Home Sweet Home

Yuma Trail

In a flurry of photos shared in a familial group e-mails this past week was this photo of our home on Yuma Trail in Bisbee, Arizona.

My folks pulled up stakes and left the farm in South Dakota on the second of January, 1949. It was twenty-two degrees below zero on the day we left. They had to use a team of horses to drag our ’49 Ford and the trailer behind it out to the county road. The trailer held our worldly goods, including the 300 quarts of canning my mother had put up the previous summer. It also included the EasySpin clothes washer my mother had won in a raffle at a county fair years earlier. She hadn’t been able to use it on the farm because there was no electricity, but they brought it along “just in case.” My father often said that he had to dodge highway scales on the trip because the trailer was severely overloaded.

I was four years old at the time. Riding in the backseat with my two older sisters, I have no recollection of how cold it was, nor do I remember the five days we were snowbound in Enid, Oklahoma. But I have a distinct recollection of the March day, two and a half months later when we moved into the house in Bisbee. I don’t know if you can make out the wrought iron fence in the foreground, just in front of the clothesline my mother would use at least twice a week for the next twenty or so years. But back to that fence. I was a kid. I didn’t have to concern myself with moving furniture or unpacking. I went out into the yard and grabbed two of the uprights on that fence. I remember hanging there, looking up at the clear blue sky and feeling the sun all over my body. That was the beginning of my long love affair with Arizona. I didn’t consciously remember how cold it had been back on the farm, but I loved how warm it was on that March day.

At the time, Bisbee was something of an oasis. Every house had two water systems—house water and yard water. The yard water was pumped out of the mines and was free to use. It contained all kinds of mineral content and the trees and grass loved it. Somewhere there’s a photo of me sitting next to my dad along with two bushel baskets of apricots picked from the two trees at the top end of the clothes line. On the far side of the house were peach trees and out back were two fig trees. The house didn’t have a cooler of any kind, and so every summer, generally on the hottest days of the year, my mother was in the kitchen overseeing the canning of quart after quart of peaches and apricots.

The house itself was constructed of blocks with a wooden porch and two sleeping porches attached to the front. I’ve mentioned previously that the house was only a two bedroom. With seven kids, that was a logistical challenge, and for years my folks discussed incorporating the front porches into the house itself and creating a third bedroom. But for a very long time, that’s all that happened—talk. With my father in the construction business, the long delayed remodel was an issue. I recall my mother making pointed remarks about the “shoemakers’s shoeless kids.”

And then one day, when I was in third grade, my mother hit the wall—in every sense of the word. Third-graders got out at 3:30 in the afternoon. My younger brother, Arlan, was in kindergarten, and they got out of school at 11:30 in the morning. When I got home that day, I found my mother, dressed in a pair of my father’s cover-alls, wielding a crow-bar and sledge hammer. Once Arlan came home from school, Evie and he had totally demolished the block wall between the porches and the rest of the house. With that the much delayed home remodel was officially underway. The wooden sleeping porch on the far side of the photo became the “third bedroom” which I shared with my younger sister, Jane. Later on my father and my mother’s father, Grandpa Anderson, went to work on the unfinished basement and created a one-bedroom apartment downstairs.

My folks paid cash for the house and lived in it until after I graduated from college. Eventually Phelps Dodge began running mine water through the tailings dump to leach copper out of the waste dug from the mines. At that point free yard water went away. As a consequence so did most of the fruit trees and grass in town. The plant life that had thrived on the mineral rich mine water, withered and died on the clean drinking water which was also, in many cases, prohibitively expensive.

I know many of my fans who have visited Bisbee have taken the Lavender Jeep Tour and driven past the house on Yuma Trail. The current owner keeps a flock of chickens in the yard. The place is pretty much a derelict now, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the metal cabinets my father installed in the kitchen in the Fifties are still there. Outside the place is a virtual junk yard. The driveway pavement has disintegrated. The two car garage is still standing, but I suspect it’s most likely filled with junk as well. I remember the garage mostly because of its grease pit which was covered by a lid of loose heavy planks. That’s where I directed my three younger brothers, all of them armed with wooden swords, to reenact the poem our father often read to us—Horatius at the Bridge.

With the enemy bearing down on Rome and with only one bridge over the Tiber separating the city from certain destruction, a gatekeeper named Horatius stepped up and said:

“In yon strait path a thousand
May well be stopped by three.
Now who will stand on either hand
And keep the bridge with me?”

The three of them did just that, stalling the enemy with sword play while the citizens of Rome demolished the bridge.

