Dad's question: What can you do with what you already have?

When it comes to missing people these days, I had about a year’s head start. “All of this,” closings, stay-at-home orders and all, began just after the first anniversary of my father’s death. The political moves and the logical and scientific announcements (accurate or not) often leave me thinking I want to talk to him about the whole thing.

But I think of him often in another way. When I’m thinking of going out for supplies, choosing something to read, or trying to make myself a mask, one of Dad’s more familiar questions comes to my mind’s ear: “What can you do with what you already have?”

This creative encouragement was often part of a request for him to fix something or take me and my sister somewhere to get something.

Of course, sometimes he would fix things or transport us. The collection in the featured photo here wouldn’t fill my curio cabinet so heavily if he hadn’t fixed many of the animal figures in it. (Sorry about the blur in the photo — I guess they moved.)

Once, one of my model horses had a broken tail. Dad couldn’t get the glue to hold it on, but he came up with a support — he put a pipe cleaner in the tail, added more glue to it, and made the repairs.

Much later, as a “grownup,” I had a small table/filing cabinet that was fit together with knobs on one piece that fit into holes on the two pieces perpendicular to it. I didn’t know that until the knobs dried at a different rate from the main pieces and became too small for the holes. The cabinet fell apart. When I explained the problem to Dad, he promised to take a look at it.

I was ready to scrap the whole thing, but I got many more years out of it thanks to Dad — and I also got a review of “What can you do with what you already have?” He took one look and asked whether I had glue and blank paper. (Of course I had.) When I brought the glue and paper to him, he started folding the paper into small strips about the height of each peg.

As he worked, he told me the familiar story of being “on board ship” — on the El Salvador Victory in the Pacific during World War II — in more detail than he had before.

“There were no hardware stores in the middle of the Pacific,” he said. I’d heard that expression before, too. But as a grownup, I got more detail: When something went wrong, the order would go out on the P.A. — “Don’t throw anything overboard!” They never knew what among the “garbage” they might need to mend something on the ship. That, I recognized, was the origin of “What can you do with what you already have?”

The strips of paper, moistened with glue, got wound around each peg to increase them in size. (I suppose I helped, but Dad did much of the mending, as usual. I think he enjoyed still being asked.) Then we held the pieces together and pushed the wrapped pegs into the holes. Most fit perfectly. I think one needed another strip of gluey paper.

I’m thinking of that cabinet and hearing Dad’s question a lot these days. I’m not going to buy a mask — I’m going to make some out of the bandannas I have used over the years to polish my cello.

Sometimes I want something different to eat than the limited things on my shelves, but hearing grocery stores called “the front lines” keeps me home. Hearing a combination of Dad’s question and Mom’s kitchen encouragements, once last week I improved on the macaroni and cheese I’d made for lunch. I had some left over, so I added chili to it for supper. The result, chili and cheese and macaroni, neither tasted nor felt like leftovers.


So what can I do with what I already have? Write about it, naturally.

Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook.

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Filed under: Expressions

Tags: 2020 visions


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  • Thank you for such an inspiring post!

  • In reply to Weather Girl:

    You're welcome. Writing about it did seem to be what I could do with the memory I had, and I hope it will help in these low-shopping times.

  • "Making do with what you" may be a lesson from your father's naval experience, but it could also be the result of surviving the Great Depression. My parents had the same attitude, although neither had gone to sea, nor were they poor. The depression caused them to adopt habits of frugality.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    I see your point, jnorto. I suppose he walked onto the El Salvador Victory (his ship) for the first time with at least part of that "make do" spirit. Thanks for another good point.

  • A wonderful post. Tell us more about your dad. Did he have any more gems of wisdom?

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Thanks very much. I could quote Dad in most of my posts, because he was so fond of words. He would save up grammar slips, misused words or other verbal "finds" for our evening phone calls, either testing me (whether I got the Final Jeopardy question correctly) or commiserating about how awful some error was. "They're just words!" he'd say sarcastically, knowing I'd start to blow up at that even though I was as concerned as he was.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    P.S. He loved Robert Burns. Thanks for your Easter post.

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