|Adrian's School Letter|
Adrian Swets, my father, corresponded by letter with his daughter's junior high principal in 1962. The stern, double chinned Mr. Kutschee, not at all slim, had written to Adrian about the misbehavior of my big sister. She had been caught in the stairwell with her left foot tied to a girlfriendís right foot. Her papa ought to teach the lass a lesson, Mr. Kutschee recommended. The girlsí giggling in the stairwell had made a few students late to a class.
I have cherished a few letters in my life. Some were written by friends and some by colleagues. My fatherís letter regarding my sister had unusual impact.
Adrian's letter was not without respect or concern, but it was unlike what Principal Kutschee had expected. Principals probably understand that parents use different methods of discipline. My fatherís letter to this principal, however, was almost accusatory. It stated that Adrian hoped his daughter sometimes stepped into nonsense. He said the young should wallow in their youth, even messily. It was their birthright. Adrian was glad his daughter was in a good school, and he knew Mr. Kutschee had a job that included keeping classes going and keeping corridor traffic flowing smoothly. Nevertheless Adrian hoped the leader of an educational institution cherished pranks in childhood. Pranks imply the growth of imagination, Adrian wrote, a quality too easily abandoned by grown-ups. Adrian's letter ended by rhetorically inviting Mr. Kutschee to tie his own right leg to Adrian's left for a trip up a staircase that they could take together.
The way Adrian treated my own folly is another example of how he thinks. One Sunday morning during my teens my dad had to come downtown to get me out of jail. (This was not long after I had attended junior high, under the reign of the same pudgy Mr. Kutschee.)
I won't trespass again, but I am not exactly ashamed of what I did. I was caught memorizing poetry after hours in a department store. Adrian, my dad, and my mom too, welcomed me home from jail as though I had been a hero to do what I did. They gave me a blanket and a bowl of soup, since it was snowing that day. Neither of my parents said I had been a bad boy. They did not say they were disappointed in me. They were quiet, and it was a relief to be home. I did not ask why they were not mad. I guess they thought that getting ushered into a slammer after getting finger printed and strip searched had taught me enough. They already knew I was not the sort to lie or steal. I knew they knew it.
Us kids had all graduated and moved away when the day came for Adrian to himself be judged by a board of the town's school administrators. This was not about education. Adrian was a builder. He had a small contracting business. Up until that time his work was simply remodeling kitchens and bathrooms. In 1977 Adrian submitted a bid to design the new teachers credit union building. If he got the contract, it would be his biggest job ever: six stories tall. Adrian was competing with top architects. The judges included deans and trustees of small colleges as well as teachers from primary and secondary schools.
Discussion ensued on many designs. How should the new credit union building look? How long should it take to build? Who should build it? Adrian probably had labored long on his budget proposal. I had noticed him compose such things for years. Most nights of my childhood at home Adrian was muttering and making notes at his desk on perspective drawings.
Present on the board of education was a former school principal, Mr. Kutschee, who had reserved time to speak at this ersatz hearing. When he stood up and withdrew papers from his brief case, nobody thought anything unusual was going to happen. Everyone present merely looked passively at the familiar portly member of the teaching community. It turned out that the papers in his hand included that letter about my sister from 15 years prior, in which Adrian had defended his daughter and given philosophic advice to the professional educator. Mr. Kutschee wanted his colleagues to know that Mr. Swets was an exceptionally deep and talented man, as evidenced by that letter, which my former principal then read aloud to the board.
They must have been impressed, even though they chuckled, for they voted the job to Adrian. The bank was erected. It stands proudly on Division Avenue as my fatherís biggest monument.
You never really know what impact a letter is going to have.
by Ben Swets 1997
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About Ben Swets in Networkingcomposed by B.A.S Last updated 10 May 2005