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!