Requiem for a Handyman

When you buy a house built in 1952, it’s not just a house, it’s a hobby. And if you’re smart and lucky, you soon discover that life is so much easier if you have a good handyman on speed dial. I was very lucky: I found Ron.

I discovered Ron thanks to his wife. I first met Leslie when we worked together on a consulting project. She intimidated me on sight. Tall and slender, with Lauren Bacall looks and a matching smoky voice, she was dressed in the most professional of grey suits. As a short, chubby Italian girl I was prepared to hate her on sight.

My perceptions changed almost immediately. She was fun, self-effacing and a joy to work with. Work is so much better when there’s someone to laugh with – someone who gets it. But I didn’t really understand Leslie until I met her husband Ron. It was then I discovered the street-smart woman who was savvy enough to choose someone like Ron as a life-partner.

Ron was a scrappy little Irishman who lived in comfy clothes and a cap. Not a big man, but I would want him on my side in a fight.  From the first Ron was the ideal handyman. Totally reliable, he was there when he said he would be, he fixed what needed fixing, and his prices were always fair.

But to just say that about Ron is to seriously short-change the man. He was fearless. He worked as a stuntman and a “roughneck,” one of those men who make their living dozens of stories in the air, working without a harness or safety rope. Speaking as someone with a fear of heights who has trouble dealing with some stairs, Ron was my no-fear hero.

And maybe it was because of all the years of marriage to my smart, strong friend Leslie, but Ron respected women. I never felt the “little lady” attitude I experience so many times from men working on my home. He listened, asked the right questions, and then got to work. I could count on Ron.

My dog,  Gracie, simply loved him. I was just so much chopped liver when Ron was in the house. Whatever he was working on, he always took time to have a chat with her and give her the petting she asked for.

And whatever I asked him to do, he did, extremely well. My husband at the time thought of himself as pretty handy, but getting him to actually do the things that needed to get done was another story. Ron was my secret weapon. I’d simply give my ex a deadline, and let him know that I’d call Ron if he didn’t get it done. Most of the time I called Ron.

Over time, the projects got bigger. He built my walk-in pantry, converting a useless half-bath into my favorite room in the house. He built a stairway to our flat roof so that we had an instant rooftop deck for parties and watching the sunset. Whatever I needed, whatever I asked, Ron would come with his tape measure and notepad, take a trip to Home Depot and get it done.

My mother, who is shy and not particularly social, adored Ron. He became her handyman too, and I was comfortable knowing she was comfortable asking him to tackle anything.Which he did.

And when I was in the middle of a difficult divorce, he was there when I needed him. Oh, he never pushed me to talk about my difficulties. He just did what he could to help fix them. I called Ron when I needed all the locks in my house changed immediately – not an unusual thing when going through a rough divorce – and he came and took care of it that afternoon. And all the while there was a gentle, quiet sympathy that was comforting without being patronizing. Ron wasn’t fancy. He was never fancy. But he was a gentleman through and through, and his gallant nature and intrinsic kindness made him every woman’s dream of a handyman.

Now I don’t want you to think that I underestimated him. I know he was a good husband to Leslie and a loving dad and granddad. And their home was so much nicer because of his design and planning skills as he turned it into everything Leslie wanted. He was not a perfect man – who is? But he combined a tough exterior with a gentle and even courtly interior that made me feel safe around him. He was a good man.

I will be moving again in the next year. I’m looking at homes that are some 30-40 years old. Homes that need work. And throughout my planning, I always knew I had Ron to help out. From picking up and assembling cabinets from Ikea to tile work and replacing light fixtures, Ron was part of my plans for making that new home my own. But that’s not going to happen now. My always-reliable handyman is gone.

I’ll be going to their house this afternoon for his memorial service. Casual, as the man was. Leslie is my good friend, and I want to be there for whatever I can do. She’s lost so much so quickly.  And there will be tears, as we are all heartbroken to lose Ron. And it will be a particularly hard afternoon. Because the man who could fix anything couldn’t fix this. I’ll miss him.




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