The Last Few Days of August

I mentioned last week that my mother, Evelyn Anderson, was born in 1914. My father, Norman Busk, was born in 1916. His birthday was August 21st. Hers was ten days later on August 31st.

I usually write this blog on Wednesdays. This week I’m writing it on Monday, August 24th, which would have marked my parents’ 84th wedding anniversary. They only got to celebrate 68. So naturally, during the last week in August, my thoughts turn to them.

My mother always said that she refused to marry my dad before he turned twenty because she didn’t want to be labeled a “cradle robber.” For that one week in August of 1936, he was twenty and she was “only” twenty-one.

To say that my father came from a dysfunctional family is truly understating the case. For ten years while he and his brothers were growing up, their parents didn’t speak to one another. The boys had to carry messages back and forth between them. Then, one wonderful day, my father discovered a normal family—the Andersons of Summit, South Dakota.

Grandpa Anderson, an old Swede if ever there was one, always liked to tell us kids that our dad originally came courting our mother’s younger sister, Toots. “I told him, ja sure, in this house we eat the old bread first.” And Evie was definitely “old bread.”

What made their marriage work was humor. Their house in Twin Brooks was close to the railroad. Each evening at supper time (It’s supper in South Dakota, not dinner!) just as they were sitting down to eat, a train would come through, blowing its whistle. One night, my mother decided that when the whistle blew that night, she was going to act like it scared her to death and dive under the table. She did so, only to come face to face with our dad who had decided to do the same thing.

Together they weathered many a storm—including a tornado that moved their barn off its foundation and left dead cow carcasses hanging in tree branches. There was one notable blizzard where our dad, taking a load of hogs to market, got stranded in Summit and had two break into a lumberyard to find shelter. Meanwhile, my two were sisters stuck with their fellow students in a one room school—with a wood stove and potatoes to bake and eat. In the meantime, Evie was at home with the baby (me). When it came time to milk the cows, she had to leave me in the house alone, screaming bloody murder, while she used the clothes line to guide herself back and forth to the barn.

Our mother cooked three meals a day for nine people, and we all sat down to eat together. Mealtimes were talking times at our house, and our father knew a lot of interesting stuff. Our dad had been banished from the Lutheran church in Marvin, South Dakota, because he believed when Ezekiel saw that wheel, he really did see a wheel—way up in the middle of the air. Our father believed from a very early age, that humans aren’t the only intelligent life in the universe.

Norman was also a whiz at math. Each morning, at 7:45, when we were all sitting down to breakfast, the local radio station, KSUN, ran a five minute program called Whiz Quiz. If you could call in and answer that day’s question correctly, you could win a pair of passes to the local movie theaters—the Lyric or the Fort Apache Drive In.

The station’s phone number at the time was 22277. When the host was getting ready to ask the question, I’d go in and dial the first four numbers, holding the last 7 dialed but unreleased until the question was asked. My favorite Whiz Quiz question of all time? How do you make eight eights equal one thousand. “That’s easy,” our father said, “888 + 88 + 8 + 8 + 8.” I let go of that last seven, answered the question, and won that month’s set of passes. You were only allowed to win once a month, and we usually did.

Years later, I was telling that story to Bill, my electronics engineer second husband. “Oh, Bisbee’s phone company central office must have had a Stroeger switch,” he told me. “When you dialed those first four numbers, you effectively kept anyone else from getting through.” Who knew?

One weekend while I was teaching on the reservation, I brought one of my fellow teachers home to visit. On Saturday afternoon after lunch, we sat around the dining room table talking and laughing. When we left the house later, my friend, asked. “Was your family always like that?” I was mystified, “Like what?” I asked. “I mean sitting around laughing and talking like that.”

And I was able to tell her, straight out, that’s what mealtimes were always like at Norman and Evie’s house.

For me each year, the end of August is a time for the Fifth Commandment, the one that says “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Of their seven kids, only five of us are left, but I have a feeling that there’ll be a lot of honoring going on in our family group emails this week because Norman and Evie Busk really were great people.

You have my word on that!

21 thoughts on “The Last Few Days of August

  1. Thank you for sharing your birth family with us today. You and your family were blessed with the love your parents provided daily. I read and smile. Good memories and good lessons. I suspect that your parents show up in your books more often than your readers realize.

  2. What a great way to start my day! I love listening to tales of happy families! As a product of a dysfunctional family, nothing makes me happier than learning about families that function. I am fortunate to have married into a most functional and loving family. I also feel it is important to keep those we love who are no longer with us present by sharing their stories.

