Some of Evie’s Favorites

You’ll find this week’s blog written below, but first a brief word from our sponsors.

THE A LIST will be out before we know it, so I’m offering a bonus to anyone who preorders before April 2–an exclusive essay I’ve written, “A Brief History of Characters,” that talks about how I created Ali Reynolds and many of my other characters. To get it, just email proof of preorder (a picture of your receipt works) to And to sweeten the pot even more, I’ll select one preorder-er to win signed copies of the whole Ali Reynolds series!

Now, back to the blog.

Evie Busk, my mother, loved jokes and puns and poetry. Well into her eighties she could still recite Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha from beginning to end—and liked to do so. On our driving trips back and forth between Arizona and South Dakota, out on the prairies where radio signals didn’t reach, she entertained us with songs.

In My Fair Lady Professor Henry Higgins claims that women’s heads are full of “cotton, hay, and rags.” My mother’s head was full of song lyrics, verse upon verse, the sadder the better.

Oh, they cut down the old pine tree,
And they hauled it away to the mill,
There’ll be no cabin of pine
For that sweetheart of mine
Since they cut down the old pine tree.
But she’s not alone in her grave tonight,
T’is there my heart will ever be,
Though we drifted apart
Still they cut down my heart,
When they cut down the old pine tree.

And then there was the heart breaker, “In the baggage Coach Ahead.” In that one a young man is on a train, caring for a very fussy and cranky baby. Two nosy busybodies on the train go up to him and demand to know where is that child’s mother. His reply? “She’s in the baggage coach ahead.” That one never failed to make me cry.

But there were funny songs, too: Vive La Cookery Maid.

There once was a maiden to cooking school went
Vive la cookery maid.
On dishes delicious her heart was intent
Vive la cookery maid.
Her apron was spotless,
Her cap it was neat.
The figure she made
Was distractingly sweet
But the stuff she concocted
A goat couldn’t eat.
Vive la cookery maid.

There are several more verses including one that recounts the story of a robber who makes the mistake of breaking intoner house and sampling a recently baked pie. As a consequence, he comes to an untimely end. No wonder I liked that song. It came complete with forensics.

And then there was Ain’t We Crazy.

I know a little ditty
It’s as crazy as can be.
The guy who wrote it
Didn’t want it
So he handed it to me.
He said he didn’t want it
Because he thought it blue
And that’s the very reason
That I’m handing it to you.

It’s the song the alligators sang
While coming through the rye
To serenade the elephants
Up in the trees so high.
It’s the song the iceman shouted
As he shoveled in the cold
And was echoed by the monkeys
Up around the northern pole.

There are lots more verses to that one, and my mother knew them all. You can look them up on the Internet if you’re interested.

But this morning when my eyes popped open, my mother’s voice was there in my ear, reminding me of a poem she recited from time to time. I could only remember a few bits and pieces of it, and, with her gone, I thought the poem was gone, too.

Evie was born in 1914 and her death in her early nineties predates much of what we know today as the Internet. To my surprise, though, just now when I googled the pieces of that poem that I did remember, I came away with the whole thing.

Mysteries of Anatomy

Where can a man buy a cap for his knee,
Or the key to a lock of his hair?
Can his eyes be called an academy
Because there are pupils there?
Is the crown of your head where jewels are found?
Who travels the bridge of your nose?
Can you use in shingling the roof of your mouth,
The nails on the ends of your toes?
Can you sit in the shade of the palm of your hand,
Or beat on the drum of your ear?
Can the calf in your leg eat the corn off your toe?
Then why not raise corn on the ear?
Can the crook in your elbow be sent to jail?
If so, just what did he do?
How can you sharpen your shoulder blades?
I’ll be darned if I know – do you?

These are literally, the words I learned at my mother’s knee. They’re part of what made me who I am today—someone who loves words and music. Someone who loves a good joke or a good pun.

I owe my mother a great deal, and so do my readers.

Thank you, Evie!

16 thoughts on “Some of Evie’s Favorites

  1. What a character, your mother! Now I see you came by your craft honestly 🙂 Two amazing ladies. I love to hear these stories! Keep ’em coming!

    • Love, love, love this! My Mom was full of songs and poems. Like you, The Baggage Car Ahead brought tears most every time. During WWII, with all the men away, my Mom and Aunt had a Saturday ritual ( as did most women in our small town) they had their done and bought groceries. But in their case it also included a stop at the record store for sheet music and the latest records. A lady I worked with and I were talking about songs and lyrics and she said I must be at least 90 years old to know the ones I did! I must also confess a fascination with “Miss Otis Regrets”. Thanks for your wonderful, vivid characters – IV read all your books.

  2. My dad used to sing the little ditty, but I had never heard the alligator verse!

    And the anatomy one is new to me and lots of fun!

    I was looking for “Sweet violets” too!

  3. I have read everything you have written so far except your book or books on poetry. Poetry was never my genre. But after today’s blog I am going to find your poetry. Loved the ones you shared today. Yes, I know you didn’t write those, but it have me a taste of what your’s may be like. Thank you for writing!

  4. My Mother’s favorite was anything by Ogden Nash. And my favorite of the ones she loved was: (I used to giggle and giggle and giggle. Actually, I still do.)
    The Pelican by Ogden Nash
    A wonderful bird is the pelican,
    His bill will hold more than his belican.
    He can take in his beak
    Food enough for a week,
    But I’m damned if I see how the helican.

    • The turtle lives ‘tween plated decks
      Which practically conceals its sex
      I think it clever of the turtle
      In such a fix
      To be so fertile

      Ogden Nash again.

  5. I purchased “The A List” at the Tuscon Festival of Books last Saturday. I loved the panel I saw you on. I am getting ready to read the book now.

  6. My brother and I have racking our brains for years trying to remember IN THE BAGGAGE COACH AHEAD. He remembers our mother singing something about a coffin in a caboose. I didn’t remember anything like that and searched and searched on the many words I thought could be associated with that thought. When I read your blog and saw this title, I knew at once that this must be the song my brother remembered. We both thank you for your memories.

      • I did google it after getting the correct title from you. And then shared the words with my brother. He says it is exactly the song he remembers from childhood as sung by our mother. When I didn’t have the correct title I kept googling words like caboose, coffin, death, train but never came up with this song. Thanks again and I’m so happy I read this blog from you.

  7. Enchanting to reminisce each moment of your Iconic.Author.guesting2018 /Meet & Greet / Burbank …wishful to somehow attend elsewhere often ! Thank you so much for every word you’ve penned. (mPj

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *