Perfect! Get the putty, Honey.

That is a family joke.  It’s what I say when I do a thing and I feel like I Done Did a Thing.  It was a challenging and perhaps annoying.  And it’s finally done.  Probably not perfectly.

My grandfather renovated their house without any prior experience and as a result there were a lot of obviously not quite right spots. He was known for putting way too many holes into things from not measuring well enough. Thus he would stand back, eye the probably crooked result and say to my Grandma. “Perfect! Get the putty honey.”

When you think about it. “Perfect! Get the putty, Honey.” is a sort of life philosophy.  A.  Just try to do the thing, even if you haven’t done it before.  B.  Don’t chase perfection. Putty and Paint and Pride are excellent substitutes.  C.  Keep trying when it goes wrong.  Just remeasure and drill on.  D.  Find someone to help you who shares your sense of humor.

That house did not have a straight wall or a plumb door anywhere in it.  It was a series of haphazard rooms strung together oddly, with alarmingly low ceilings.  But it was all – every uneven wall, crooked door and head scraping ceiling built with love and the effort of a man who only knew he wanted to build what his wife wanted.    And Grandma, who also had a love of just making a thing look like she imagined it might with bargain paint, was perfectly happy to abet his painfully amateur efforts.

He was not discouraged by his various missteps.  His natural humor was ever present when a shelf was not straight or the wall had a distinct wave in it.  And because Grandma and indeed all of his acquaintance, fell in love with him for his humor, no one had anything but positive to say of his efforts and his funny descriptions thereof.

If either of my grandparents had held up some ideal of perfection as their goal they wouldn’t have had a home.  And probably not a marriage after he began his renovations and add-ons. But both of them took the effort for the deed and loved the result.  After all, a bit of putty and paint will hide a whole lot of craftlessness.

I think it speaks volumes that I know this story from my mother, who used the phrase regularly.  She was his daughter in law.  In fact his STEP daughter in law.  But no one ever thought of him as anything but the dearest of relatives.  He came to visit me in Puerto Rico when I was just a couple of months old, when my grandma was still working and couldn’t come.  He came down “to do the duty”.  But of course he was so welcome and my mom always loved him for it.

He died when I was too young to remember him.  I have regretted that so often.  I have so many stories in my memory.  But I never met him as a remembering person.

I think stories are so important.  The sort of story that surrounds a saying that has infiltrated so deeply into my life that I say it and people stare at me strangely.  He lives in me, without his genes, without having an actual memory of his presence in my life.  He lives. In these kinds of stories.

Stories matter.  Tell them.  Talk about the people who came before.