I lost a good neighbor last week.
So did you, although you may not have known him.
Dennis and his wife Connie moved in next door to us when our daughters were still very young. They were so nice, so friendly, so very Midwestern that they broke down our own flinty New England reserve in the space of an afternoon.
They became surrogate grandparents to our kids, while still helping and supporting their own brood, who visited them every summer. Who knew Attleboro would become a vacation destination?
Dennis was the kind of neighbor we all wish we had and few of us get. If you’ve ever seen Norm Abram on “This Old House” or “New Yankee Workshop,” where he builds bookcases, tables, miniature Christmas villages and then offers to send you the plans, you think to yourself, “Sure, I could do that if I had a few thousand dollars of power equipment in my garage.”
Dennis was the guy who did. One day I noticed the steps to my deck were a little loose, so I figured I’d grab a hammer and tighten ‘em up. Twenty minutes later, I had no usable steps to my deck and the prospect of hosting a graduation party the next day. I went to Dennis, who, in the course of an evening not only built me steps, but a set that will probably outlast the deck, if not the house.
Dennis was a retired Marine (he was at pains to remind me that there is no such thing as an ex-Marine) who, after serving on land and sea around the globe, came home, earned a college degree and became an engineer, first for Dow and later for the Foxboro Co.
On the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, he and Connie would host big international gatherings, inviting anyone who happened to be around from Foxboro’s clients. They left well fed and thinking, “So that’s what Americans are like. Pretty nice, really.”
He wasn’t just my neighbor. Dennis volunteered at The Literacy Center in Attleboro, helping immigrants to prepare for citizenship. A few years ago, The Sun Chronicle named him as one of our True Santas.
When he retired, Dennis looked forward to working around the house he so lovingly maintained and improved whenever and where ever he could. He redid the kitchen for Connie. I told him he was making the rest of the husbands in the neighborhood look bad.
But when he became ill, it was hard to watch someone so vigorous and active grow frail, but he met his sickness with the same courage and good humor he always had.
Even now, I find myself looking at a home project or my computer and thinking, “Gee, this is something I should ask Dennis about.”
I will miss him, and you should too. There weren’t many like him around.
RIP, Dennis, and Semper Fi.