Growing Up In Waterford, PA


For men, puttering is a labor of love
by the late Herb Walden

Fort LeBoeuf Class of 1956

Since I retired a few years ago, many people have asked how I spend my time. Do I travel? Do I garden? Do I have hobbies?

"No," I tell them. "I putter."

Most men understand and continue the conversation. Women, on the other hand, shake their heads sadly and walk away.

You see, puttering is a guy thing. It's what we do. It's why we like hardware stores, old trucks, little kids' toys and any kind of gadget.

Women don't understand this. I have never know of a woman to putter. Puttering requires that, even though a guy is busy, he accomplishes nothing. A woman may think she is puttering, but she is not because when she is finished, something will have been achieved.

It's not her fault. She can't help it. I am convinced that puttering is a sex-linked trait. With all the genetic research going on, it is just a matter of time before scientists discover the putter gene as part of the Y chromosome.

Some men are better at puttering than others. I think it has to do with the intensity of the putter gene. My father, for example, was a late bloomer and didn't really get into puttering until he retired. Even then, he just wasn't good at it.

Evidently, I inherited a very strong gene from the men on my mother's side of the family. I started puttering at age 6 or 7 and have been at it ever since. I have puttering nearly perfected and now qualify as Master putterer. The biggest reason I chose to make a career of teaching high school science is because of the puttering instinct. You know - all that lab equipment! A science lab is a putterer's paradise!

Puttering can take on many forms - from rearranging the lures in a tackle box to something more high tech, like cyber-puttering, which involved a computer. (You will note that the word "computer" almost has "putter" built into it. Coincidence? I think not!)

As I mentioned, the important thing in puttering is that nothing significant is accomplished. Oh, the putterer may be satisfied, but overall, nothing will be changed.

Therefore, puttering and tinkering should not be confused. Tinkering results in something actually being achieved. It may be negative or positive, but an achievement nevertheless. Usually one putters bare-handed. At the very least, a screwdriver is required for tinkering. Tinkering is basically fixing something that isn't broken.

Tinkering and tampering are not synonyms. But they should be.

While puttering is an instinctive trait, tinkering is an acquired skill. You have to learn to tinker. However, you must putter first. I have never known a tinkerer who was not first and foremost a putterer. But great putterers do not great tinkerers make. I offer myself as an example.

While I can putter with the best of them. I cannot tinker worth a tinker's damn (pun intended).

For instance, I putter with the furnace occasionally, wiping dust from here and there, maybe oiling something, and so on. Once, and only once, I tried tinkering with the air control on the burner. For a few seconds, I created my own version of an Atlas booster rocket. The only accomplishment was that I emptied the house of all personnel in record time. No lasting damage was done. I did, however, require a change of underwear.

Puttering is harmless. Tinkering can be dangerous!

There have been many great putterers and tinkerers in history. Thoms Edison and Alexander Graham Bell immediately come to mind.

"But they actually did something," you say.

True. They produced some of the greatest inventions in the world. But just think of the puttering and tinkering that must have preceded those inventions. It brings a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye just thinking about it.

If a woman had typed this essay, she would have completed the job in something less than 15 minutes.

It has taken me 45 minutes. See there are all these little buttons and levers on my typewriter. I putter with them even though I've puttered with them countless times before.

A guy just can't ignore stuff like that!

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