Am I the only woman who asked for--and received--a DeWalt for her 50th birthday?  (photos by Marylin Warner)

Am I the only woman who asked for–and received–a DeWalt for her 50th birthday? (photos by Marylin Warner)

clippers and saw

Repair basics (plus assorted nails, screws and wires)

Repair basics (plus assorted nails, screws and wire)

Dear Mom,

You always loved to fix things, and since I grew up “helping” with your projects, I learned to love fixing things, too. At a young age I knew the difference between a Philips and a flat screwdriver, and when to use wood cement instead of glue.  When I was twelve, I bought a tiny jeweler’s pliers at a yard sale, and you and I figured out how to tighten the clasps on all our necklaces and bracelets. And there was no rip in a shirt or skirt or coat that we couldn’t mend with your sewing machine.

You had two ways of fixing things around the house and in the yard: step-by-step logical repairs that could take hours or days; and “a lick and a promise” fix.  When one of Grandma’s hand-painted saucers was knocked off the dining room table, you fixed it using the step-by-step technique. When we were late for church and you saw the hem was coming out of my Sunday dress, you did a quick fix, a “lick and a promise” with masking tape and safety pins.

But when I used the wood-burning instruments to sear my initials and drawings into the wooden fence, along the window casings in the garage, and on my closet shelf, you reined in my enthusiasm for non-essential handiwork. Later, in college I learned Kaplan’s explanation of “Law of the Instrument.” “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

A few days ago, you fell in your apartment, Mom.  You were rushed to the hospital, and doctors determined that you had not broken your hip, but you had dislocated your hip from the socket. In spite of your love for “fixing” things, this is probably one of those times when we won’t complain if your advanced dementia prevents you from remembering what happened next. On that very afternoon, the orthopedic surgeon operated, and with three medical screws he secured your hip bone back in the socket.

There will still be physical therapy and restrictions and adjustments. But you have strong bones, or they would’t have even attempted this surgery.  And you also had excellent, capable doctors, and this was not a “lick and  promise” fix.

My bet is on you, Mom, and your innate appreciation for fixing things.  Nails, hammers, screwdrivers, Super Glue; whatever it takes, you’re a big supporter of doing your best to put things back together.

Mom, 3 1/2, with her older brother on the family farm.

Mom, 3 1/2, with her older brother on the family farm.

Mom at 2 1/2 with her doll baby. See those strong bones on them both?

Mom at 2 1/2 with her doll baby. See those strong bones on them both?


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

52 responses to “A LICK AND A PROMISE

  1. Carol

    Thinking of you and your mom. Keep us posted in how she is doing.

    • Thanks, Carol, I will. And let me know how your knee surgery goes. My mom is Missouri-farm strong, and you’re Texas-strong, but surgery (and physical therapy) takes a lot out of you.

  2. Janet Armstrong

    So sorry about your mom. Hope she is doing better. Loved your lick and a promise story. My mom could also fix anything and she did quite often.

    • Our moms could fix almost anything, Janet, and smile while they were doing it. Each month when I visit my mom, I miss seeing yours. She was so sweet, and always welcomed me when I came in carrying my luggage.

  3. BGHOWARD@aol.com

    Marylin: Your thoughts and the way you expressed them are simply beautiful. Many hugs, Betty

  4. Dear Marylin, So sorry to hear your mom fell, and prayers for her recovery. It is amazing how much can be repaired.

  5. juliabarrett

    Oh, your dear mom! How’s her recovery going? How are you holding up? We follow the Jewish Repair primer – if all you have is a butter knife, fix everything with a butter knife.

  6. Oh Marylin I am so sorry to hear that your mother fell. She is in my thoughts and prayers for a speedy recovery.
    I loved your post and the phrase “a lick and a fix” is one I well remember! Must be Mid-West phrase. The younger generations don’t realize how we use to fix everything! Nothing was thrown away without very good cause. Everything, at least almost everything, was repairable and could last forever. I hope your mother’s most recent repair is a permanent fix for a pain free future. Blessings, Robyn

    • Once when my mom said, “a lick and a promise,” I asked her what it meant. She grabbed a tissue, licked on the corner, and wiped at an imaginary spot on my face. Then she smiled and said, “I promise not to do that in public.”
      So it took me awhile to realize that “a lick and a promise” meant more of a sloppy, fast, or incomplete job. But I really liked Mom’s definition to me when I was young. Thanks for your blessings, Robyn.

