There were seven kids in our family. My mother always referred to me as the “third one of the first batch.” When I came along in 1944, my older sisters, Janice and Jeannie, were six and four respectively. The second batch, three boys and a girl, showed up after our move to Arizona. I was four when Arlan was born, while Jim, Gary, and finally Janie came along later at precisely two year intervals. We lost Jim at age 50 to an undiagnosed heart ailment. Janice passed away last year from complications of pneumonia. (By the way, when people say someone “passed” as opposed to “passed away”, I always feel as though something is missing. Ditto for “graduated high school” as opposed to “graduated from high school.” Maybe those are simply Arizona aberrations in the American English dialect but, as usual, I digress.)
Our father couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. We always said, “There are eighty-eight keys on the piano, and Daddy sings in the cracks.” Nonetheless, music was always a big part of the Busk household. We sang during long car trips; while doing the dishes; while mowing the lawn; and while cleaning house on Saturday mornings. We sang along with the radio (KSUN in Bisbee and KAPR (a variation on the word copper) broadcasting from Douglas. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that every week or so, someone in our family wakes up with one of those old songs circling around in their heads. And what do they do? They go straight to their keyboards and share it with the family group—the remaining brothers and sisters as well as a couple of nieces and a stray cousin or two. That next day or week, all of us—scattered all over the country—go around humming a few bars of exactly the same song. Who knew that music could be that contagious?
A couple of weeks ago, my brother Arlan let loose with one of those old tunes that’s still banging around in my head this morning—Pee Wee King’s Slowpoke. Because I’m on a mean streak this morning, I’m generously sharing the lyrics with you:
You keep me waitin’
Till it’s gettin’ aggrievatin’
You’re a slowpoke.
I wait ‘n worry
But you never seem to hurry,
You’re a slowpoke.
Means nothin’ to you
Quarter to ten.
Why do I linger
Every time you snap your finger?
You’re a slowpoke.
Why can’t you hasten
When you see that time’s awastin’?
You’re a slowpoke, dear.
Why do I keep tryin’ to change you?
It’s not the thing to do.
I guess I’ll have to learn to be a slowpoke too.
I remember hearing that one of KSUN’s nighttime music show, Best by Request, hosted by a DJ named Bud Kelley. Interestingly enough, my sister Janie, who is ten years younger than I am, had zero recollection of that song. Best by Request was a thing of the past by the time she was old enough to listen because the world had moved on to black and white TV. I guess that means there really is a generation gap after all.
Now that I’ve infected all of you with that impossible to lose melody, you’ll be glad to know that our group chats don’t always center around music. This week’s topic of choice, raised by my brother Gary, was about airplane shadows. He wrote about being out in his yard and having the shadow of an airplane pass over him, mentioning that the same thing has happened several times. Since he lives in Peoria, Arizona, surrounded by the Deer Valley, Glendale Municipal, and Phoenix Goodyear airports to say nothing of Luke Air Force Base, it’s not too surprising that he might find himself standing beneath some pretty well-traveled flight paths on occasion. While the rest of the members of the family chat group weighed in and launched off into a discussion of the presence of plane shadows in their lives, my mind took me off on a whole other tangent.
When Bill and I married in December of 1985, we had five kids between us. His oldest had just graduated from WSU and the two younger ones were in college. My two were in junior high and elementary school. I’m not sure why we thought adding two eight week old golden retriever puppies to the mix was a good idea. I guess we thought maybe their presence would help the family blend, and maybe they did, but that’s how Nikki and Tess, named after Nikola Tesla, came into our lives.
In one fell swoop I went from being a single parent with two kids to being a married one with five kids AND TWO PUPPIES! I found myself at home, writing books, incessantly doing laundry, and housebreaking puppies. Because we love to complicate our lives, two months after we married, we did a total kitchen remodel. I spent weeks retrieving the workers’ tools which the puppies loved to drag into the living room and hide under sofas. They also chewed up Bill’s beloved Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary.
Eventually that year spring came along. At the time, Bill was working out of an office in Renton. One beautiful sunny day during spring break, my daughter and I gathered up the puppies and went to meet up with Bill for a picnic lunch in a park. Nikki and Tess were about five or six months old at the time, and they were cute as buttons. Being not entirely law abiding citizens, after lunch we let them off their leashes so they could romp in the grass.
They were wintertime puppies who had spent most of their young lives indoors. They had never seen shadows. They raced in crazed circles around the park, diving nose-first into the grass in failed attempts to captures the shadows of planes traveling from Sea-Tac along with those of passing birds and butterflies. Eventually a Renton PD patrol car pulled up next to us. I was sure he was coming to ticket us for letting the dogs off leash. He told me instead that watching Nikki and Tess chase shadows was the funniest thing he’d ever seen.
Nikki and Tess are long gone, of course, as are their successors, Aggie and Daphne (named after Agatha Christie and Daphne DuMaurier.) If you’ve read my Beaumont books, however, you’ll find Nikki and Tess immortalized in Taking the Fifth when J.P. and Big Al venture into the wilds of Bellevue and ask directions of a “tall blonde woman out walking two golden retrievers.” That was the author and her puppies making cameo appearances. Boney, the pound-puppy Irish Wolfhound who came into our lives along with Nikki and Tess showed up later on as Bone, Davy Ladd’s constant companion in Hour of the Hunter, and Bella, the dachshund we found abandoned on the road years ago, is now in the fictional care and keeping of Ali Reynolds and B. Simpson.
And so a family on-line discussion of airplane shadows has brought both me and my loyal readers to a wide-ranging discussion about the kids I grew up with, the songs we used to sing, and the furry companions who have shared our lives.
To quote an old Dean Martin song, “Memories are Made of This,” and it’s important to cherish all of them.