It is clear to me this week that I am approximately older than dirt. That has been brought home to me not only by the fact that I’ll be 72 this coming week, but also because it’s the 50th Anniversary Homecoming for the University of Arizona Class of 1966 of which I am a member. (More on homecoming later, since Bill and I will be hosting a celebratory brunch at our home in Tucson on Sunday of that weekend.)
Earlier this week, in honor of homecoming, I was interviewed for a feature article by a sweet young thing who is currently a journalism student at the U of A. She wanted to talk to me about my college experience back in the day—read as “in the old days when dinosaurs still roamed the earth.”
There were several things that seemed to surprise her. She was utterly blown away when I told her about not being allowed in the U of A Creative Writing Class in 1965 because I was a girl. She was amazed that in Pima Hall, the co-op dorm where I spent all four years, we were not allowed to wear pants in the dining room. No male was allowed beyond the door in the vestibule without an audible “MAN IN THE HALL” warning. And there were curfews. Freshman girls had to be in by 10:30 on weeknights, no exceptions. There was an official sign-in and sign-out sheet, and woe-betide you if you didn’t do that sign-out process properly.
The interviewer, Syrena, found the whole idea of curfews troubling. “Why would the university do that?” she wanted to know. I told her it was because, at the time, the University of Arizona stood in loco parentis. I happen to be part of that aging crew that actually took Latin in high school. Syrena did not, so I had to explain to her that it meant the school was standing in the place of parents.
She wanted to know if there was anything I had found to be challenging about coming to the university, and I answered that, especially my freshman year, I was dreadfully homesick. In those years, freshmen girls were only allowed to be out of the dorm for one weekend a month. For someone who had never been away from home for any amount of time, that was tough, and who was my lifeline back then? My mother, that’s who—Evie Busk.
With me away at school, my mother was still in charge of a sizable household of six—two adults and four kids. She washed on Monday and Thursday, with no clothes dryer in sight. She always hung them on the line. She ironed on Tuesdays, no exceptions, and cleaned house on Saturdays—no exceptions to that, either. She shopped for groceries and did everything necessary to keep the home fires burning. She cooked three meals a day without the benefit of either a microwave or a dishwasher. I can tell you that her Presto Pressure Cooker got a daily workout! She had forenoon and afternoon coffee each day with her pals—Verna Dunkerson, Mrs. Whitaker, Mrs. Toon, Lilyann Weatherford, and Harriet Smith. She got kids to and from school and scouting events and made sure the two family paper-routes for the Arizona Republic were handled properly.
Let’s just say she was one busy lady. But do you know what else she did? Every Monday, this woman with her seventh grade education but college level grammar and impeccable penmanship, would sit down and write a letter to her homesick daughter—the first member of her family to go away to college. They were newsy letters, filled with the everyday stuff of what was going on at home. Did I save them? Of course not! Color me stupid on that score. She would write the letters on Monday and by Wednesday morning, there would be a letter in my mail box behind the reception desk in the vestibule of Pima Hall.
Those letters helped me keep it together during my years at college, and afterwards as well. It was in one of my mother’s letters, days after the fact, that I first learned of the death of a local town hero, Doug Davis, in 1966—a story that I’ve recounted in my book Second Watch.
My mother wasn’t the mushy sort, and she didn’t pass out compliments at the drop of a hat. In fact, I still remember my astonishment when, sometime in 1976 or so, she told me that I had “good legs.” I was dressed for success at the time, wearing heels and hose, and hearing her say that utterly floored me.
So, no, Evie wasn’t the demonstrative sort, but she was utterly steadfast. Utterly.
And why am I writing about this today? I have a problem with snail-mail. I don’t like to do it. I let it accumulate, using one excuse after another: a: I’m on tour. b: I’m writing a book. c: Please, Mr. Custer, I just don’t want to do it.
But right now there’s a stack of snail-mail that I’ve been avoiding, and today is the day I’’m going to tackle it. And next week, when those of you who have long ago given up on ever seeing your requested bookmarks, they’ll be signed by me, but they’ll be sent today because my mother, Evie, was looking over my shoulder.