Take some time for a ‘swell’ project

Published 4:12 pm Friday, January 21, 2022

A few years ago, tired of hot sweaty, endless yard work, countless outside projects, for the first time embraced winter – and wow – flew by!  Plus, allowed me to get much needed rest and focus on inside stuff.

One bitterly cold, sunny afternoon recently, leaned back in my office desk chair, swell view out windows, country music playing on my Sony stereo through beautiful, real wood, Pioneer speakers ordered and sent home from Vietnam (July 1969-July 1970) along with an AR turntable, Sansui receiver, Akai reel-to-reel tape player and other stuff (still have and use) – sipping Heaven’s Door 123.9 proof bourbon, and thought, “Steve…why all these bloody hell projects?!”

It began with me being the youngest of four siblings, only boy, RN hero mother “Gert” worked at regional hospital, private duty, away a lot, dad not well, died summer I graduated from high school, and three older sisters (except Mary Ann) ignored me after first week of my birth when the novelty wore off. Then, almost flunked out of college, as a Cradle Catholic, Catholic school kindergarten – high school, taught by nuns, priests, Mass every day, finally leaned faith with my face planted firmly in the dirt, and grew up a wee bit…Vietnam straight after college – grew me up a bunch…college fraternity boy to combat veteran within a year!

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Result – learned to take care of and entertain myself, became very self-sufficient, hugely introverted, and with inherited mechanical genes (not enough) from my German granddaddy, daddy, learned to figure things out for myself, leading me to be a swell problem solver, jack-leg mechanic, with dad’s death gained a “radar” for discerning if new people could hurt me – and being broken myself, shaped the rest of my life to helping hurting people and to fix broken things. 

Early on, realized I had a knack for fixing stuff (bicycle, lawn mower, my, Gert’s broken stuff) and when finally the beautiful 1957 Chevy Bel Air was passed down to me that daddy bought (trade in at granddaddy’s Ford Dealership) first wrench – replaced the rubbish rear drum brakes, kept up with all maintenance…it felt great, and I was hooked.  

Drove the ’57 junior/senior year high school, then freshman/sophomore year in college, trading for a swell 1964 Chevy Super Sport that I sold right after college with orders for Vietnam, certain I wouldn’t make it back home.  For that full year, had my own “Truck Utility, ¼ Ton, 4×4, M151” “Freedom Jeep” (loved it) that I drove all over Vietnam and maintained with no motor pool support (being attached to Long Binh near Saigon from Cam Ranh Bay) by trading beer and tough to acquire, whiskey for tools, parts etc.  Example, case of beer, two fifths of whiskey to get my Jeep painted…what a flippin’ year!

By God’s mercy, made it home, bought a 1967 Firebird Pontiac Firebird, automatic, never liked, drove last year in Army, and working on first masters degree at SEMO, traded for first new car, 1971 MGB-GT off showroom floor, Continental Cars, St. Louis, MO – still have it – the best all-original one-owner MG in the world, beside the second new car ever owned – 2012 KIA Soul+…and, uh, want one more car – classic Mini, roll back top, five speed, right hand drive….

Many cars since, worked on all, including Porsche Boxster S, 330i 6 speed BMW, and current stable of MG, KIA, 1996 Volvo 850 wagon with rare 5-speed manual transmission (hours working on), and 1964 Land Rover Series IIA 88 – bought in August 2014 from that snake oil dealer in Birmingham, AL as a “rolling restoration” (not) clutch out driving off the trailer, and a billion hours since wrenching, parts from literally all over the world, and is “this” close to driving on Oxford streets – pain in the neck, but so satisfying, challenging, to keep this Landy alive, dust off my tools and brain!

Every time I fix an issue on the IIA, something else breaks!  Got it started again finally this spring and generator was not charging.  Per mentor Bub Brannan, took it off and to Rebel Rebuilders across from Chandler’s this past Wednesday – to Danny, son Chris Alexander around 10am – call at Noon, it was ready, wow – Well Done guys! Step by step….

Bottom line – can’t stand anything or person to be broken, think it’s a sin not to use all the talents/skills God has given me – thus, have GOT to play my guitars, ukulele, piano, and use my best natural talent and gift – art! Seems all this is in my genetics, drives me…also drives me nuts at times, but love the challenge of fixing stuff, and hugely miss working with our awesome Ole Miss students and occasionally lifting a weight off broken shoulders – like me….

Be well, be safe, as this virus is increasingly affecting those close to me – Peace Out y’all, and work on a swell project! 


Steve Stricker is an Oxford resident and received his Ph.D. in Counseling from Ole Miss.  He can be reached at sstricke@olemiss.edu