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.