  3. Loved your wonderful memories but since I came from a dysfunctional family, I have to admit I feel that I missed a lot. Have tried to make it up with my boys with the hope that they appreciate my efforts & do their best to have a happy family.

  4. My maternal Great-Grandfather John F. Gustafson came to the USA from Sweden in 1866. He ended up farming near Stratford, Iowa. The big meal was dinner at noon. Evening meal was supper and all he wanted was oatmeal. His wife was happy to do that . I never learned if she cooked a meal for the four sons and two daughters., but they probably ate what their father did. He lived to 80.

    By the way, he looked just like Edvard Grieg which would have bothered him as he had no use for Norwegians.

  5. I enjoyed your beautiful story of your family today.
    I grew up with parents that were loved by everyone. Our friends always wanted to come to our house on the weekends. There were strict rules as far as girls did not sit on boys laps, no PDA, no cursing, no smoking or drinking alcohol, etc but they came because it was fun, welcoming and full of love. We often had pizza making parties with an assembly line of 2 groups of 6 or 7 or even more.
    My father had a quick sense of humor and always had everyone laughing.
    During this pandemic I have been scanning old family photos and adding them on a private family Facebook page my family has for descendants of my mother’s parents. I realized that our home was always the “gathering” place for extended family, too. There are so many photos of my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins and good family friends sitting around the dining room table with coffee mugs, tea cups, glasses of iced tea and lemonade. In every picture at least one person is laughing. As I posted these photos, all my cousins were saying, “That must have been a good story.”
    Your blog today brought back many great memories today. Thank you. I needed that today.

  6. The Armistice Day blizzard in MN 1940 was so bad 154 people in the Mid-West died. Books have been written about it. My father got home, just barely, before it really hit. On a farm. Cows to milk. They had a “hired man” who was snowed in with us. They were able to string together from rope, clothes line and torn strips of sheets to access the barn.
    Armistice Day is now Veterans Day. Decoration Day is now Memorial Day for you youngsters among us.

  7. Wow, what a heart warming story. Brings back lots of memories from my childhood. GOOD OLD DAYS. I grew up in India but I guess “old timers “ were mostly similar around the world in those days. Disappointing that those values are rare these days. Only difference in our family was that we had lost our mother when I was a young child. But my father (God rest his sole) and my oldest sister (God’s grace she is still going strong at age 83), kept the “family”.

  8. You talk about a lifetime of writing – well, I have a lifetime of editing/proofreading. I caught two errors today, both of which would not have been caught by spell check. In the sentence describing your dad getting stranded in Summit, instead of two it should be “had to break in” to the lumberyard. In the following sentence, did you mean to say “my two were sisters stuck with…” or should it be my two sisters were stuck?

  9. My Aunt Margaret lived in Waubay. As we left the interstate, our first clue that we were approaching Waubay was that we could see the elevator building in Summit. We enjoyed swimming at Enemy Swim, where my aunt later in life had vacation cabins and eating at Bud and Lorraine’s small cafe. Do any of these ring a bell with you?

  10. What a lovely story!
    I wasn’t in Bisbee in those earlier days, but when I came, I listened to KSUN and went to both the drive-in and the Lyric. And of course we only had to dial five numbers!
    I was out of town for a week and, returning, I dialed a friend’s five numbers and kept getting an error message. I couldn’t figure out what in the world was going on so I finally dialed all seven to see if that would work. It did.
    My friend explained to me that over the week the system had changed and from now on we had to dial seven numbers.
    I remember thinking something sweet and important had died.

  11. I think city folks have no idea of what a blizzard is like when you live on a farm. I don’t remember any particular hardship when we had a blizzard in Iowa in the 1940’s. Grandpa was able to get to the barn to milk the three cows. Somehow the pigs and chickens got taken care of altho their houses were not near each other. We had lamps, heat and enough food. The third or fourth day after thee storm Grandpa walked two miles to town because he was out of snuff. That’s all he bought before he walked back home.

  12. I absolutely love all of your family stories. And I love the comments that your fans write, too.
    My family always sat to eat at one time until my father had a stroke and mom had to go to work. Things were so different after that. I look back now and see how awful my dad felt about that and how my mom struggled with 5 kids, but I never once heard her complain.
    Thank you for bringing back bittersweet memories.
    Janice Molina

  13. You were very blessed to have had such wonderful parents. I also had wonderful parents, and I count that as the biggest blessing of my entire life. Parents are so much more important than people seem to think.

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