The Kindness of Strangers

I’ve been on tour for what seems like forever, getting up at ungodly hours to catch early morning East Coast flights. My body’s default time zone is West Coast, so getting up and packing in time for a 4:45 pick up for a 7:00 AM flight had me crawling out of bed at an ungodly hour that was not quite three hours past my normal bed time.

Not only was I sleep deprived, those early morning wake-ups came with another indignity. I can’t hear. Without my hearing aids, an early morning wake up call by telephone doesn’t do the trick. I had to ask for the front desk to send security up to pound on my door until I gave them a verbal response.

Oh, the glamour of book tours, right?

On one of those early morning flights from Point A to Point B in a plane that was freezing cold, I was tired but couldn’t sleep. My head is such that, even in my misery, song lyrics surfaced—all three verses of Simon and Garfunkel’s Homeward Bound. I’m not going to print those lyrics here, but you’re welcome to google them and read them for yourselves. Because I was on a tour of one night stands. Now, on Wednesday afternoon, I’m at home with one of my yappy little dogs out in the laundry room barking at something that is entirely invisible to her humans. It’s fall, so maybe she’s barking at falling leaves, but I digress.

At the last couple of presentations I actually sang that song, because I was more than ready to be homeward bound. Last night’s event was at a library in Minnesota. In the afternoon, when it was almost time for me to get ready, one of my fans who is also a blog reader, someone named Kim, sent me a note saying that she was hoping to meet me at the event.

In her email she had mentioned how when she had written me a note about something in the blog months earlier, she had been astonished that I had responded. The truth is, I always respond. It’s part of my job.

So when Kim showed up at the event and introduced herself, I knew she was my correspondent. We spoke for a few moments and I signed her book. Then she opened an envelope and showed me a laminated, decades old ad for Kelloggs Krumbles. Kelloggs stopped making Krumbles years ago, but when I was growing up in Bisbee, that was something my mother and I shared in common—a love of Krumbles. I wondered for a moment how in the world she knew I loved Krumbles, but the line was long, and people were waiting. Kim put the ad back in it’s envelope and then handed it to me along with a greeting card.

She left the line then, and I put the card and envelope aside, planning on looking at them later. Kim returned a few minutes after that and asked for a photo of the two of us together, one which was happily provided, but I could tell that she was beyond exited to meet me—almost as excited as I was a year ago, when Kathy Kenda introduced me to her husband, Joe Kenda, of Homicide Hunter fame.

By the time I got back to the hotel, I was done for. I didn’t look at either of the envelopes until this morning. And this time, once again, I wondered, how in the world did Kim know I liked Krumbles. And right there in the envelope I found the answer—it was a blog I wrote in 2012 right around Father’s Day in which I talked at length about how during the school year my father conjured up batches of hot cereal for breakfasts while, during the summer months, we ate cold cereal often with fresh peaches added into the mix. And right there, in front of God and everybody, I talked about my mother and I eating Krumbles.

When I write books, once I’ve done multiple layers of editing, I hardly ever go back and reread them. My having to reread Taking the Fifth this year in preparation for writing Sins of the Fathers was the exception not the rule.

And the same goes for blog entries. Once I write them on a Wednesday afternoon, as I’m doing today, they end up being posted on Friday, and I never read them again.

I know I’ve written about my mother many times in these musings. I’m a child of the fifties. I had a stay at home mother and a father who worked long hours to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. Norman Busk appears occasionally in these missives, but not nearly as often as Evie does.

Kim had included a copy of a blog I wrote about my father in honor of Father’s Day in 2012—seven years ago. And so this morning, Kim gave me a real gift by having me reread the words of remembrance I wrote about my day back then.

That printed copy of the blog is something I’ll treasure, right along with that laminated ad for Krumbles.

Thank you, Kim, you made my day, and you made my homecoming that much sweeter.

Now if I only had a bowl of Krumbles.

Breakfast of Champions

Friday, June 15, 2012

This week we’re having one of the world’s summertime breakfast treats–Wheat Chex and fresh peaches and raspberries. Generally speaking I am not a mixed fruit sort of person. That goes for mixed fruit jellies (Are you listening Smuckers?) and for mixed fruit pies. (Rhubarb pies? YES! Strawberry/Rhubarb pies? NOOOOOOOO!)

