Handyman, My life

Handyman mentors: 2) Uncle Harold

After spending the 1970-1971 academic year in the US, we returned to Medellín, and I enrolled in 7th grade at the George Washington School (where I had done grade school).

I discovered that the junior high boys had a class called Shop, taught by Uncle Harold. (All missionaries were Uncle and Aunt to us in Medellín.) He was an older gentleman; his youngest son John Mark had graduated from 9th grade in 1970 and was finishing high school at the Alliance Academy in Quito. (Harold is the father and John Mark is the little boy in this family picture, taken many years before.)

Uncle Harold taught us to use power tools and do simple soldering. But his biggest contribution was when he taught us the very basics of electrical wiring. He had us each make an extension cord out of a length of wire, a male plug, and a female.

It was so simple! Two wires, two screw terminals, one more screw to hold the plug together, and I had made something that channeled electricity from point A to point B. Outlets, lamps, appliances, stereos all worked essentially the same way: hot wire, ground wire. (I learned about earthing grounds much later.)

I went home and attached a simple ceiling light to a board and screwed it to the upper bunk so I could read in bed. Later I bought a cheap soldering iron and a roll of solder and began fooling around with stereo plugs and jacks and speakers. If the headphones broke, I stripped the wires and soldered on a new plug. I installed wall and ceiling lamps in our house. When I went off to high school at a remote mission base, I set up stereo speakers all around my dorm room. My senior year I worked afternoons at the mission base electric shop and the phone lab.

The smell of melting solder still brings back some of the best memories of my youth.

We only had Shop class for one semester. Uncle Harold and his family returned to the US at the end of that year, and he died of a heart attack a few months later. But what he taught me about electricity still affects my life today.


12 thoughts on “Handyman mentors: 2) Uncle Harold

  1. RuthG says:

    Wow, I didn’t know about this, since I wasn’t living in Medellin by then. What a useful class! Should have been for girls too.

  2. I think it’s so cool when adults invest in the lives of kids! To give their time, expertise, emotions, and more…is an investment. But, I think it’s always worth it! 🙂 I’m glad you had Uncle Harold in your life! His investment in your life has paid off and I know he’s proud of you as he “looks down”. 🙂
    HUGS!!! 🙂

      • Having been a teacher and having done A LOT of volunteer work (still do), I feel blessed to have had a chance to invest in the lives of many kids. I think about so many of them so often and wonder what they are doing, how they are, etc. As you know, I posted recently about someone who invested in my life when I was a teenager…and we recently reconnected. 🙂

  3. Humor_Me_Now says:

    I had zero mechanical ability, but I worked for an old guy going through college who believed in self-containment which meant we fixed everything ourselves. It was tough, but I did learn a few things–including electrical devices.

    My proudest achievement was when we were dirt poor which was most of our marriage, that our washing machine broke and we could not buy another one. I actually took the motor completely apart and it worked. My wife was very pleased.

    • My experiences trying to fix washing machines in my first marriage were mostly negative: investing $80 in a timer, only to find that it wasn’t the problem; changing a drive belt and discovering that I hadn’t done it right. In Costa Rica, fortunately, good professional help wasn’t terribly expensive. In the US it’s often prohibitive unless you have a home warranty.

  4. SrHeer says:

    I remember Uncle Harold teaching us shop – he always taught by showing, sharing, and helping which assisted our learning more so than say memorizing or observing. Doing or lets say discipleship is most efective – in that sense we can say Uncle Harold was very Christ like.

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