In my garage reenactment, the six-foot deep concrete grease pit served as the Tiber River. Three planks, with all the others removed, served as the bridge. My, mother, the only member of the audience, sat there cool as a cucumber while her three sons duked it out on “that yon strait path!” I realize now, Evie Busk had nerves of steel.

The house on Yuma Trail isn’t at all what it once was, but it’s the place where Norman and Evie Busk gave all seven of their kids a solid foundation in what was right and what was wrong. It’s where we were taught the value of hard work. It’s where we sat around the kitchen table as a group doing homework while our mother made dinner. It’s where we spent hot summer days going barefoot in the grass and using a push mower to mow the steep lawn.

Even though it’s not possible to go home again, I’m glad to have this photo. Seeing it has brought back many happy memories, and I’m guessing this story is reminding some of my readers of the homes in which they, too, came of age. Life was different back then, and I’m grateful to have lived in that time and place.

It is gone but not forgotten.

34 thoughts on “Home Sweet Home

  1. “It is gone but not forgotten”….amen to that! I feel the same way about my childhood. I, too, recently went on the Lavendar Jeep Tour. The house is exactly as you describe here. I sometimes drive out to our old homestead in the middle of the Arizona desert, between Wittmann and Surprise, and wonder, “What have you done to our place?!” Thanks for another great post!

  2. Always read whatever you write no matter where it appears. It makes me think of when you showed for book signings and we could chat one on one after your stories you told the audience…..miss those times
    Just wanted to say hello and let you know I’m still alive and wish you all the best…..give a rub and a pat to any critters running around.

  3. You are correct. Your blog brought memories of the house where I grew up. We had a three bedroom house. My mother was so proud of our home because most of the houses in our area had only two bedrooms. My brother and I each had our own bedroom. Mine was big enough for my bed, a dresser and a desk. It was private domain and I loved it dearly
    Over the last fifty year, our town has deteriorated into a less charming place for low income families. Recently, I returned to my old hometown with three of my childhood friends. When we got to my house there was a man mowing the lawn. He came over the car and I told him that I had been raised in the that house and had many happy memories.
    He invited me to come inside. I was delighted. As I walked into the front room it seemed so much smaller and the hall was much shorter than I remembered.. In the kitchen, he asked me about a strange kind of cabinet. I explain that it was an old ice box. The middle drawer was for ice. The top drawer was for food storage and the bottom one was for catching the melted ice water.
    Then it was into my old bedroom. That little room now held three set of bunkbeds. The walk-in closet had a dresser and a small clothes rack. Shoes were placed under the beds. On the walls beside each bed were pictures decorated by each child. It was their own little private domain. I felt a real connection.
    As I left the house I thanked the man. It was a wonderful experience. I could decide whether I felt happy or I felt sad. I knew visit back in time was something I will always remember.

    BTW: We’re you able to go inside of your old home?

  4. Not quite the same except for the weather. My dad was career Army.
    We left Germany in March of 1960.
    We left New York and drove through covered ground until we got to southern Arkansas. Then we arrived in San Antonio. Having lived in Germany for three years the Texas heat wasn’t hot. It was HOT.
    Now l can’t stand being cold.

  5. My Mom and Dad lived in Bisbee in the early 40s. He worked in the mines there. So many questions I wish I had asked my Mom about living in Bisbee during that time. My brother and sister were born at the Copper Queen Hospital.

  6. you did it again, took us back to our Military brat mobile lives. Thanks again, Glad u are still on Lavendar JEEP ROUTE. Chuck in Tacoma. Aloha.

  7. So true, and the more experience we add (years), the more we treasure these poignant memories.

  8. My dad was an excellent carpenter, but it was hard to get him to do something in the house. He would sooner or later. A very hot day in July in Iowa he decided to take out the pantry in the kitchen and build cabinets for a new sink. My sister and I were in high school and enlisted to help him tear down several walls. What a mess. I remember we went outside and sprayed each other with cold water afterwards. It ended up looking very nice and was there until the house was torn down a few years ago.

  9. Thank you for the walk down memory lane. It did bring to mind my childhood home. In fact, I was in Tacoma for my 60th High School Reunion and took my son and his wife to my old neighborhood only to find apartment houses for 3 blocks. My house was gone!

