By Thomas Burnett

Writings by Thomas E. Burnett (b. 1908 Dec 9)

Letter from Tom Burnett to Toby Burnett, 1999 Aug 4:
As you know, in the late fifties and early sixties my work was away from home and I was home only on weekends. From time to time I would be inspired and would write out what I was thinking just to see what it would sound like. This I would pass on to Mom as a home-grown variety of reading material.

Recently, she and I were reminiscing and I said I wished that some of the stuff I wrote had been saved. I was curious to know what I had said. She dug out a file labeled “Poetry” and there were some of my words which she had converted to type.

I think the verses headed “Our Family” were written when the family was still living at Reliance and I worked at Winston-Salem and got home only every two weeks. The one headed “To a Draftsman” was written in the mid fifties while I worked for a consulting firm in Baltimore. The one headed “To Dad” was after I left Westinghouse but the family was still in Verona. I was back in DC but with the NIH when I received notice of my Dad’s death in 1960. I dashed off this “salute” which was read at the memorial service which John and Dot had at their home.

Our Family

Trudy is our little cherub
She's always on the go and run.
Sometimes she gets right awful mad,
But mostly she’s a lot of fun.

We love our boy, John Ira, too,
He's mighty handy with a cake.
He'd be a champ if all he did
Were like the pictures he can make.

Farther up the line is Toby,
With Lucy standing in the lead.
It's not required to praise them here,
We love them all--we do indeed.

But it is Mother we have to thank,
Because she somehow meets the need
To iron a constant pile of clothes,
With always hungry mouths to feed.

Two girls, two boys--four spokes we have.
(Our family's like a wheel, you'll learn.)
Mother is the center pivot,
A hub around which we turn.

Where's Dad? A wheel needs tires--that's him.
No wheel should roll upon its rim.

* * *


Though days go by and years pile high
The prints that draftsmen do,
But still the tale, of square and scale
Is told in fond review--
of Herman.

The lines he drew, so straight, so true,
The letters formed so neat
Still give notice to the novice
What goes upon a sheet--
by Herman

"Now when you show where pipes shall go
“That drain the tub or 'head',
"Put them under the floor b'thunder!
"Not the ceiling o'erhead,"

At drafting well he did excel,
But 'tweren't his only bit.
For few there are can match his star
At dishing out the wit--
from Herman

As we have said, the life he led
Wasn't shallow nor confined.
He could expound, as colleagues found,
On topics quite refined--
this Herman.

Of quail or sleigh or Chevrolet,
Communists or women:
You can be sure you'd get it pure --
Knowledge freely given --
via Herman.

Now for an end I'll condescend;
And then I'll say no more.
We'll park our tools; get off our stools,
When we are ninety-four --
like Herman.

* * *


You loved the land. You worked it hard.
You spared neither your back nor your days.
You came to grips with the difficult tasks
Without seeking the easy way out.
You had the courage that prevails
In the face of setbacks.

Your thoughts went beyond the edge of the farm;
Beyond the horizon--to the remotest land.
You sought the knowledge
That still lies hidden from the mind of men
And which only a few mortals

Your road was lonesome many times
(Though you did not wish it so)
Because your path was not always
You sought the evidence
And did not fear the truth,
Even though it may mean
That an old belief was more fanciful than fact, and
Even though you had to stand alone.
You knew there is much
Which no one knows--but only thinks;
Like the child who said he knew
No bird could tell on him
But he believed it anyway
Because his elders told him so.

You also sought and tried the new,
Where the old fell short to meet a need.
But you liked the old where it was proven,
And did not change just for the change.

We shall remember what you taught us.
We salute you, dad, for what you brought us.
Your Boys

* * *
Not a poem, but a favorite of Tom Burnett's

A man returned to the town where he went to college a decade or so ago. As he was walking down the street, he saw an old school friend he had not seen since graduation. The friend was walking with a young girl.

After exchanging hearty greetings, the man asked who the little girl was. “My daughter” was the reply.

The man asked, “Who did you marry?” and received the response, “No one you know -- someone I met on a business trip”.

“And what is your daughter’s name?” asked the man.

The friend replied, “Her name is the same as her mother’s.”

The man turned to the young girl and said, “Hello, Mary, I’m very glad to meet you.”

How did the man know the girl’s name?

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