When you look at Wendy Dimmette, there are some things about her you’d never guess.
For starters, with her wide-set, intense eyes and easy smile, she doesn’t look near her age. Nor does she act it. But that might be because, at nearly 80 years old, Dimmette says she’s busier than she has ever been in her life.
Much of her hectic schedule is taken up by her five children and 15 grandchildren. More is consumed by her job at Baylor, where she helps her husband, James Dimmette, also 79, manage his longtime OB/GYN practice.
“We’re down there half a day every day, except when I can sneak away,” she says.
And when she does sneak away, what does this busy grandmother go home to do? Bake cookies? Knit blankets?
No, Wendy Dimmette goes home to sit at the long, wooden dining table in front of her picture window that overlooks White Rock Lake ’s Tee Pee Hill, and she writes poetry.
It’s something she has been doing for more than 25 years, having come to the calling relatively late in life. She had always wanted to try her hand at writing, she says, but it wasn’t until her husband went back to school for his Ph.D. that she decided to tackle a creative thesis and obtain her master’s degree.
It was, she says, difficult at first to overcome her assumptions about what a poet ought to be.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it, but that it was very hard,” she says. “I had these ideas that you had to know more than you actually had to know. I grew up in the country, and I felt like you needed to be schooled in the classics.”
In some ways, Dimmette does make a somewhat unlikely poet. She was born in a small Texas town named Delaware Bend, and came to Dallas in 1946, after marrying her first husband, Jack Lindsey.
Jack’s family was in the carnival business, and Wendy spent many a summer with her husband, bouncing about the country.
“It was wild, with all the traveling,” she says, laughing. “We drove to most of the state fairs between here and Canada in a house trailer, and now I’m afraid to get on Central [Expressway].”
After the birth of the couple’s third child, however, Dimmette opted to stay home out of concern for the kids. She and Jack had one more baby in the fall of 1956.
A few weeks after the birth of their fourth child, tragedy struck Dimmette’s life when Jack died in a car accident. She was 32 years old, with four children aged six weeks, 1, 3 and 5.
“I think you’re numb,” she says now of how she handled it. “It was close to Christmas. I had the Lindseys, and I had my folks at the time. But it was not easy.”
She sold the carnival business two years after Jack’s death, and married James in 1960. Together they had one more child.
“He’s a wonderful, handsome man,” she says of her second husband. “We have a good life.”
Dimmette doesn’t talk much about those difficult times, now nearly half a century past. Nor has she put the experience to paper, explaining simply: “Some things you never write about.”
Instead, she says, she prefers to write about “what most people feel.”
“I think when I write a poem, I’m trying to figure out my truth about what I’m writing,” she says, adding that the process is often very cathartic for her. “Maybe you don’t start out that way, but it does end up kind of being a revelation to you.
“You find out how you actually felt about a certain thing. Maybe motherhood, wifehood, your parents. And, of course, there are memories in there.”
Many of Dimmette’s memories recently were honored by the Poetry Society of Texas. A collection of 79 of her poems were chosen by past and present poet laureates to receive the annual publication award. The resulting book, Learning to Stand Still, was released last summer.
“I couldn’t believe it,” says Dimmette, who is on the PST’s board of directors. “There are some good poets in that society.”
Jack Myers, one of Dimmette’s early teachers who is now director of SMU’s creative writing program and the poet laureate of Texas, says her very nature makes her work stand out.
“A main preoccupation of her work is in describing the spiritual characteristics and intricacies of human nature and relationships,” he says. “This, of course, stems from who Wendy is and has always been, so that her excellence at her art is simply an extension of what questions and discoveries she has made out of what interests her. She is a very grace-filled person, and this for me is the primary quality that her poems and she exude.”
Dimmette’s own words as to why she writes poetry echo those of Myers.
“I think a certain kind of people write to make order out of chaos,” she says. “There is no greater satisfaction than a finished poem: There it is, in black and white, how you feel right down to the last word.
“You have given your thought or emotion a shape … some would call it ‘truth,’ and, for me at least, a poem is as close as I can come.”
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