly resistant to being removed. 2 X 4s demolished. Panels salvaged and set aside. Took aspirin and took a nap.

Day 8

Re-arranged garage in order to create enough room to cut new 2 X 4. Purchased same at local hardware store who could not cut to size because I was using pressure-treated wood. Could not find skill saw and remembered I had sold it 10 years ago. Contemplated buying a new one, but decided I could make 4 cuts into a 2 X 4 myself.

Day 9

Made two cuts with hand saw that was incredibly rusted and dull. Took aspirin and took nap.

Day 10

Made other two cuts with hand saw. Took aspirin. Did not take nap.

Day 11

Unbelievably hot. Decided to remove nails and screws from panels. Nearly died of heat stroke.

Day 12

Put together 20-minute frame. Took 3 hours.

Day 13

Hung frame. Spent 3 hours trying to visualize how to set hinge to insure gate would open inward. Needed extra aspirin for that headache!

Day 14

Re-hung panels. Ran out of wood screws.

Day 15

Obtained more wood screws. Finished hanging gate.

It’s Not Perfect, But I Did It All by Myself

Aside from having to purchase more aspirin, I am now quite pleased with myself for having accomplished this task. I can see the flaws. My inner critic is going wild with suggestions and improvements to correct the errors in my work. In spite of those exhortations, I will not be doing that. My inner shopper, however, is contemplating purchasing some new power tools. The gate now swings effortlessly and locks like a charm.

As with so many things in my life right now, I no longer am seeking perfection; I am happy to just stay with functional. My investment in this project was relatively low in terms of out-of-pocket expenses. Yes, I spent a lot of time on a straightforward task. But each and every minute of it turned out to bring back memories.

How I Learned to Use Tools

I wouldn’t have even been interested in doing something like this if I hadn’t spent time with my Dad in his workshop in our basement. He tinkered and I just hung out with him. He let me try things out and made it so I wasn’t afraid of power tools.

I learned how to “build” when I took theater arts classes in high school and then improved on those skills in college and working with a summer stock company. I built my own screens when I first moved to San Francisco, only learning afterward that I didn’t need them to keep bugs out, but I did need them to keep my cats in! I dumpster-dived and found old items and fixed them and made them mine.

In acquiring these skills, I came to believe in my ability to take care of myself. I gained confidence in solving puzzles and allowed myself to learn by making mistakes and fixing them. These skills translate well in how I approach growing older. I know if I can get my hands on the right tools, I will figure out a way to construct the kind of old age that gives me a sense of satisfaction. It won’t be perfect, but it will meet my functional needs.

Next Week on This Old Gate

I don’t know that I would undertake this particular project again, but I just might. There are other things that need repair and replacement. Stay tuned for up-coming projects!

6 responses to ““This Old Gate” (with a nod to This Old House)”

  1.  Avatar

    this was hilarious! Now I have to take a nap.

  2.  Avatar

    That was PERFECT, Mary!!! I’m still laughing and totally empathizing/recognizing myself with the timeline details. Congratulations!!! We were both lucky to have dads like that and to have grown up in a time and place where ALL of us had to take “industrial arts”, “home economics” and “fine arts” classes in elementary and middle school and learned how to think things through. It gave us the skills and confidence we all need for life.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Wonderful! Sounds a lot like my upbringing on a farm (I still have a skill saw and hand drill; even I live in an apartment, I’ve built things on my balcony), but you’ve turned it into the fine art of resilience, determination, persistence, and self care in the midst of a project that as a younger (and non-Covid affected) self might have been accomplished more easily and in less time – maybe not, considering the amount of problem solving at each step. You’ve minded me of the importance of accepting where I am, at this moment, in this “aging thing” where, rather than bathing in self criticism when aches and pains stop me from being able to do that 20-something task, to instead reset my goals appropriately. To keep focusing on being active (!) and doing what I can do and want to do, that makes me healthy and happy. Thanks!

  4. Geri Avatar

    I can relate! I enjoy fixing things and feel so good when the task is completed. But I am increasingly thankful that we have, James, our handyman. The body isn’t what it used to be. Alas!

  5. Tim Gieseje Avatar
    Tim Gieseje

    How are you at installing a sump pump under the house. I have purchased the pump, crushed rock, 5 gallon bucket to hold the sump pump, but still need the hole for the pump and feeder channels dug. Nothings happened the last 6 months, but Fall & monsoon season is a coming. Nothing like crisis management.

  6. nan sullivan Avatar
    nan sullivan

    your hardware store “trips”, the 20 minute miracle cure kit, the rusted tools were all part of the diy solutions we all have endured for the finished project; function over form anyday thanks for the memories of our “i can fix this” in all our lives-and a coat of paint makes it look brand new love ya ms mary

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