  7. Some days I hear Roseanne Roseannadanna saying, “if it isn’t one thing…”

    Goodness–I hope her recovery goes well. Surgery does indeed take a lot out of a person, but being the one watching/praying is sometimes almost as exhausting as being the one mending. Does this mean you’ll be traveling more often between CO and KS?

    I love your mom’s wisdom, in knowing knew when to use which method of repair. Hang in there (I’ve got an image in my had–that early 1970’s poster of a kitten doing a chin-up…)

    • The kitten doing chin-ups is a perfect image for “Hang in there,” and things are moving along much better than I would have predicted a couple of days ago. Originally we thought she’d have to be moved to a nursing home with physical therapy, which would have taken her out of her familiar environment and really confused her. But today she was taken from the hospital back to her own apartment. She’ll have a hospital bed there; the physical therapist will come to her each day, and she’ll have three full-time caregivers doing 8-hour shifts staying with her. That was such a relief as I know she’s heal better in her own “home” with her own familiar nurses and caregivers.

  8. Marti Smith


    Oh, Marylin– thinking of you while your mom is recovering. It was a poignant post.   Marti

  9. Marilyn, I’m wishing your Mom a speedy recovery, and wishing you a little less stress in your life.

    Looking at those photos of your Mom as a toddler … Sometimes we forget our parents were ever that young. Lovely.

    • Thank you, Judy. Actually, my brother took the big hit of stress this time, but we realize that more and more we’ll be facing challenges.
      These are two of my favorite pictures of my mom as a child. Especially the one of her with her brother; her smile as the child is the same sweet smile she’s had all of her life.

  10. Chuck & Helen Armstrong

    What a loyal daughter! Your Saturday journaling, even in spite of the chaos of this past few days. Praying! Love, Helen

    • Sometimes, writing the post starts out slow and hard, but then it releases some of the pressures and I feel better afterward. This was one of those times. Molly and Grace drove the 8 hours today to visit Grandma (and Grace’s Great-grandma) for only about half an hour. Bless their hearts, Grace chose the flowers and helium balloon, and my mom responded to the colors. And bless your heart, Helen; you and your prayers have been there for me since the beginning.

  11. dianabletter

    Hey Marylin, Sorry to hear about your mother’s fall. I’ll keep her in my prayers. I love your 50th bday present. That says something special about you! A woman needs tools!!

    • When I first got the DeWalt, Diana, I was like the boy with the hammer looking for any available nail. It was so much fun. Now, all these years later, we’re still using it, and I share with Jim and the rest of the family.

  12. I am so glad your Mother has strong bones and that surgery was possible and successful. Falls are exhausting for everyone. I think you all have lots of tools in the kit to see you through this difficult time of repair and recuperation.

  13. I’m so glad they decided to operate and put your Mom back together Marylin. My very best wishes for a pain free future for her safe in he own home. xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Thank you, David. I was so grateful that their Kansas town of 10,000 now has a full time orthopedic surgeon at the hospital. He knew what to do immediately, and now we’re hopeful for a good outcome.

  14. Oh, I hope she’s not in too much pain. Your photos are treasures. A year after we moved to California from Ohio, we lost all of our possessions in a house fire, including family photos. I love looking at old photos like these.

    • Actually, Darla, she has less pain than I expected, and the nurses control it so she can rest, eat, and respond to beginning physical therapy.

      I know how awful it is to lose family photos. Ours wasn’t a fire but flood water in the basement where we lived years ago. Two boxes–one of writing copies and one of family photos–soaked up enough water to ruin the contents. Cousins had copies of a few of the photos, but the ones I miss most are those candid shots we took, and the natural pictures with the pets. I still miss those pictures.

  15. Oh Marylin I’m so sorry to hear of your Mom’s fall, I wish her a comfortable recovery. You and I seem to have so many parallels: my Dad broke his hip while in a dementia care home. He too was a great fixer and I was never happier as a child than to be out with him in his work shop with my own little set of tools, ‘helping’ him.

    • Aren’t those great memories?!! Following them around, “helping” fix and build things, probably slowing down the process with our enthusiasm.
      I’m sorry your dad went through this, too, Jenny. For elderly parents, especially with dementia or Alzheimer’s, falling is constant danger.

  16. Lovely post, Marylin. Bst wishes for a speedy recovery -and mot too much trauma and pain. I leant to use a power drill when I found myself on my own – with trepidation at first, then I was drilling away like Woody Woodpecker!

