In Praise of Norman Busk

My mother, Evie, gets a lot of attention in these missives while my dad, Norman, gets short shrift. That’s not really fair since they were full partners for 68 years. So today we’re going to fix this.

My father was a hard worker his whole life, but we always teased him about not holding a job, because over the years he changed jobs a lot. He worked as a farmer, a teacher, a county clerk, a copper miner, a truck driver, a contractor, and a life insurance agent. He set a daily example about the virtues of perseverance and hard work. He was smart. The local radio station had a daily quiz show where the prize was movie passes. You were only allowed to win once a month, and we did. I always had the number dialed before the questions were read, and he usually knew the answers. And those once-a-month movie passes were always welcome.

But my dad knew a lot about a lot of things, but he also loved poetry. One of his prized possessions, and now one of mine, is a copy of the Treasury of the Familiar which was given to him for Christmas the year he turned ten. Television came late to Bisbee, Arizona. The signals had to make their way over the Mule Mountains. In the years before that happened, we often sat around listening to our father read poetry—in the living room in the winter and on the front porch in the summer.

This week one of my friends and I had a disagreement. In texting back and forth, there was a misunderstanding. There were several testy messages back and forth before we sorted out that it was really a misunderstanding. It’s all sorted now, but in the aftermath, I remembered one of my father’s favorite poems, and sent it along to my friend. Today I’ve decided to send it along to my blog readers.

It was six men of Indostan, to learning much inclined,
who went to see the elephant (Though all of them were blind),
that each by observation, might satisfy his mind.

The first approached the elephant, and, happening to fall,
against his broad and sturdy side, at once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the elephant, is nothing but a wall!”

The second feeling of the tusk, cried: “Ho! what have we here,
so very round and smooth and sharp? To me tis mighty clear,
this wonder of an elephant, is very like a spear!”

The third approached the animal, and, happening to take,
the squirming trunk within his hands, “I see,” quoth he,
the elephant is very like a snake!”

The fourth reached out his eager hand, and felt about the knee:
“What most this wondrous beast is like, is mighty plain,” quoth he;
“Tis clear enough the elephant is very like a tree.”

The fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, Said; “E’en the blindest man
can tell what this resembles most; Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an elephant, is very like a fan!”

The sixth no sooner had begun, about the beast to grope,
than, seizing on the swinging tail, that fell within his scope,
“I see,” quothe he, “the elephant is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan, disputed loud and long,
each in his own opinion, exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!

So, oft in theologic wars, the disputants, I ween,
tread on in utter ignorance, of what each other mean,
and prate about the elephant, not one of them has seen!

In these divisive times, I think a reminder about these guys’ universally mistaken ideas about elephants might just be what the doctor ordered. If you think so, too, raise your cup of coffee in honor of Norman Busk.

As I said before, he was one smart guy.

32 thoughts on “In Praise of Norman Busk

  1. ??Here’s to Norman Busk! Thank you for this, JA.
    (Just in case the first image doesn’t translate properly here, it’s a steaming cup of coffee:))

  2. ??Here’s to Norman Busk! Thank you for this, JA.
    (Just in case the first image doesn’t translate properly here, it’s a steaming cup of coffee:))

  3. In the eye of the beholder. We all Have our opinions and ways of seeing, feeling, reacting, reliving. You make it OK in your humble and interesting way. Thank you sooo much. Chuck in Tacoma. This is being sent to You via Windows 11, see I am still attempting to get into the 21st century. Your direction and aid has been greatly appreciated.

    • You are not alone, Chuck! I am O.K. online, but after trying for a year to figure out how to use my smartphone, even answering calls was a major challenge for me, I had to ask my husband for a “dumb phone-” Much better for a dinosaur like me-
      Dinosaurs love company!

  4. Thank you for your weekly blog. I always read them but never post a response.
    Your sharing about your father made me think of all the wonderful things my father did for my brother and myself. Again thank you.

  5. I remember your Dad and Mom very well when they used to come to South Dakota to visit his brother Harold and his cousins including my Dad Dick. What great and interesting people they were.

  6. My daughter, who is an attorney, loves poetry. I forwarded your email to her and in no time she had ordered the Treasury of the Familiar! ?
    I really loved reading your post and you are right….that poem is perfect for the time in which we live.
    Thank you!

