My Life as an Open Book, Part 2

Norman, Harold
Elmer, Mary, Henry

The family portrait featured here is of my father’s family. Norman Busk is on the lefthand side of the photo standing next to his older brother, my Uncle Harold. Their younger brother, Elmer, is seated with their parents Mary and Henry, from Marvin, South Dakota. Bill has always maintained that Busks are like golden retrievers in that they “breed true.” That explains why my grandson, Colt, bears such an uncanny resemblance to my dad.

Norman was born into a totally dysfunctional family. For ten years while my father and his brothers were growing up, their parents didn’t speak to one another. Their sons had to carry messages back and forth between them. My grandfather, Henry Busk, was a never charged and never convicted pedophile. (Don’t ask me how I know!) Grandma Busk was, without a doubt, the meanest woman I ever met. Upon meeting my mother for the first time, she said, “It’s such a shame your ears are so big.” As you can see from the photo, Mary Busk wasn’t exactly what you could call a head-turner. In 1967, while driving from Arizona to Chicago, I stopped by the family farm in the middle of the afternoon to say hello. Grandma Busk came out into the yard and told me how inconvenient it was to have “unexpected company.” I got back into my car and drove away. That’s the last time I ever saw her.

Shortly after Norman turned 18, he went to Summit, South Dakota, ten miles and worlds apart from his previous life in Marvin. That’s where he met Evelyn Anderson who came from an entirely normal family. Fortunately for all of us, even at that tender age, he was smart enough to grab onto normal and to hold onto it for dear life. Evie was slightly more than two years older than he was. When they married two years later, they did so on the twenty-fourth of August—three days after he turned twenty and six days before she turned twenty-two because she didn’t want to be called a “cradle robber.” They were married for 68 years.

One of the reasons my dad gets so little ink in my blog is that he was always out working and bringing home the bacon while our mother kept the home fires burning. At my parents 50th wedding anniversary, my older sister, Janice, said that although our father always worked, he never held the same job for very long. He got a teaching certificate from a normal school but couldn’t earn enough working as a teacher to support his growing family. Ditto for being a county clerk. Over the years and more or less in chronological order, he worked as a farmer, an underground miner, a truck driver, a carpenter, an owner of a construction company, and finally a life insurance salesman. He did that for the next thirty some odd years. In preparation for going into the life insurance business, one of the last jobs he undertook as a building contractor was remodeling the local dentist’s office in exchange for being fitted with a set of false teeth.

My father was a free thinker. Very early on he was drummed out of the local Lutheran church for believing that when Ezekiel saw that wheel “way up in the middle of the air,” he wasn’t making it up. Norman was interested in the Mathematical and Astronomical intricacies behind the construction of things like the Great Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge and felt as though the builders of same must have had “outside assistance” from somewhere else. Conversations around our evening supper table sometimes featured discussions of books like Worlds in Collision by Immanuel Velikovsky. That’s where I first heard the words “pyroclastic blasts” although I didn’t understand them until decades later when Mt. St. Helens blew up.

In the years before TV came over the Mule Mountains to Bisbee and before my dad went into the insurance business requiring nighttime appointments, long evenings at home were spent listening to our father read poetry to us from his beloved copy of the Treasury of the Familiar, which was gifted to him by his brother-in-law, my Uncle Ernest Johnson, on December 25, 1945. Many of those poems continue to resonate in my heart even today: Laugh and the World Laughs with You; Horatius at the Bridge; It Was Six Men of Indostan; I Had But Fifty Cents; The Wreck of the Hesperus. The youngest kids in our family of seven, the ones who arrived post I Love Lucy, missed those poetry readings, and maybe that’s the reason that tattered volume book was gifted to me upon our father’s death.

Norman Busk was smart. Every morning at 7:45, KSUN Radio aired a five-minute program called WhizQuiz. The host would ask a question, and the first person to call in the correct answer would win two passes to the Fort Apache Drive-In. The station’s phone number was 432-2277. I would sit with all the numbers dialed and waiting to let go of that last seven, which I always did as the question was asked. I could count on our father to have the correct answer on the tip of his tongue. A family was only allowed to win once and month, and we usually did. One question in particular that I’ve never forgotten was this: How do you make eight eights equal a thousand. “That’s easy,” Norman said, ‘eight-hundred eighty-eight, plus eighty-eight, plus eight, plus eight, plus eight.” And viola, we had that month’s pair of passes.

Our father provided our family with everything we needed, but it wasn’t until 1973 that we were able to give him something meaningful back. For Father’s Day that year, we all (Evie included) chipped in five hundred bucks. With that we bought him a round-trip plane ticket to Europe, an Eu-Rail Pass, and a copy of Europe on $5 a Day. We announced the gift to him on Mother’s Day because he needed to be packed up and ready to go by the time Father’s Day rolled around. When we told hm what was up, he said, “You can’t do that. It’s too much.” “Look,” I said, “when you die, I’m not buying you any flowers, and if anyone asks why, I’ll tell them it’s because I spent all my flower money sending him to Europe.” Two hours later, the dining room table at their house in Bisbee Junction was covered with maps collected from years’ worth of National Geographic magazines as he began planning his trip. He was gone for six weeks total that summer, but he still sold the same amount of life insurance that year.