But cut up fresh peaches with a few raspberries on Wheat Chex or even Honey Nut Cheerios? Either one of those works for me, because they take me right back to summer time in Bisbee, Arizona, in the Fifties. Not that we had an abundance of fresh raspberries back then. Those didn’t make it to Pay and Tote in Lowell. And what passed for lettuce back then, brownish soggy stuff, turned me into a confirmed LLA (Lifetime Lettuce Avoider.) I would guess that Pay and Tote’s  fresh peaches weren’t any better than the lettuce, but we never bought peaches at the store. We grew them.

Our house on Yuma Trail had a yard full of peach and apricot trees as well as a single nectarine. The nectarines never managed to ripen because the tree was easy to climb and we ate them early and often. Fruit on some of the other trees there was less inviting. There were two figs trees, but as far as I know, a ripe fig never crossed my lips. And there was an enormous mulberry tree. That one was very exciting to climb, but the only thing the berries on that were good for was turning our bare feet purple over the course of the summer.

Does it sound like our yard was an oasis in the desert? Yes, it was. And why was that?  Mine water! Around the outside fence of the property ran a pipe that carried water that never went inside. This was the brackish, mineral-laden stew that had to be pumped out of the mines. Rather than waste it, the company (Phelps Dodge) sent it out to the community for free. I can tell you that the fruit trees and grass in town LOVED it.  Back then, free mine water made it possible for Bisbee’s Vista Park in Bisbee to be a tree lined grassy lawn. Once the company figured out that they could use the mine water to leach copper out of the tailings dumps, they took their mine water back. The town’s fruit trees which had thrived on mineral rich water, shriveled and died on a steady diet of fresh and very expensive potable water. If you go visit Vista Park today, you’ll find something that is mostly a xeriscaped wasteland.

But back to the fruit trees. Each summer my mother canned quart after quart of peaches and apricots from the trees in our yard, and we sold some as well. There’s a picture somewhere of my Dad and me, sitting together under a freshly harvested tree with a bushel basket heaped with apricots parked between us.

The peaches from our yard–the ones that didn’t get canned or sold–got peeled and cut up, chopped more than cut. My mother’s utensil drawer had an old tin can which my father had cut off with the tin snips at both ends. That’s what she used to chop up the peaches–the sharp end of that tin can. And that’s how peaches came to our summertime breakfast table–chopped into tiny delectable pieces.

During the school year our father made hot cereal every morning–oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, Malt-o-meal, Zoom, Chocolate Malt-o-Meal, and what he called “Whet-meal,” which was my father’s own peculiar mixture of Malt-o-Meal and Cream of Wheat. He made it on the stove in a four quart Wear-Ever aluminum sauce pan. While he was doing it, the man was in his element, wielding a slotted wooden spoon and singing “It’s nice to get up in the morning, in the good old summer time” at the top of his lungs in his particularly tuneless voice. (We always said, “There are 88 keys on the piano, and Daddy sings in the cracks!”)

The rest of the daily meal planning and cooking for our family of nine were designated as Evie’s problem, but school year breakfasts belonged to Norman. Actually there’s one more mealtime exception to that Mommy-only rule. On Sunday nights, we had cocoa and toast for Sunday Night Supper, and my father made the cocoa from scratch in the same four quart sauce pan.

During those long ago pre-air-conditioning summers, cooking hot cereal for breakfast every morning must have seemed like a bad idea. I’m also sure buying cold cereal for that many people was an expensive proposition, but it worked.

At most mealtimes, we ate what our mother served (A little bit of everything, and everything on your plate!), but for summer breakfasts allowances were made for individual tastes. My father preferred Wheaties–the Breakfast of Champions. I’m not sure how much he liked the flavor, but he certainly enjoyed reading the stories of the athletes featured on the boxes. My mother and I went for Krumbles. (I’m not sure if it was spelled with a C or a K, and since no one makes the old fashioned Krumbles anymore, there’s no way to look it up.) Other people cast their votes for Rice Krispies or Cheerios. (My mother never ponied up the cash for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes.) Whatever we chose, however, it was served with a dollop of my mother’s chopped up peaches and cold milk which was delivered fresh to our doorstep twice a week by generations of milkmen.

I guess it’s understandable how, in the week leading up to Father’s Day, the simple act of eating breakfast has taken me on a long trip down memory lane. I’ve spent the last hour recalling the two people who spent 68 years together being good parents on all the other days that weren’t officially designated as Father’s Day or Mother’s Day.

