By Rosalie Tirella
A few weeks ago: Rosalie, in her terrific Spencer apartment. pics: R.T.
This morning while driving in Downtown Spencer, I noticed the humble GADGET REPAIR shop diagonally across from our building.
“GADGET REPAIR” read the main sign of this business located on the corner of Main and Wall streets. I smiled. There were about 15 signs and flags stuck all over this tired building, as downtown Spencer business owners believe more is more and love to plaster their shop windows with signs – and I thought to myself: What’s a gadget? Does anyone even use the word “gadget” anymore? How would the word fit into a conversation taking place in 2023?
Jett is neutral about the Gadget Repair store in Downtown Spencer.
Maybe I could define the word – even correctly identify a gadget – in 1970. Today I think I’d be hard-pressed to do so, let alone find a gadget in my apartment, despite my poverty-induced, low-tech lifestyle.
Gadget. The word conjures up images of Al Jolson records spinning on the Victrola, kettles on the stove … granddad taking out his accordion after supper and playing a few tunes on the front porch for the family, cousins visiting from Kentucky.
But what exactly is a gadget? Are we talking old transistor radios? Ham radios? 1950 hair dryers? Hand-operated meat grinders, like my Bapy used to grind meat for her pierogi? Or is a gadget a blender you crank by hand, like the one I had hanging on my wall in my Blackstone River Road apartment – another one of Bapy’s kitchen “gadgets.”
I’m guessing – I’m not running to the Google dictionary to find out – the definition of gadget encompasses more than the culinary arts. Maybe old hand tools could count as gadgets. The old beau has a level, wrenches and more tools from Sears circa 196O. The level was a gift from his grandfather, but the wrenches and other hand tools he bought at a Sears on the North Shore (he grew up in Lynn). He once proudly told me that Sears was the best place to buy hand tools if you were a carpenter or handyman because any Sears Craftsman hand tool you bought at Sears was guaranteed. For life. So if a wrench got funky on you after lots of use you could walk into any Sears in any town in America and exchange it for a brand new one. For free. The old beau loved this concept. First, it meant Sears hand tools were top-notch. They were not garbage – made to crumple after a few turns and whacks. They were built in America and meant to last – or else Sears wouldn’t offer to replace them for free. Second, Sears was showing respect for the average American – their core customer – who didn’t have tons of dough. Maybe first generation Americans. The working man in Ohio, the average guy or gal in Indiana who had his or her own shop or small business. Or the dad in Jersey tinkering around the family’s cute cape in the suburbs during the weekends, maybe building his daughter a backyard tree house.
Would the gadget shop owner know a “gadget,” if he or she saw one?
When I think “gadget” I think the actor James Stewart in some terrific 1940s movie like IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Gadget is the perfect Jimmy Stewart word – his aw-shucks accent makes the word Midwestern, comical, corny even, but it also gives it dignity. Something that needs tinkering needs a person with a brain, a person who “tinkers” – another word you don’t hear too often these days. I can just picture George Bailey, Stewart’s character, in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE saying, “Clarence, you get me back to my family – now! … Hey! What’s that gadget?!” And Clarence, George’s guardian angel, sent down from heaven to earth to save George’s perspective, would give George his 1789 pocket watch.
You wind gadgets, but you wind wrist watches – and they’re jewelry, not gadgets. Gadgets have springs, and I lost the “spring” in my step at 40! I’m as antique as a gadget! I shuffle along Main Street, in the center of Spencer, when I walk my two dogs. Jett, my husky mix, limps some because he’s 17 – geriatric for a medium-sized dog. A few friends have suggested that I buy him a doggy cart – a handmade wooden cart with harness and wheels you attach to a dog’s hind quarters to help him stay mobile when he gets really decrepit. I say: NO to this ridiculous GADGET!
Or is the doggy cart too BIG to qualify as a gadget?
I think most gadgets are hand-held. Like an electric pencil sharpener? I’m not sure.
I could simply call this Spencer small business and ask the owner: “When you write “gadget” on your sign, what do you mean exactly? What kind of gadgets have you repaired lately?” But that would be too … labor intensive. And looking closely at my photo of the gadget repair shop, I see colored illustrations on it … illustrations of lap tops and cell phones right there on the sign. Is this what the owner calls gadgets?! I never considered a lap top computer to be a gadget … certainly not today’s smart phones … maybe the early mobile phones that resembled walkie talkies.
Is a walkie talkie a gadget??????