The disaster that has been “winter” showed itself when, after this last round of snow/ice melt/ice/ice melt, a portion of our sidewalk began crumbling. It’s allowed. After all, the sidewalk was probably built, like the house, in 1937. But this year, fixing that boo-boo is going to be a headache. Dennis is not here to do it.
As I reflect on my nearly one year of columns in the Democrat, I see too many tributes to special people who have left this earth and therefore my life. But I unfortunately must write one more honoring a friend whose joie de vivre was contagious, whose dedication to his work product was formidable, and whose love of family was obvious — Dennis Alkire.
I had been mowing the weeds that purported to be a yard for two summers, pushing the little Lawn Boy for five hours at a stretch, while Max, with Emily’s “help,” replaced overgrown bushes with new perennials and re-planted the flower beds. We heard about a magician who could make grass grow instead of weeds, so we called Dennis. He showed up raring to go, excited about taking the long-neglected yard to new heights. The peonies were just beginning to bloom, so it was spring.
Dennis sprayed something for weed control, and then fertilized and seeded. He left before noon, but by late afternoon, something was wrong. The peonies were folding over and wilting; I assumed that the spray had affected them. I called Dennis and left a message, then I ran an errand. When I returned, Jesse, who had been working with Dennis that morning, was spraying water on the peonies. He continued for at least an hour. In the meantime, Dennis called and said that if any peonies died, he would replace them.
They all made it.
From then on, we called Dennis for all major projects. A true artist, he could always figure out how to make things happen. For instance, one spring he moved the mock orange hedge. It originally lined the property on 11th Street, but about halfway up 11th, it curved back toward the house. Max thought the hedge should be straight, and happened to mention that to Dennis. Dennis looked at the hedge and said, “We can do that.” We thought he was kidding, but he used some big piece of equipment to pick it up and move it to a new location — straight up the 11th Street property line.
He helped design our kitchen renovation by suggesting moving the ovens to an unusual spot, and he finished that renovation by laying the wood floor, cutting the boards with his band saw on our back porch in the middle of December.
Max says that Dennis could part somebody’s hair with a Bobcat. During the spring of 1993, the previously dry basement started leaking. We were confounded, but Dennis diagnosed the problem as a broken drain pipe. He was right, of course. He and two workers came the next morning with a Bobcat, laid plywood over the beautiful lawn, took out the plants near the leak (peonies included), took up a sidewalk and sod, dug a trench, pulled out the broken clay pipe, replaced it with PVC, covered the trench, laid a brick sidewalk, replanted the plants, and removed the plywood, all by late afternoon that same day. I couldn’t tell he had been there.
Over the years, his visits to the house during the growing season became longer. We talked about our children, plans for the year, his business, his competitive shooting — the things friends talk about. After I left for Afghanistan, he told Max that I was crazy to go and that Max was crazy to have let me. But he was happy when I returned unharmed.
I hadn’t realized how much I count on him until I got the call from Dennis’s son, telling me that he had died suddenly while on a shooting trip. Shocked, I walked around the house looking at all of Dennis’ handiwork. Then I looked out the front window and saw the crumbling sidewalk. Without thinking, I said out loud, “I’ve got to ask Dennis about that.”
Spring will never be the same.