Norman Busk was a good man, a proud man, an honorable man, and an excellent father. Considering the family dynamic he came from, I think that’s pretty damned remarkable.

PS. As of July 3, 2022, I’m at 17,000,000 steps and counting.

39 thoughts on “My Life as an Open Book, Part 2

  1. I don’t know the actual words to “Laugh and the world laughs with you,” but my dad always said, “laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you get your shirt bosom wet.”

    Wonderful memories here! I’m glad your dad met Evie!

  2. I can hear your voice so clearly as you write this “open book” series, Judy, and I honestly love you more each Friday.

  3. Thank you for this glimpse into your father’s life
    I agree
    He was a remarkable man
    You were blessed to have him as a father

  4. This is a beautiful picture of your father.
    The foundation of who you are & how you share the stories so many read & love.
    There are never enough of your books & they are too far between.
    Love your spirit & all your words.

  5. Thank you so much for these homilies. Makes me think of my Father and his father, my Grandfather. They also led interesting lives, at the end of the 1880’s through early 2004. Miss them both!

  6. I’m sorry to hear what poor excuses for grandparents you had. Luckily it doesn’t seem to have had a lasting impact on your life – at least publicly. You were blessed with good parents, and it sounds like they were your role models.

    • I thank you for being open about your grandparents past. Just goes to show you (we) can overcome our past and become very special and happy people.

  7. Wow! Thank you for that encouraging story! I used to be a social worker, and often heard clients excuse their “loser behaviour” by saying, “Well, I have no choice–I come from a dysfunctional family!” Your dad’s story illustrates the fact that a background of dysfunction does not HAVE to result in “loser-ness” (I realize that’s not a word, but it says what I mean!) but that the person CAN become a “good…proud…honorable” person, and an excellent parent. Good for your dad, and thank you for telling us about him!

  8. I think this is the first time you have mentioned the trip you all gave your father. What a wonderful gift! I am a bit envious; a Eurail journey for 6 weeks is my idea of a perfect adventure.

    The image of him with the maps spread out reminded me of the planning I used to do with my children for our shorter trips to various parts of the USA. Our trips tended to have themes, and though we planned a lot, there was room for spontaneity as well. When we went to Texas one spring, we saw so many dead armadillos on the roads that we went in search of a live one! Eight zoos/wildlife centers later, my daughter was holding a baby armadillo. A perfect foil to the air and space tours and history lessons.

  9. Thanks for a very heart warming story. It is always inspiring to me when people grow up in adverse situations and overcome them to be solid citizens and good parents. Sounds like you did okay in the parent lottery.

  10. I love your comment that your dad made sure your family had what they needed. Maybe you had things that you wanted, but there was not enough money for them. You were so lucky to have him as your dad.

    I had never heard the story of you sending him to Europe. What a great thing to do.

  11. I too had a mean grandmother. In my case it was my mother’s mother. There was her way and the wrong way. And if you did it the wrong way, you would hear about it! I’m not sure what she would say if you did it her way as I never did anything her way. Fortunately for me and my siblings, my mother (named Evelyn) was the total opposite. We went to her house.pretty much every Sunday for.dinner. I don’t remember her ever saying something like it was nice to see us and she was glad that we came. It was “well you are finally here. I could have died and no one would know.”
    The last time that I saw her was just hours before she died at 102. She actually said that she loved me. That’s the only time that I can remember her saying that.

  12. Wow what a family life you had. Love how you blend family and friends in your books as your characters and that they grow and age like the rest of us. Keep up writing your stories.

  13. So lovely to know that some do escape what might seem insurmountable circumstances of having no choice about their parentage! His strength of character and his determination to mate with his chosen wife surely gave you a solid platform from which to spring. I’m certain he was extremely proud of you. Thank you, for sharing that love.

  14. Thank you for sharing a window into your life with us.

    Your father sounds like a great father to have. I wish mine had been more like him.

    My father was like your grandfather never charged, never convicted. My oldest sister told the pastor of the church we went to but rather than do something to help, the pastor told my father and within a month we had suddenly moved from Southern California to a small midwestern town of 3500 people, where he grew up. It took them less than month to put the three of us girls on a plane to stay with my grandmother, sell the house, and quit his job with the defense industry at the height of the Cold War to go to work in a grocery store. At one point, I told a teacher but the teacher did nothing. I hope that times have changed considerably since the 70’s and early 80’s but, with the work I did and things I saw as a paramedic and nurse over the years, sadly I don’t feel much has changed to protect children.

