Archive for February, 2013

For Better or for Worse, But Better is Better

Heart figureIt is the day after Cupid’s Day and I’m chomping sour grapes.  I’ve managed to convince myself that the only reason I didn’t win a Valentine dinner out with my sweetie is because the local newspaper’s “Greatest Love Story” contest was judged not by the quality of the mini-essay entries, but by who was able to round up enough acquaintances willing to help them stuff the electronic ballot box.  But who wants a fabulous gourmet meal at one of the finest Italian dining establishments the Twin Cities has to offer, anyway?  (Pit-too-ee; these Concord  seeds are hard on the teeth.)

Now that I have that all rationalized, my thoughts are free to explore more consequential things.

On the day before Valentine’s, I interviewed a warm, delightful woman who survived over three decades  of marriage to an emotionally unbalanced man who had never given her one compliment or word of encouragement in 33 years of living together.  A specialist in the art of non-parenting, he overtly favored his first-born son, and virtually ignored his only daughter and son number two.  Looking back, Trudy struggles to forgive herself for not “taking the kids and leaving” that dismal family environment years earlier.

But her children bear no ill feelings.  Somehow, with the help of a gracious God, Whom their mother led them to in quiet moments alone together, all three turned out to be high-achieving, well-adjusted adults.  “Forget it and put it behind us,” they counsel  their mom, appreciating the fact that it was a blessing to have been mostly ignored by this narcissistic man, who bought himself $300.00 suits while his wife and children shopped at second-hand stores.  And the fact that Mom’s loving ministrations had more than compensated for Dad’s neglect and verbal abuse.

Within a year or two of finalizing her divorce from the charmer who shed his niceness like a molting reptile  the moment he had walked down the aisle, Trudy met a wonderful man for whom it is second nature to treat her with loving respect and to be an equal partner in every aspect of their lives.  Her gratitude for this union radiates with every relaxed smile she beams and every endearing southern expression she utters.

My husband’s 2013 Valentine card to me sums it up quite nicely:  “When someone means a lot to you, you need to let them know.”  Inside he had hand-written, “I’m sorry I don’t say it and show it, better and more often.”  He’s not given to grandiose displays of emotion, this is true.  But he shows me his heart in a million ways, large and small, every day of every week of every month of every year.  And that’s more than I would have ever thought to ask for.

My Valentine to him this year is the little blurb I wrote for the newspaper contest:

My husband Jack and I live in Fridley, which is where we first met in high school.  We came close to dating back then, but ended up going separate ways, with separate spouses, until – both single again – we re-met at a reunion years later.

Even after 25 years of marriage, it seems a bit presumptuous to claim to be the world’s greatest romance:  we didn’t exchange love letters across a war-torn continent or have the honor of donating a major organ, one to the other.  But we did give each other that cherished second chance to discover true devotion – the kind that survives rebellious stepchildren, career disappointments, the loss of loved ones, and personal health crises; the kind that hangs in there for the ebb and flow between passion and friendship.  And that particular blessing may just translate to the best gift this earthly life has to offer:  someone who will always, bottom line, invest the time and effort to figure you out, to help you over the rough spots, and to guide you toward your better self.

I only hope that my appreciation for my second chance shows forth like Trudy’s does.  But I know one thing for sure:  I don’t need to win some silly contest to confirm my great good fortune.  And that’s not the sour grapes talkin’, either.

February 15, 2013 at 10:10 pm 2 comments

Poet Unaware

RH&RYears ago, before she gained national acclaim, I took a writing course from Natalie Goldberg at The Loft in Minneapolis.  One of the concepts she introduced in class was “found poetry.”  As examples she used an old journal entry of her own and a WWI-era letter written by a female relative.  I may not have the details precisely right for that second example – it may have been a WWII-era letter – but what did stick emphatically in my brain is the idea that gems of prose and poetic expression can often be unearthed from unexpected places. 

