Poet Unaware

February 1, 2013 at 4:17 am 4 comments

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?

Entry filed under: Advice For Life. Tags: , , , .

Now Sings My Soul For Better or for Worse, But Better is Better

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Keith Wissman  |  February 1, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Ditto here when I went through dad’s stuff. Our dads (moms too) seemed to have left quite an impression on people over the years.

  • 2. Craig  |  February 2, 2013 at 8:50 am

    I also found good memories of my father after he passed away. We should all shared our memories & photos with our children while we are alive.

  • 3. Deborah Ude  |  February 2, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    Yesterday your closing offer of a kleenex brought a smile. Today I can not let this post go. Will you share the entire box?

  • 4. Trish Law  |  February 5, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    Thanks, Sue Anne, for sharing this! You are right: my father (Bud Dunham) would not have struck most people as the warm and fuzzy type. I loved reading that letter. My dad did reveal his emotional, sensitive side every once in a while, like the time I was going off to college across the country for the first time my freshman year and he walked me onto the airplane, sat me down, and buckled my seat belt for me! Such a sweet moment….and you helped bring it back for me! You and I had our share of good times, growing up together as RH&R kids in the Detroit ‘burbs….Thanks for the memories!
    Trish Law


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