So here’s to you, Norman and Evie Busk. You done good.

28 thoughts on “The Kindness of Strangers

  1. Always love reading your blog post almost as much as I love your books. You are one of the authors who inspired me to write fiction. I have written for years in other genres, but followed my dream to write fiction. Unfortunately I can’t write short cozy mysteries so mine tend to be longer more complex and the editing process even more so. I always enjoy reading about other writers’ processes and writing habits. This blog inspired me and in a number of ways not the least of which is to keep writing and to keep going. Isn’t it wonderful how a person who reads a book can now communicate with the writer? Thank you so much for all the joy you give both in what you create and how you do it. Ever grateful

  2. Your discussion of fruit brought back many great memories of growing
    up on Quality Hill. Not only did we have fruit but we had an abundance of black berries. My Mom made the best cobblers and of course there was always blackberry ice cream, especially on the Fourth of July. My Dad made an excellent blackberry wine and even experimented with blackberry brandy! So many great memories of growing up in Bisbee.

  3. Yes, when residents still had the benefit of free mine water, Bisbee really was an oasis. My mother canned peaches from our trees every year–peaches and apricots. And we had a lush green lawn to mow, too.

  4. Both great blogs! Memories are the best: you had a great upbringing by 2 wonderful people….so did I and we are the better for it….Love your books of course!

  5. Loved reading this. Parents mean everything in forming their children’s lives. Sounds like you were raised by two special people, and GREAT parents to boot! I’m judging this from being a high school secretary for 25 years, and also by being a parent, along with my husband of 55 years. By the way, I finished Sins of the Fathers. Another wonderful read. So glad that Lucy went with Athena and didn’t pass as I feared from ready an earlier comment by another reader of the book.

  6. I grew up in an area in the north of a fairly large city. The area where my folks bought their “new” house in 1942 was old farm land. Our previous home had fruit trees and a magnificent Concord grape arbor. My aunt lived in the San Joaquin Valley and everyone coming through picked up lugs of fruit for my mom to can. A country drive to Walter Knott’s Berry Farm provided us with the berries for my mom also. Hot canning days but so worth it other times. Did not like fig fruit but loved fig jam! Many summers I spent in our newer home under that grape arbor. Reading of course. Homemade bread and butter pickles. A magnificent apricot tree. We were income deprived but never food deprived. It wasn’t just the canning, but the jars of peaches, pears and apricots looked like works of art. 6 kids, so every donation from neighbors gardens and fruit trees was appreciated. Darn, reading your memories bring back so many of my own. Tell those who arrange your tours to be sensible!!

  7. I finished Sin of the Fathers. To say I was bawling bucketloads of tears at the end is putting it mildly! It didn’t stop right away either! Every time I thought about it, even now, I tear up! Saw it coming but couldn’t face it until I was forced out of my bubble! Broke my heart. I will always remember how I laughed at the mental image of beau driving down the freeway the Lucy looking over his shoulder! You touched all my buttons once again. Thank you so much for your wonderful stories??

  8. My mother chopped fresh peaches the same way–with the sharp edges of a tin can which she also used as a biscuit cutter.

  9. I am also a child of the 50s but never heard of Krumbles. We ate Cheerios and corn flakes, or the assorted small individual boxes. Also Raisin Bran. My mom also canned fruit, made applesauce, and lots of blackberry jelly from berries that my grandfather would pick along the railroad tracks. Those were the days.
    I have read all of your books and I will try to be in the audience if you ever come to the Lowcountry of SC. I love your blogs too.

  10. I loved Krumbles, too! And pretty much every one of the hot cereals your dad used to cook for you! It’s so much fun to read these memories.

  11. Enjoy your blogs so much! Field of Bones was read quickly.Your books always ends to soon for me I want them to not end! Sorry I missed you in Tucson! Keep up your wonderful writing and blogs.

  12. This is a bit off topic, but I read this week that actress Jessica Simpson went on a diet and exercise program after the birth of her last child in March. He trainer had her walk 12,000 steps a day. She lost 100 lbs over six months. She changed her diet also, but I was interested in the walking. I assume you are still doing it.

    I remember eating oatmeal for breakfast, but never cared much for cold cereal. Don’t like fruit in it. Is interesting that so many do.

