Bob the Tool Man
The old saying goes you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. Well, you might also say you can choose your spouse, but you can’t choose your spouse’s family.
Many, many years ago I had a girl friend whose dad ran a pizza place. He had satellite TV long before many folks had it, with one of those huge dishes in his back yard. And, to top it off, he had a basketball court and loved to play hoops.
On Sunday afternoons in the fall I’d go over to his house, watch the Eagles even though they weren’t on regular TV in the Roanoke Valley, and after the game we’d go out back and play some one-on-one. Then, we’d have pizza.
It was great except for two things. Number one, he thought he should be beating me in basketball and he never could, and number two I knew the relationship with his daughter was going nowhere.
Then I started dating my soul mate, and that was 30 years ago in January. However, when eternal bliss came through the door the Sunday afternoons of Eagles football, hoops and pizza went out the window.
My father-in-law Bob Dooley, a Troutville native who passed away last week, thought basketball was stupid. He considered Salem Stadium to be a waste of taxpayers’ money. Why do we need a big football stadium when we can use the money to keep the river from flooding when it rains? Of course he had a garage by the river that flooded on occasion, and I’m sure that had something to do with his thinking.
He thought most sports were a waste of time, but he’d sit for three and a half hours on a Sunday afternoon and watch cars drive around in an oval.
He really wasn’t much like me at all. He could fix anything, and I can fix nothing. He was very mechanically minded, and I think he could have been an excellent engineer if he hadn’t thought college was a waste of time.
“They try to push all these kids to go to college when most of them don’t belong there,” he would say. “We need plumbers and carpenters and mechanics instead of all these kids coming out of college with no idea about what they want to do.”
He used to get irritated that I couldn’t fix my own car. On more than one occasion he would tell me, “you know you can save a lot of money if you learn how to fix your car yourself.”
I might as well try and build my own computer as fix my car. I have no aptitude for that and no desire to learn. One day I finally told him, in no uncertain terms, “Bob, I do the things I can do so I can pay to have the things done that I can’t do.”
And, he seemed to understand that and never brought it up again.
Bob was old school. He was in the Navy, loved it, and thought everyone should be in the service before they went out in the real world.
He met his wife, the late Rose Dooley, when his ship made a stop in Puerto Rico and he brought her back here to live. The combination of an Irishman from Troutville and a Puerto Rican woman who was once crowned “Miss Palmolive” gave me my precious and loving wife.
Many of you would remember Bob for his job as the “Mac Tools Man,” and if you ever passed through Middleton Gardens you were bound to see that big yellow truck parked in front of his house. Every Christmas he would give me something off that truck for a Christmas present, be it a pair of shoes that were a size and a half too big or some tool that never left the box.
His Christmas presents were classics, especially after my mother-in-law passed in the year 2000 and it was up to him to make the choice. One year at Thanksgiving he had a jar of pickles that he canned himself. They weren’t to my liking at all, reminiscent of the ones Aunt Bea made in one of my favorite Andy Griffith episodes. However, I forced one down and told him they were good, so as not to hurt his feelings.
Well, you can guess what my Christmas present was that year. A big jar of those “kerosene cucumbers” with a red bow around the top.
While that might seem cheap on the surface, consider that he often fixed our cars at no cost or just the cost for the parts. If we’d go out to dinner he’d always pick up the tab.
He was a died-in-the-wool Republican. He had strong opinions on how things should be and wasn’t afraid to espouse them. Those opinions weren’t always the same as mine, but I learned early in our relationship to just keep my mouth shut and quickly change the subject to NASCAR racing.
He was always good to me. I think he knew I was a hard worker and took good care of his little girl, and that was all he really asked. It’s going to be strange not to have him around, but the heart disease was eating him up and he’s in a better place.
Like I said, you don’t get to choose your spouse’s family. But looking back, if I had to do all over again, I couldn’t have made a better choice.