    • My family got some chuckles at my enthusiasm to go after loose screws everywhere when I first got my DeWalt. Even after all these years, it’s still my go-to tool! I love the Woody Woodpecker image.

  17. Marylin, so sorry to hear your mom fell, but happy to hear she’ll be okay.
    Love the phrase, “lick and a promise”, and the black and white photos.
    And you are not the only one who received a dewalt tool, my sister-in-law has every tool you could imagine. 🙂

  18. Jim

    Around our house I can confirm that our favorite blogger Marylin is the person who practices the magical art of fixing the unfixable. Just recently, for example, I couldn’t get one of our old-style wooden frame windows to close. I huffed and puffed and couldn’t get it to budge. It was hopelessly stuck. I was thinking about a crowbar because the open window was a security risk and needed to be dealt with! I summoned Marylin to show her we had a security problem. She took hold of the window gently with both hands and poof! The window moved into place with no pain and no strain. This blog entry solves a long-time mystery for me. Now I know from whence comes my Marylin’s ‘fix-it’ magic–from her mom Mary, of course!

    • Aw, you are so sweet, Jim, and too modest.
      Now, to give the other side of the picture; you’re the one who lets me fix most things, but if it weren’t for you, I’d still be typing on an electric typewriter and this blog wouldn’t exist. You’re my computer guru, the only one who can backtrack and save a manuscript or locate a lost file. How many laptops and computers have you taught me to use now? You’re also the one who teaches me off-roading and 4-wheeling in the mountains, and when I get stuck between a boulder and a ditch, you calmly talk me through it. You’re my go-to guy to help me figure things out…and my hero.

  19. Marylin, I’m so sorry to hear about your mom’s fall. I’m wishing her a speedy recovery. My mother, who’s in the early stages of dementia, was quite the fixer-upper herself. She was a whiz fixing toilets. Praying for your mother…

    • Thank you, Jill. It will be a long healing process, but she’s doing pretty well so far.
      I should have your mother with me when I visit my mother in her assisted living apartment. The toilet in her bathroom causes all kinds of problems, and I hate to call maintenance all the time. I’d love to learn some “fix it” tricks from your mother while she’s still in the early stages of dementia. You might be surprised at the skills she still has and can do without thinking about them.

  20. Nancy Parker Brummett

    Oh, Marylin, I’m so sorry about her fall and surgery. Praying she rests and heals comfortably. I sure smiled about the “lick and a promise” though as my mom said that all the time. Usually I say it when it involves ironing a blouse to wear or a tablecloth–I just give it a lick and a promise! Jim still scratches his head when I say that but we know what it means! Very useful, too, I might add.

    • I didn’t understand the term when I was young, Nancy. When I asked Mom, she spit on the corner of a tissue and rubbed at an imaginary spot on my face, and promised she wouldn’t do that in public. She laughed, but right away she told me about hurried, “done well enough” jobs, and boy, did I understand that! And I understand it even better now. ;=)

  21. Diana Stevan

    Love the photos of your mom when she was little. You write about your mother’s struggles so well. Again, I am moved by how much you care.

  22. Very sorry to hear about your mothers fall. I pray for her speedy recovery. Take care and God bless.

  23. Oh, hope your mother follows your strong faith and belief that she will be “fixed” and that her inner strength will carry her through the therapies and healing process. Your posts with the photos always touch my heart. I love the ones with your mother as a toddler with her brother and her doll, too. Nice job, Marylin!

  24. Karen Keim

    Cousin Marylin, I really like your choosing the topic of fixing things as a way to deal with your mother’s mishap. It is upbeat to repair things, and I know that many in our mothers’ family excel at that. I see it in my brothers–especially the hog farmer, and I married someone who is all-around handy when I cannot fix things myself.
    Last week I learned that I have cataracts. My initial disbelief has turned into excitement. After surgery at the university hospital in October, I know that my eyes will be much more useful for oil painting, reading, sewing, and sorting papers. I will have sun protection built into the new lenses, and I probably won’t have to wear glasses all the time. I’m also anticipating that this fix could give me a greater sense of well being.
    Thank you, Marylin, for your enlightening reflections.

    • You’re very welcome, Karen, but as you say, our entire extended family has always been into “fixing” things! Keep me posted about your cataract surgery. I do think you’re going to be very pleased with the results, and with all your painting interests, this could open many new inspirations and opportunities.

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