What makes a place
February 28, 2013
By Pat Detmer
Newcastle has been our home for 22 years, and if you drew a 5-mile diameter circle with our house at the center, it would encompass all of the services and recreation that our lives require: medical center, dentist, groceries, the Y, car mechanic, restaurants. We brag to friends about how quickly we can be in downtown Seattle or at the airport, or how close we are to wilderness if we head in the other direction.
But something occurred recently that reminded me of what truly makes a place special. It’s the people: the folks who check you out at the store, the restaurant owners who greet you, the waitresses who seat you, the librarian proud to be in a new home, the faces you see again and again as you go about the business of living. When you’ve been in one place for a long time, these human beings become woven into the fabric of your life, and in early February, that fabric was torn.
I backed out of the garage at the end of January and my side mirror hit the wall. No damage to the house, but plenty to the mirror and my accident-free ego. I immediately headed to Newcastle Shell and found Dennis Yarnell, the owner. The conversation was pretty typical for us, short and to the point, and because he thought I was funny, I would always try to say something humorous or self-deprecating for his amusement. I told him that I had hurt my car and now he had to fix it. I said that I drove it so rarely the month when I was sick that it was possible I’d forgotten how to back out of a garage. I also told him about a disconcerting squeal coming from the right front.
The new mirror came in on Wednesday and I made an appointment for Friday. Dennis greeted me when I got there and asked if I needed a ride home. I thanked him but declined since The Sainted One was right behind me. Dennis called later when the work was done and also gave me his thoughts on the squeal, which he said was nothing to worry about at this time. He patiently explained why there was no reason for concern in terms simple enough for a toddler to understand, and as soon as I hung up, I forgot the details. His advice to us was always golden, so it was sufficient for my husband and I to advise each other of automobile issues by simply stating, “Dennis thinks it’s OK for now.” Nothing more was needed.
That weekend, a mutual friend reached out to tell us Dennis had died in a car accident.
We were devastated, and we’re just two people on a long, long list of family, neighbors, friends, employees and customers who have been impacted by his loss. He was an outstanding human being, a man who gave second chances to those who needed them, who had high expectations of the people who worked for him but no higher than the expectations that he put upon himself. He was fair and generous, supremely knowledgeable in his chosen field and unfailingly cheerful. For a thousand reasons, he will be sorely missed.
Dennis had a little stand for displaying and selling the Newcastle News in his gas station and always mentioned this column. If I pulled up to the pumps and he spotted me, he would come out with a wide grin and tell me how much he loved the last one.
Dennis, this one’s for you.
If you’d like to do something in remembrance of Dennis, check in with the folks at the station.