    • I’m still doing the walking. My Pedometer ++ gives me green lines on the days I make my ten. Red lines for under 5000, and orange for 5000 to 10,000. During the book tour I never made it out of the red zone. I’m back to green now. Since I started keeping track four years ago, I’ve walked 5,422,587 steps. That works out to be 2302 miles.

  13. Oh my gosh, you write blogs! I had no idea?
    I was at your Northgate book signing and don’t recall a mention of it, but then again I was in awe of seeing you for the first time and just happy to be in the front row ?lived listening to your lovely stories.
    Yes Krumbles is with a “K” Made back in 1912!

    • I’ve been writing blogs for years. You’re welcome to scroll back though the archives. It’s like reading my autobiography in weekly installments.

  14. Oh my gosh, you write blogs! I had no idea?
    I was at your Northgate book signing and don’t recall a mention of it, but then again I was in awe of seeing you for the first time and just happy to be in the front row ?lived listening to your lovely stories.
    Yes Krumbles is with a “K” Made back in 1912!

  15. Just finished reading “Sins Of The Fathers”. A very good read, but with unexpected twists. But the way it’s written, it sure feels like this is the end of the J. P. Beaumont series. I hope I am wrong about this, but as was noted in the book, Beaumont is 72 years old..

    • I’ve been writing blogs for years. You’re welcome to scroll back though the archives. It’s like reading my autobiography in weekly installments.

    • I don’t know why the other comment posted twice. I was trying to replay to you. As long as I’m still kicking, so is J.P. Beaumont.

  16. I’ve never thought of Beau retiring no matter what age he is. In fact I don’t remember any P.I. retiring because of age. With all of the modern tools for finding criminals he doesn’t need to be out and about, He can do a lot on a computer.

  17. As someone with a severe hearing loss (as in, pounding on the door would NOT wake me up), I would suggest that you MIGHT want to consider a shake awake alarm clock. Also known as Sonic Alert or Sonic Boom, these are really handy to take along to wake you up. As long as you set the am and pm settings correctly. LOL. Hoping that is helpful information. They don’t cost huge amounts of money, but better than relying on people. Thank you for all that you write. I love your books.

  18. JA, it is so good to hear that someone else suffers from the same affliction as I do, song lyrics come unsolicited into my head. ? This has been happening my entire life. Sometimes it is a song that I just heard on the radio or a television commercial but more times than not it is a song that I haven’t thought of or heard in forever. It is there singing in my head off and on all day. This happens pretty much every single day. Just wanted to let you know you are not alone in the earworm malady. I’m sure there are more of us out there. I have been reading your books for a very long time with Joanna being my favorite. Take care and enjoy your time at home.

  19. Hi J,
    You might want to try this organization, ALDS. COM. It was founded by a doctor who has only ever had 7% Hearing in his life. But he has travelled all over the world as a speaker and educator. His organization is now based in Langley British Columbia, just up the road North of B’ham. My father lost his hearing when he was in his mid-60s and so for pretty much 30 years he relied on the bells and whistles he found at Alds to adapt to life as hearing impaired. It was tough on him because he was a communicator.

    To save my mother’s sanity we actually had loop systems installed in each family room, in every subsequent house they moved to. That way my father could listen to the news at Full Tilt volume through his T Switch in his hearing aids. And mom could read in peace. There are now portable ones you can take with you and use under your chair in a restaurant for example. Not to mention almost every church and media venue now have them installed. One of your readers mentioned a shaking alarm clock. You’ll see many here at this site. The best thing is to be in touch with them because they can create a whole little bag of goodies that will help you in different situations. My father lost his hearing from working in the mines as a summer student. When he was sit at the dinner table and everyone was talking he just turned off his hearing aids and sat alone in his thoughts. For about $675 back in 2002 we were able to assemble a number of different gadgets so that he could sit at the dinner table and a monitor that sat on the table, much like the telephone monitors in boardrooms, would filter out the din and crystallize conversations through his T switch. And right now believe it or not they’re having a sale for Christmas. Go to Altho now a dot-Com it originally started out as an organization and does a lot of nonprofit work. If he is still there ask to speak to Hans. He’ll ask you a bunch of questions and from there he can probably provide a whole plethora of answers through gadgets to those things about loss of hearing that just makes one mental.

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