  7. I always struggled to find ways to get along with my father. He’s been gone a bit over 9 years now, and one of the ways I feel more healed is to appreciate what he did give me. Thanks for the reminder!

    My father encouraged us to sing by singing us every silly song he knew — such as Yes We Have No Bananas and Purple People Eater. He always had a book in progress, and made sure we had plenty around us, reading to us till we’d learned to do it for ourselves. Normally frugal, he was a sucker for an encyclopedia salesman! I’d read them for fun! He took us on road trips and had us each take turns with the map and navigation. I am still a map addict. We learned history at National Parks. He, and his father before him, loved a garden, as I love my own. There’s a birch tree out front that is “Dad’s tree”.

    So here’s to Norman, and here’s to Mike!

    • I’m glad this remembrance brought back some good memories of someone who sounds like he might have been a bit challenging. By the way, my father was terrible at singing but that didn’t keep him from singing silly songs. “It’s nice to get up in the morning when the sun is beginning to shine. It’s nice to get up in the morning in the good old summertime.

  8. Thank you for giving time to the saga of Norman Busk. Men of that generation were generally more influential in the background of our lives but they were there if we just remember to look.
    For over 60 years, I have treasured the memory of the stories my dad used to make up for us. Timothy Inch was a leprechaun, one inch tall. To this day, I remember the giggles from my sisters and me when he fell into a bucket of wallpaper paste! That’s where the subtle, background training came in. We kids had to brainstorm how to get Timothy out of the bucket. Only then would dad finish the story.

  9. My Dad, Russell Anderson, was an Iowa farm boy of Swedish descendant. At that time farm boys usually went to school for only eight years. They didn’t go on to high school. He was a great reader and taught himself how to make and repair motors on tractors and cars. In addition to farming, he had a successful repair business. He always encouraged to ask questions about how things worked. You never said, “I can’t do that.” You figured out how to do it.

  10. Judy,
    It’s obvious you were very fond of your father. This post so reminds me of my own dad. We were very poor, but he loved singing the same silly songs to us as another of your fans, Patricia Parcells, father did. He loved telling us stories. I am the oldest of 5 so I remember much more than my siblings as my dad died very young. This post reminds me that I need to tell my brother & sisters all the good and fun things my dad did that they probably don’t remember. I’m toasting Norman and my dad, Jim.
    I really appreciate this post. It has brought me to tears.

  11. Love the poem! Thank you for sharing. Maybe you need to send this along to our congressional delegates!!

  12. Well my friend, as usual you manage, thru these letters you send, to find ways to twist one’s mind in a way to help one see (a previously untenable situation- for instance) in a different way.
    Of course, many of us (especially of a certain age) have heard the elephant story – tho perhaps not in the form of poetry. BUT now after almost 3/4 of a century, this “blind” woman UNDERSTANDS what the story means!
    Yeah – I know – DUH! Haha. Thanks my friend. Truly!

  13. Thank you for sharing this amazing poem and your memories of your Father. He sounds like he was a very smart and insightful man. I do look forward to the Friday posts and this one with the poem was especially topic during these times.

  14. Interesting poem; I had heard a similar story as a Buddhist teaching. In looking up the poem, I see that the poet, one John G. Saxe, was well known in his time (late 1800s/early 1900s) but now is pretty obscure. There are always things to learn!


  15. I raise my Cup of Coffee to Norman Busk! What a wonderful father and teacher and
    role model-
    I knew the Elephant story, but had never heard the poem- It is so beautiful and so wise- A lovely reminder that none of knows the whole story or the whole truth-

  16. What a marvalous reminder and explanation of “opinion.”

    I enjoy reading every one of your posts, especially the ones showing the results of your upbringing. Many of today’s parents could take lessons from these stories.

  17. I have been re-reading the Beaumont books. In “Payment in Kind” he mentions that he escaped being drafted to go to Viet Nam. We know that was changed in “Second Watch”.
    Also of interest is Beau’s first meeting with his grandparents. He didn’t know they were still alive, but found the name in the phone book. It took a bit of time until he got courage to show up on their doorstep, but it is a moving story at the end of the book.

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