    • So sorry, Judith. I think that your experience with the sudden move is common. I taught kindergarten. I once reported a child with a suspicious burn on the back of her leg to CPS. The next day, she was out of my class and at a different school. Sadly, I have absolutely no idea what happened to her after that. I had a boy for a few months that already had a file with CPS. When I tried to take steps to address his behavior problems, he too was out of my class and was gone from our school by the end the year.

      • I never thought about it from a teachers perspective before, thank you for sharing. I am sure it was a difficult situation to face. I don’t blame the teacher whom I told. At the time he was renting the pasture behind our house for his horses, he and his wife let me show their horses and go with them to shows around the state. I sure it was a difficult situation for him to face especially in such a small town.

        I know the children I ran across working as a paramedic and nurse that were traumatized by abuse broke my heart. After 12 years as a paramedic and 20 years as a nurse seeing children so damaged and broken I finally quit both jobs and got out of the medical field.

  15. Wow-I can’t think of enough good words to describe how much I like this essay. I sense no resentment on your part when you describe his jobs. At least he put food on the table. His intellect was incredible (you know where your abilities come from!) And though you don’t mention him in your books, you told US about him.
    And now we know.
    Jackie Olsen

  16. Sorry for your ‘bad’ side and wonderful for your ‘good’ side!

    My husband and I got married 24 August –

    My Dad was a smart guy too. Playing Trivial Pursuit at our son’s bachelor party (bride’s family were absent for a while as her younger sister graduated from high school that same weekend) – family and lots of college/engineering students – my Dad was the hands-down best at answering and received awe from non-family members…. family already knew he was smart.

    Love your books – IOR

  17. This essay made me smile regarding no flowers for his funeral. My father in law was a lot like your father. Your father sounds like a wonderful man.

  18. I too am a survivor of my grandfather and my father. Much love to you, sister.

  19. My husband has recited I Had But 50 Cents for many years. I’m so glad you had a good father. So do I.

    • He went on his own and stayed in Youth Hostels all over Europe. They were able to visit Europe together later when they traveled there for a Kiwanis convention. My mother had traveled there on her own earlier when she went with her father, A.G. Anderson.

  20. This makes me think, once again, of why so many children of bad parents tried to give their children better than what they had. Each generation seems to have turned it around to where they have now gone overboard, back the other direction, some harming their children for adulthood. Not sure where the middle road is anymore. Do I get a ribbon now?

  21. What a neat story about your dad. And, congratulations on your steps!!

    I still remember the time my mother-in-law gave me a pant suit that she had made. She gave it to me as she said it was too big for her and she knew that, of her three daughters-in-law, I’d be the one “big enough” to wear it! I never wore it. I was also 5′ 8″ at the time and she was a lot shorter.

  22. What a lovely group of boys your father and his brothers were – and coming from such a negative situation! I laughed at the story of your rude grandmother – I think my husband’s aunt must have been related to her, she would come out with the most horribly rude remarks, people were sure they couldn’t have understood what she meant.


  23. I love Treasury of the Familiar. A lady we called an extra grandma had one and every time we went to her house I pulled it out. When I was a senior in high school, back in 1963, my parents gave me a copy at Christmas. After that they bought my the next two volumes. My favorite books, besides yours.

  24. My grandparents wouldn’t win any prizes either. My grandmother was mean as a snake but my mom waited on her hand and foot, hoping that would make gramma love her. On Mom’s deathbed as I was giving her a backrub, I saw the jagged scar for the first time. Grandpa beat her with a board with a nail in it when she was just a kid. My daughter made a priceless comment when she read your blog. She said, “Isn’t it amazing what people can accomplish when they don’t use their rotten childhood as an excuse?”

  25. Your father was an amazing man. I can see much of him in you. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. Your memories of things so long ago blows me away. Maybe all the walking? ?

  26. Your blogs always get me thinking. So let me pose this question: wouldn’t it still be better to have known grandparents who were objectionable and dysfunctional than not to have known your grandparents at all? I never knew any of mine; my mother’s father perished in Treblinka. (I only met my father once.) Is it better to have profound gaps in your life or to have unpleasant memories?

    • In a cultural climate that refused to acknowledge the culpability of child molesters, staying away from the offender seems to me to have been the better course.

      I’m sorry that you missed knowing your grandparents, especially given the circumstances.

      I’m a firm believer in chosen family as a way to compensate for missing extended family. My wife and I are fortunate to have supportive, accepting relatives, but I know many people who need a community around them to fill the gaps left by families that are not so minded.

      I’m standing with the folks who admire Norman Busk for finding a better path through life.

  27. Your parents remain one of my very favorite subjects-
    It is a true miracle that Norman somehow was born with a heart and brain seemingly genetically unrelated to those of his parents! With both nature and nurture so compromised, he recognized Evie and her family as the life-giving fountain they were-
    The picture of you and Mom and siblings all listening to Dad read poetry is inspiring- Not having access to T.V. was a gift-

  28. Judy,
    Your posts always manage to hit close to home with me. So often I laugh myself silly and sometimes I want to weep. Thank you for every word you write.

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