Norm and Evie

The last days of August always make me remember my folks, Norman Busk and Evelyn Anderson Busk.  My father’s birthday was August 21st and my mother’s August 31st.  She was a little over two years older than he was.

According to family legend—as told by Grandpa Anderson–my father showed up at the house as a young buck courting my mother’s younger sister.  Grandpa always insisted that he told him, “Norman, in this house we eat the old bread first,” causing my father to end up with my mother, Evie, as opposed to my Aunt Toots.

Because my mother didn’t want to be a “cradle robber,” she set their wedding date for August 24, 1936, three days after my father turned twenty and seven days before she turned twenty-two.  That way there was only a year between them when they married, and he was no longer a teenager.

It was a match made in heaven that lasted for sixty-eight years and seven kids and countless grandkids.  They were steady, hard-working people with rock solid values and keen senses of humor.  They loved jokes—a teaspoon with a hole in it in the sugar bowl; a half cup that really was a cup cut in half.  If someone asked for only half a cup of coffee, that was the one my mother brought out.

My mother, a stay at home mom with only a seventh grade education, cooked three meals a day for nine people.  She sewed most of my dresses. She washed clothes on Monday and ironed on Tuesday like clockwork.  She canned peaches and apricots in the dead of summer in Arizona. She herded kids around and made sure we got to scouts and Pilgrim Fellowship and Sunday school and choir practice and little league.  Once there were paper routes in the family, she oversaw those and made sure that the monies from that were properly handled.  And, if one of us got out of line, there was none of this “wait ’til your father gets home” nonsense.  She was perfectly capable of taking a fly swatter to the wrongdoer’s backside if the crime in question merited that kind of punishment.

My father worked—always—but we often teased him about not being able to hold a job.  He started out as a farmer; taught school for a time; became an underground miner; drove truck; worked as a carpenter for Phelps Dodge above ground; started a construction company; started a cement business, and eventually—at age 40—found a permanent niche in the life insurance business.

He didn’t make a lot of money, but he and my mother were careful with what they had.  They always paid cash for their cars and seldom bought new ones.  They tackled home remodeling jobs together although Evie did lay down the law and announce that once she turned 75, she wasn’t doing roofing any more.

I remember growing up in a home filled with laughter and music.  Believe me, Norman had a lot to do with the laughter and nothing at all to do with the music.  We always said, “There are 88 keys on the piano, and Daddy sings in the cracks.” Evie, without ever having taken a music lesson, taught us to sing in three and four part harmony.  She was also an encyclopedia of song lyrics, and we sang while we did dishes and housework and while we were crammed like sardines in hot cars driving back and forth to South Dakota to visit relatives during summer vacation:  They Cut Down the Old Pine Tree; Ain’t We Crazy; Sweet Violets; In the Baggage Coach Ahead; Vive La Cookery Maid; There’s a Lonely Little Robin.

The occasion of my folks’ 65th wedding anniversary was the last one when we were all together before losing my younger brother, Jim.  We sat around in a hotel party room and sang all those old songs.  When we left, Bill turned to me and said, “How did you all learn to sing in harmony?” To which I replied, “Doesn’t everybody?”

As my parents aged, they had their challenges.  My father had short term memory loss and couldn’t remember how to get home.  My mother had macular degeneration and couldn’t drive, but she would tell him where to turn.  Together they made it work.

Jim’s death at age fifty due to an undiagnosed heart ailment, was a loss from which my parents never fully recovered.  His presence in town had allowed them to stay in their own home long after they would have had to call it quits.  Once he was gone, they had to move to assisted living.  When my father died of a stroke a few years after that, the light and laughter went out of my mother’s life as well.  When she passed away, I couldn’t summon any tears because I knew that away was exactly where she wanted to be.

And so, at the end of August, I can’t help but remember those two wonderful people who put their shoulders to the wheel and their noses to the grindstone and did it together for close to seventy years.

Happy Birthdays.  Happy Anniversary.

And for the record, I’m not releasing any helium balloons, fictional or otherwise.