When my father passed away in 2006, I became sole heir to his office contents.  Dad was not an overtly emotional sort, but apparently he harbored a private reverence for meaningful mementos.  Among his papers were files labeled Personal History, holding his baby album, his high school diploma, and newspaper clippings about family members; a Personal Correspondence folder that includes wonderfully animated – and sometimes illustrated – letters written by my stepmother while they were long-distance dating in the mid-70s; and one manila treasure-trove marked Personal and Professional Letters

This last batch was subtitled, in bright orange marker, Ego.  He hadn’t preserved them because they touched his heart and warmed his cockles.  Oh, no.  Merely because they flattered.  Tucked in among the documents that crossed the line from professional to personal was a memo written in 1963 by Bud Dunham.  Bud was the head honcho in the Detroit office of the firm of consulting psychologists where my father and Bill Meyer, his best friend from graduate school, had worked since graduation – nine years for Dad and ten for Bill M.  

I always liked Bud.  And I liked his family.  We enjoyed so many delightful times with them all at company picnics and holiday gatherings, and even a memorable week at family camp in Pennsylvania, abuzz with horse back riding, tennis, golf, arts and crafts, and even a kid-performed water ballet to wrap things up. 

Still, my childhood memories have frozen in time a clear image of an imposing figure:  athletic and burly; competent, accomplished, authoritative.  Dr. Dunham.  As a kid, I wouldn’t have thought to describe him as warm and fuzzy.  Well, maybe a little fuzzy, with his carpeted chest and that topper of coarse, wavy, salt-and-pepper hair.   But to my younger self, this tall, cigar-chomping bear of masculinity was more tough than tender.  Not the sentimentally gushy type at all.  

Fourteen-year-old me collapsed into tears when my father broke the news that he was being transferred from Michigan to Minnesota to open a Twin Cities branch for the firm, but all around me the adults were handling the announcement with business-like acceptance.  Appearances can be deceiving, of course, and sometimes time reveals that change can also translates to loss.  Even for the most grown-up among us.  

On the day before Christmas, a little over 50 years ago, Bud Dunham settled into his big leather desk chair on a gray, snowy day in a still-thriving downtown Detroit, and hand-wrote the following memo to Dad and Bill M., who had been transferred to Illinois to head up the firm’s Chicago office.  Having discovered this archived copy of it, I will never again think of my father and his former boss in the same simplistic terms. 


 Rohrer, Hibler & Replogle


TO:  Bill Meyer & Bill Williams                                                                                                                                                       DATE:  December 24, 1963

FROM:  Bud Dunham                                                                                                                                                                         RE:  “’Twas the Day Before…”

            Today started out about like any other winter day in Detroit – cold, blustery, traces of snow in the air – a speck of dust in my eye – the elevator girls snapping at the tenants of the Guardian Bldg – the tenants reciprocating – me with 11 evaluations to dictate and two talks to prepare – last-minute shopping to do, with no clear-cut idea about what I’m going to buy – yes, it started out about like any other day-before Christmas. 

            But as the day wore along, I began to realize that it wasn’t the same.  Maybe the fact that Dave is on vacation, Wayne is in Houston, Mildred had already made another date for lunch and I had to eat alone, – maybe this has something to do with my feelings. 

            Anyhow, all at once I realized what it was – you two guys weren’t here for the first time in many years.  I guess this was the first time I really had faced that fact, what with all the turmoil we’ve had since the middle of last summer.  And I’ve got to admit that your departure has left a real void in the Detroit-RHR stable.           

Who was it who said:  “And the moving finger writes and, having writ, moves on,” or words to that effect?  Not that it would help to know who did write it – I still have to find the answer for myself (that’s odd; I was having trouble with only one eye when I started to write this). 

It’s a good thing tomorrow is another day – I’ve had enough of this one!  So I am going to take the automatic elevator when I leave, and try to think of Santa Claus when someone cuts ahead of me in that lousy traffic! 

Merry Christmas and a Happy new year to both of you and the families. 


Kleenex, anyone?

February 1, 2013 at 4:17 am 4 comments

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