Beverly DeJulio may be "Ms. Fix-It" now, but 15 years ago she was a mechanical weakling with four small children, no husband and a broken sump pump. Groundwater was spreading across her basement floor.
"It was my first day as a single parent, after a divorce, and I didn't have the money to call in a repairman," DeJulio recalled. "A neighbor said it would be `real easy' to replace the leaking pipe myself."Until then the Chicago woman was wary of all tools. She had been trained as a dress designer but rarely used any device more complicated than scissors.
"I bought the part, followed the directions and installed it," DeJulio said. "Then I proudly told my 4-year-old son, Anthony, `Now Mommy is going to turn on the pump and the water will disappear!'
"What happened is that water sprayed all over both of us."
Nearly in tears, DeJulio hurried to the home of her neighbor.
"You didn't use pipe sealant?" he asked.
No. There was no mention of this mysterious substance in the directions.
DeJulio bought some sealant, applied it to the new connecting points and again turned on the sump pump.
"This time I noticed that Anthony was standing about 10 feet away," DeJulio said. "But the pump worked!
After that, according to DeJulio, it was one project after another as she gradually overcame her timidity. Home repair was no longer a wrenching experience.
DeJulio appears as Ms. Fix-It at tinker shows around the country.
"I hope we can remove the fear of making home repairs or taking on improvement projects," DeJulio said. "When a couple moves into their first home, they are convinced they can't do anything to it without calling in the professionals.
"Sometimes that's true, of course, but ordinary people can accomplish much more than they think. This is a common sense field. We make it more complicated than it is."
DeJulio widened her range of skills by poring over the "Reader's Digest Complete Do It Yourself Book" and going to stores when manufacturers sent in experts in such skills as wallpapering, plumbing and furniture refinishing. Several years later she suggested to a community college that it ought to offer women a basic course in home repairs.
The school not only agreed with DeJulio but hired her to be the instructor. That led to guest appearances on radio and eventually to her own weekly show as Ms. Fix-It. DeJulio is a regular on WBBM-AM in Chicago and on WTHR-TV in Indian-apolis and appears occasionally on ABC-TV's "Home Show."
All of DeJulio's children, two boys and two girls, are handy around the house. She has remarried and her husband also is able to fix things.
Learning how mechanical things work can be beneficial even if you don't intend to do it yourself, DeJulio pointed out.
"If you see the innards of a faucet or a toilet . . . it removes the mystery," she said. "Then when a repairman describes what must be done, you won't have the glazed look that tempts some professionals to take advantage of a customer."
Many repairs, however, can be done by the non-professional. A basic tool kit can be assembled for about $40, according to DeJulio, and she suggested the items to be included:
Cutting tool (a thing that looks like a pocket knife), adjustable wrench, locking pliers, regular pliers, scissors, three Phillips screwdrivers, three slotted screwdrivers.
Also, hammer, straight edge, tape measure, level, putty knife, scraper and crosscut saw.
"If the person wants to gradually add a few power tools to save time and labor," DeJulio said, "I'd suggest a saw, a drill and a screwdriver."