It’s the last week in August and so, as usual, my thoughts turn to my parents, Norman and Evie Busk. My dad was born on August 21, 1916 and my mother on August 30, 1914. They married on August 24, 1936 just after my father turned twenty and just prior to my mother’s twenty-second birthday. Since my mother was the “older woman” in the relationship, she said she didn’t want to be a “cradle robber,” so she wouldn’t marry him until he stopped being a teenager. The marriage endured for sixty-eight years!
My father came from an incredibly dysfunctional family. His father was a pedophile. (Don’t ask me how I know!) My grandmother on my father’s side was and remains to this day one of the meanest women I ever met. She greeted Evie, her new daughter-in-law, with the words, “It’s too bad your ears are so big!,” and my mother was self-conscious about the size of her ears from then on. In 1968, on a cross-country trip, I went out of my way to stop by the farm to visit. I arrived in the middle of the afternoon—after lunch and well before dinner. Grandma Busk came out on the steps and allowed as how it was “inconvenient to have unexpected company.” I didn’t let the door slam on my butt. I drove back out of the yard and never crossed her threshold again.
According to my dad, his mother never told him she loved him. For ten years, while my father and his brothers were growing up, his parents didn’t speak, and the boys had to carry messages back and forth between them. On the occasion of their 50th anniversary, it seems to me as though those ten years ought to have been deducted from the total.
But coming from that background, I think it’s amazing that, while still a teenager himself, my father was able to venture into A.G. Anderson’s clan of mostly girls in Summit, South Dakota, take one look at Evie, and decide she was the one for him. They were true partners in everything. When they lived on the farm, my mother milked cows, fed threshing crews, raised a garden, and canned quart upon quart of meat and vegetables. (When we made the move from Twin Brooks, South Dakota, to Bisbee, Arizona, my father said that the trailer was overweight due to the 300 quart jars of home-canned food lurking under the bed.)
We always teased our dad by saying he couldn’t hold a job. He was by turns a teacher, a farmer, a miner, a truck driver, a contractor, and finally a life insurance salesman. He may have moved from job to job, but he always worked. There was always food on the table, hand-cooked by our mother without benefit of a microwave to feed a family of nine! Someone asked me once if my family ever owned a diner. The answer is no, they didn’t own one, but our mother RAN one. And the rules of the household were pretty simple—you eat a little bit of everything and everything on your plate. Meals were always eaten together at the Formica-topped kitchen table.
My father worked; my mother ran the household. When he was a farmer she brought “fore-noon coffee” to him in the field. When he became a contractor, she brought the coffee to his job sites. She washed on Monday and ironed on Tuesday. While they were living in South Dakota, she won an Easy Spin Dryer washing machine at a county fair. The problem was, their farm had no electricity, so the washer came to Bisbee in the trailer, right along with those quart jars of canned food. She was careful with water. The white load went first, the colored clothes were next, and the jeans came in dead last. But she reused the same wash water each time—draining it out into a wash tub for the rinse cycle and then returning it to the washer for the next load.
My parents raised seven kids. I believe there may have been a miscarriage or two along the way. How else to explain the four year hiatus between me and my next older sister and the next four year pause between me and my younger brother? There may have been some family discussion about that, but it was never mentioned to me. As far as discipline was concerned, my parents always presented a united front. Period. But our mother wasn’t one of those “wait ’til your father gets home” kinds of mothers. When one of us stepped out of line, she wielded a pretty mean flyswatter! (Don’t ask me how I know that, either.)
Evie was the one who kept the schedule for everyone–kids in band, glee club, Pilgrim Fellowship, Brownies, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and whatever else was out there. For years she oversaw our family’s delivery of the Arizona Republic in town—two bike routes and one auto route. She also managed the sale of countless boxes of Girl Scout Cookies and Boy Scout mistletoe. Our mother wasn’t a drill sergeant, but she certainly could have been. She made us all toe the line!
Our parents loved to travel. They racked up thousands of miles by car, driving back and forth across the country with our father at the wheel and with our mother riding shotgun with a highway atlas laid out on her lap. One of her most infamous detours was in the middle of New Mexico where, to dodge a freight train crossing, she launched us off on a series of dirt roads that led us through a ranch (between the barn and the house) but eventually got us back to where we were going.
In later years, when a relative died in South Dakota, my parents chose to drive from Arizona rather than take a plane to Minneapolis. When it was time to go back home, my mother said, “You know what, we’ve never made it to Yosemite.” So that’s how they came home to Arizona from northeastern South Dakota, by way of Yosemite, but they were slowing down by then. My mother said, when she realized they were crossing into Yuma on that last drive home, she shed real tears, crying for miles, because she knew they wouldn’t be doing that again. Maybe they’d take another driving trip, but it probably wouldn’t be just the two of them.
They loved practical jokes. Laughter was part and parcel of every meal, right along with the food. Once they lost my younger brother Jim, at age fifty due to an undiagnosed heart ailment, a light went out of their lives and so did most of the laughter. Jim’s presence in Bisbee and his ability to look in on them was one of the reasons they were able to live independently for so long. Eventually my father began to develop short-term memory loss and couldn’t remember how to get home. By then my mother had macular degeneration and couldn’t see well enough to drive. Thanks to cataract surgery, my father’s vision was better than it had ever been in his life, so he drove—with my mother telling him where to turn. For years there was a sign on their refrigerator that said: IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED, DO IT THE WAY YOUR WIFE TOLD YOU!
Finally, though there was nothing for it but for them to move into assisted living. Not long after that, my father passed away from a sudden stroke, leaving my mother behind–lost, lonely, and heartbroken. And that really brought a final end of her laughter because “Norman had no business going off like that and leaving me alone.”
Those last few years after my dad’s passing, Evie was not herself, and I choose not to remember her that way. I choose instead to remember her as part of a team–two strong individuals, yoked together by love and always pulling in the same direction.
So today, on August 24th, the 82nd anniversary of their wedding day, I’m remembering and honoring Norman and Evie.
Happy Anniversary, you two, and many happy returns.