I’ve mentioned before that there were seven kids in our family, and we all ate breakfast and dinner together, three kids to a side around a gray Formica and chrome table. (It was the Fifties after all, and the plastic covering the kitchen chairs featured the same pattern as the Formica tabletop.) With our parents at either end, the three boys sat on a bench on one side, with their backs facing the kitchen windows. The three girls sat on the other. The baby, our youngest sister, was in a wooden homemade high chair next to our mother and, at breakfast time, the toaster!
Evie Busk’s rules for eating were simple: Eat a little bit of everything and everything on your plate! Oh, and no dessert unless those plates were clean. The “little bit of everything” affected different people in different ways and did not apply to our dad who was excused for the “everything rule” because he refused to eat tomatoes no matter what. Our parents made it clear that our family didn’t function as a democracy. Parental units were definitely in charge!
But back to that “little bit” bit. For me the dreaded vegetable was parsnips. To my way of thinking, they’re bitter and worse than useless. In the mid-Nineties, Bill and I traveled through the Midwest. On a stop in Milbank, South Dakota, I was both surprised and disappointed when my mashed potatoes came complete with hunks of parsnips lurking inside.
For my younger brother, Jim, the bane of his existence was green peas. As the middle one of the boys, he was always seated in the middle of the boys’ bench. One night at dinner, he began to heave. “What’s the matter?” my father asked. “Have you got a pea in your mouth?” “No,” Jim managed, “two!” What followed was an eruption that is still memorable to the two boys seated on either side of him.
After cleaning our plates, then came dessert. My mother often made puddings—chocolate, butterscotch, and Tapioca– which she served in her best dishes—the blue bubble glassware that had come to the folks as wedding presents from their 1936 wedding. I personally despised the butterscotch variety, but the “everything on your plate” rule applied to dessert as well.
And now, all of my mother’s family dining rules apply in my writing career just as much as they did back in the family kitchen on Yuma Trail in Bisbee.
In writing, I have to deal with “a little bit of everything.” That means replying to interview requests and responding to emails—including the countless daily requests offering to put advertising on my website and Facebook page. Those receive a standard reply: REMOVE ME FROM YOUR LIST! If I’m working on one book, I’m not allowed to wander off thinking about the next one until I clean my plate of the current one. And only after finishing a manuscript completely am I allowed dessert. Those vary. Sometimes they’re small things like having a long-delayed mani-pedi.
This past weekend I finished work on the next Joanna book, Missing and Endangered. I put in some very long hours, missing my 10,000-step goal two days in a row. In other words, I spent several days with my nose to the grindstone and shoulder to the wheel. It’s hardly surprising then, that on Monday morning of this week, I woke up with the sniffles.
The whole time I was on the banana peel and working like crazy, I had my eye on the dessert that was coming my way when I finished the manuscript—attending the Tucson Festival of Books and, two weeks later, embarking on a Disney Wonder cruise.
When my sniffles appeared on Monday morning, it was possible that they were caused by pollen-related allergies. My understanding is that the pollen count in the area is off the charts right now, but you’d never know it by watching the local news which is one-hundred percent Coronavirus one-hundred percent of the time.
I worked my way down the list. Allergies? Possibly. A spring time cold? If I’m going to have a cold, that’s usually when I get one. The flu? Maybe. Coronavirus? Maybe, too, but since Bill and I had barely ventured out of the house for the past couple of weeks, that seemed unlikely. Still, since we live in Bellevue, next door to Kirkland, aka Coronavirus Central, I didn’t want to risk going to TFOB and playing Typhoid Mary to bunches of unsuspecting fans.
So on Monday morning, I crafted a note to the festival expressing my regrets and saying I wouldn’t be attending. I received a note by return mail from Bill Viner saying that later in the day they would be sending out a press release saying the festival had been canceled entirely. Later that same day, we received an email saying that the Centers for Disease Control were recommending that people our ages, which is to say North of seventy, should NOT embark on cruises. So Disney Wonder is currently off the list as well.
Now we’re at home with our dogs, enjoying an unexpectedly travel-free moment in our lives. Once I finish writing this blog, I’ll get up off my chair and go get the rest of my steps, and while I’m at it, I’ll be wondering what the hell I’m going to write next. Because now it’s Ali’s turn, and I need another plate to clean.
I’m pretty sure dessert will be out there somewhere.
PS WASH YOUR HANDS! The flu is still out there, and it generally kills 20,000 people a year. You don’t want to be one of them, and neither do I!