Losing Dede

We lost our sister-in-law of fifty-two years standing this week. Deidre Busk suffered a heart attack at her home in Madison, Alabama, on Sunday, and passed away on Tuesday. Dede and my brother, Arlan, met on the first day of their social dancing class at the University of Arizona, and as Arlan says, it was all downhill for her from then on. It reminds me of that old song, Strangers in the Night. “Love was just a glance away, a warm embracing dance away..,” and they were a couple from then on. They even danced together in the University of Arizona’s production of The Merry Widow.

Arlan was career military, which means the Dede was a career military wife with all that entails, including the constant moves from one posting to another. They moved nineteen times in the course of a twenty-six year career, and she still managed to finish her college degree. Together they had two wonderful daughters, Dianna and Ingrid, and a whole flock of smart and accomplished grandkids.

As a couple, they loved to travel, including a Royal Caribbean round-the-world cruise in 2015. If Bill and I were somewhere near or east of the Mississippi for a book tour event, they were there. We met up with them in Memphis, Nashville, Montgomery, and New Orleans over the years and grabbed some family time together in the middle of book festival hullabaloo. We also got to travel with them on an Alaska cruise.

With Arlan and Dede living in Alabama and their kids in Florida and Virginia, a happy gathering spot for kids and grandkids was always Gatlinburg, TN. Dede finally gave up sending out Christmas cards in a timely fashion and started sending out a Groundhog Day newsletter instead. This year’s edition of that showed all three generations dressed up in 1880s costumes for family photo time in Gatlinburg.

Dede was loving and organized. She loved dogs, yes, but she also loved fish and had a gigantic aquarium as the centerpiece of her living room.

When Arlan and Dede married, she wore the wedding dress that I had bought for $127 in 1966. My mother was appalled that I had paid so much, but once the wedding dress had been worn twice, she felt a little better. After all, $63.50 per wedding isn’t bad. Arlan is well over six feet. I’m six-one. Dede was a little shorter than that, but not enough so as you’d notice. Consequently, the dress fit her just fine. Then a few years later, when our younger brother, Gary, married his Kathy, another six footer, the wedding dress appeared once more. With the original wedding dress clocking in at $42 per wedding my mother was downright ecstatic.

But now, it’s not just weddings because the number of total years involved is pretty remarkable. For Jerry Janc and me, the dress was only good for thirteen years, but for Arlan and Dede, it lasted for fifty-two. As for Gary and Kathy? They’re still going strong at 45, bringing the per-year cost of the dress down to a very reasonable $1.15. Evie would be proud.

But talk of the wedding dress aside, Yes, I’m saddened by Dede’s loss. She died a day after turning 73. But here’s what makes me grateful. Together, Arlan and Dede were an exemplary couple. When they said those wedding vows, they meant them. They took the good with the bad. And once Arlan retired so they could travel, they did. They didn’t delay doing what they wanted to do until it was too late.

Yes, when they took each other’s hands in that long ago dance class, it was indeed the start of something big—fifty-two years of seizing every special day and every precious moment.

When we first fall in love, very few people bother to read the fine print at the end of the contract that says that, by agreeing to love, we are automatically agreeing to lose—eventually; sooner or later.

Fifty-two years may seem like a long time later, but for Arlan, I’m sure it isn’t nearly long enough.