Uncle Dennis

Tomorrow I'll head to Boise for the graveside service for my Uncle Dennis. So many memories involve Uncle Dennis. My first experience with death was when I was five years old and I attended the funeral of his baby daughter. He'd already buried a baby boy six years earlier. Uncle Dennis spoke at my brother, Bruce's funeral many years later.

Uncle Dennis was a builder. When I was young, he helped my dad with improvements on our house. I remember him and my dad and a couple of other uncles coming in for lunch during that summer. They'd eat whatever mom had made and then they'd sit down and watch All In The Family and part of Sesame Street before heading out to work again.

Uncle Dennis taught math for many years. He was my algebra teacher and helped me get through that class. One day he was helping me after school. I was really struggling and I could tell Uncle Dennis was getting a little frustrated. Trying not to cry, I said, "I just can't get it. I'm so stupid." Immediately Uncle Dennis's tone became kind and he said, "You are not stupid. You might never be great at math, but you are a smart girl and someday you'll find something you're great at."

Uncle Dennis was a pretty serious man and didn't always give us kids a lot of attention. When he was involved with something, he was very focused and didn't like distractions. Those traits sometimes made us a little intimidated. I can distinctly remember a day when I was a teenager and I was sitting with some of the grownups visiting. I cracked a joke--I can't remember what it was--but Uncle Dennis laughed. Not just a little chuckle and smile, but a real, honest-to-goodness laugh. I was so proud of myself.

Uncle Dennis changed careers after teaching school for many years and became a very successful builder and craftsman. He could take pieces of wood and make them beautiful. He built the kitchen cabinets and a beautiful built-in wall unit in our house. He built the coffin that he'll be buried in.

Not too many years before Parkinson's began to ravage his body and mind, I was lucky enough to be able to visit him in Missouri. The years had smoothed the corners of his intensity and he was relaxed and happy. We sat in the living room of the lovely home he'd built and we talked and laughed for hours. We recalled the uncles and my dad trying to dive to the bottom of the hotpots, scaring me to death when it seemed to take too long to surface. We talked about his teaching years in Heber. We laughed about how scared some of us kids had been of him. I confessed to sneaking into his dried marshmallow drawer with his daughter and eating as many as we dared.

He'd become softer and kinder. He told me he loved me and that he was sure my parents were proud of me because he was, too.

Men like Uncle Dennis live their lives without a lot of fanfare and attention. They aren't talked about on television or written about in the news, which is sad. He lived a good life, helping strangers, serving family and friends and following the Savior. I'm going to miss him and I'm proud he was my uncle.


Lisa said...

that math story was so sweet. you can cherish that comment forever. if we realized the impact that a simple kind comment would make on OUR nieces and nephews, we would probably make far more than we do. i will always be grateful that i was there for that pleasant visit, too. i wish there had been more of those.

Leslie said...

thank you for this. i have a lot of memories that are around uncle dennis, but not many memories of one on one time with him. i do know that i love him and i am grateful for the example that he has always been to his younger siblings and to us kids.

he is a good man. we love him.

missy said...

What a beautiful tribute to an obviously great man! The world needs more people like your Uncle Dennis.

Anonymous said...

A really really good man has left this earth and returned home. We miss him and we love him, but oh what a joyous reunion he is having with those who went before him. Lovely tribute. LMH

Tina B said...

Sorry for your loss, Karey. Great stories. It reminded me of my grandfather. :)
Thank you for sharing them.

Lolawid said...

It's always hard on those of us left behind. I miss my grandma every day!! Big hugs to you. Great tribute!