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Silver Threads: A “Guy” Thing

You’d think I’d know everything there is to know about men, at 77 years of age and having been married to one for 54 years.

But they continue to surprise, even when you think there are no surprises still waiting.

When my spouse acquired a new toilet for the guest bathroom and a new water heater for the attic, my mistake was in assuming that a plumber would soon be ringing our doorbell. Since my husband is 82, I thought he regarded as history his days of multiple visits to the hardware stores, muscling heavy appliances into place, scrambling around under them to make connections, searching for relevant tools in the garage and cleaning up leaks and the debris of installation. He comes from a long line of “practical engineers,” and over the years has been very good at it.

When the new toilet and water heater were sitting in our garage, they were observed by a bevy of helpful and able grandsons, a son-in-law who’s in the plumbing supply business and even an ex-son-in-law who’s a marine engineer. This talented group was ready to go — but no, my husband would not relinquish his own opportunity. His only concession to their offers was to allow them to do the heavy work, to put the new water heater in the attic and the toilet in the designated bathroom.

As I pondered the reason behind this missed opportunity to take advantage of expert, willing and free assistance, the answer finally came. Who among us has not seen footage of aging bull elephants, wolves and lions in danger of being “retired” by younger herd and pack members and struggling to preserve their supremacy? It’s a “guy” thing.

Imagine me, after a family dinner, refusing to allow my daughter — should she ever attempt it, and so far she has not — to load our dishwasher. Should she offer to wash the dog, I’d be ecstatic. Okay, okay, I know it isn’t the same thing. My home front expertise isn’t on the same level as my husband’s. I was never the kind of homemaker who sewed drapes for the living room or any other room in the house, painted a mural opposite the dining table or rated a plaque as neighborhood gardener of the month, in which case I can imagine being reluctant to call a landscaper.

Still, I’ve had my chores, and I have some pride. If our daughter were to tell me she was willing to write this column for me every week and after a while even put her own name on it, things would be different. Being an accomplished “household engineer,” like a website columnist, is a gift awarded to few. (Although maybe nowadays the latter “gift” isn’t so exclusive after all.)

Anyhow, now that I’ve figured out why we won’t be calling a plumber, it’s easy just to schedule a haircut, pedicure, book club, trip to the chiropractor, etc. for the days during which household engineering is underway. Otherwise, I might be called on to tote and fetch, and I’ve had way too much experience at that.

And I’ve realized that just when you think you don’t know everything about men, you really do.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at


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