My wife, Kathy, and I, with our 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son, moved from Queens to Commack 23 years ago this past summer.

We exchanged a house with a tiny yard for a home with a plot several times the size of our old place. We knew we made the right move when little Lauren told us that the backyard looked like a park. And indeed it did, with lush grass, trees and a swing set already in place. And while I soon learned that maintaining this "park" would be quite a chore, in the long run the effort has been more than worth it.

Another son, Tommy, would join Lauren and Eddie just a year later, and our young family was complete.

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In a short time, we became friends with neighbors on both sides of our house. Both families had kids in the same age range, and for years they shared bus rides to school.

There were no young children in the homes directly across the street, however. The houses on that side, along with their occupants, had been around a good deal longer. Their kids weren't kids anymore. And for that reason, we didn't really get to know those neighbors all that well. Everyone seemed friendly enough, though, and we would all wave to each other when pulling out of our driveways or getting our mail.

One exception to this minimal contact was a nice man then in his 50s named John Marcovecchio, who lived with his wife and daughter diagonally across from us. John always went out of his way to say hello, often crossing the street to chat. We'd talk about what neighbors talk about -- the weather, work around the house, how the grass looked, where to buy hardware or auto parts.

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John had worked at Grumman Corp. for 20 years as a writer of technical publications and documents. As John got older and retired, if I saw him outside, I would rush to cross the street to save him the effort. And my sons would prove themselves worthy of his compliments (and make me proud) by shoveling snow from his driveway. He enjoyed watching the kids play football in the street and frequently mentioned how they were turning into fine young adults.

Sadly, John died a year ago Sept. 23 at age 79. I miss our little chats. When Kathy and I think about him, our lasting memory is how he was always so pleasant and had such a positive disposition.

Many of us have neighbors we avoid because they'll end up depressing us with a litany of complaints. It was John's total lack of negativity that was so refreshing. We came away from a conversation with him feeling a little better about things, not worse.

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This year I celebrated my 56th birthday, and I got to thinking about the speedy passage of time and how I've been living in Commack for 23 years. Then it hit me. When I moved in, John was the very same age that I am right now! Being recently retired myself really drove the point home.

It took me a few days to digest this, but I've come to grips with it. I imagine that in time, houses on the block will change hands and new young families will move to our block. If to them I become the nice old retired man across the street, so be it. I hope I can fill the role as well as John did.

Reader Tim Finn lives in Commack.