  10. Your best post yet. Tears to my eyes. I sure would like to know why the mine water was so rich in nutrients.

  11. When I was 5 years old my parents bought an undeveloped lot, paid to have a contractor build a shell, and did all the finish work themselves, with the help of friends. We lived in that 4-bedroom “dream house” for 3 years, till my dad got transferred to another state. Dad was all set to tackle another fixer-upper, but mom put her foot down and said NO. We wound up in a three-bedroom (my sister and I had to share again) and some years later Dad did work on the basement to add that 4th bedroom, as well as a second bathroom.

    When we moved again, while I was in high school, Mom was ready to let Dad tackle a house that needed work. I remember things like all of us in a line rolling out a carpet in the basement, trying to keep the thing flat and even — it was probably 50 feet to cover the length of the family room. He built an island of closets between the living room and the hall. Lots of wallpaper and painting.

    I think that was the last house that they did major work on; Mom had had enough! Dad, though, kept up his maintenance and in retirement took on their church’s Buildings and Grounds responsibility. I admire your mother for being willing to tackle such a big job!

    • That one was previously occupied by a. Mrs. Whiteaker, a widow and maker of the best lemon meringue pies ever! b. Mrs. Toon, another widow, and c. Arky and Lilyan Weatherford.

  12. Thank you for sharing your memories.
    It’s heartwarming to hear how your family survived and thrived with so little ‘worldly’ possessions and had an abundance of family values and love to create a good life.

  13. I’m not feeling that good and just a little sorry for myself until I read your blog. I remember my folks and their 5 kids in a 2 bedroom house, I slept on a unpadded couch in the living room. I them remembered my girlfriend who slept on blankets in a closet. Today I have a beautiful home. Enough to make me stop feeling sorry for myself, thanks my gifted friend for the reminder.

  14. My family and I lived in Bisbee from 1988-2018 and I must say that it is one of best town we lived in. I miss our house which is on S. Anama Ln.

  15. Yep – my dad was moving in and my 4 year old brother was in tow while mom was delivering me. I lived there in that brand new house until I married at 19. Mom lived there 58 years and left it to John and me when she died (Dad had died 7 years prior) and it was very hard to sell it. It was our home. It was all we knew.
    I get the feelings about your home. It’s a family member too!

  16. Bisbee memories!! In 1952, my older brother Jack, was assisting pastor a Seventh Day Adventist church in either Douglas or Bisbee, Arizona. My mother took my sister and me to visit Jack by train, from Los Angeles…it was a short visit on our way to see my sister in San Antonio. Jack drove us through Bisbee, and although I was only 15, I do remember the narrow streets wound along the base of steep hills, in the town area. Houses and other buildings were built up the sides of those hills, so unlike the flatland in southwest Los Angeles, where we lived. I have faint memories of Jack’s references to copper mining…do not remember seeing any mine. Your blog also triggered sweet memories of my children’s childhood home in La Crescenta, CA…shared with them. We have been texting about all sorts of things today, even names of plants. So enjoyed your blog. ??

  17. I was born and raised in Seattle and still on occasion drive by the two houses our family lived in back then. Good memories.

  18. Dad used to tell me that motels were free any day it rained in Yuma.
    Sis married a Texan sailor at the end of the war. We were living near the Cow Palace (above and East ) in San Francisco). Well, he took Ruth home to Midland Texas. whew! When mom and I visited by train, it was indeed a strange land. Irrigated. Cotton or mesquite pastures that I called desert. Sis corrected me on that term “desert” as being offensive to the West Texas natives..later there was oil!

  19. I was born in Tucson and lived there until we moved to California when I was 12. The last time that I was in Tucson which was maybe 10 years ago, I drove by the house where we lived.. Prince Road had been widened from two lanes to four lanes, so much of the front yard was gone. My memory says that the house was a light green when we lived there. When I drove past, it was HOT PINK. That might be fine for a blouse but is not so hot for a house. Time is not always kind.

    • After I was divorced I continued to live in the town where we’d first bought a house and driving by it made me sad, because I’d worked hard on the landscaping and the next owner had a totally different concept. I mourned the blueberry bushes that my children had so loved.

      But that was nothing compared to the changes that came later. Sometime after I moved west, that house was sold again, and the next thing that happened was a major expansion/remodel. At least it wasn’t torn down, but someone figured out how to turn a two/three-bedroom cape cod into a mcmansion. It is now for sale at a price that is 20 times what we paid in 1983.

      The weirdest thing? The house has now returned to the drab dark olive color that we’d replaced with a pale aqua and the next owner had repainted a pale silvery gray. I hadn’t remembered how much I disliked that dark color till I saw it resurrected on the zillow profile.

      I have visited all the houses that I lived in from age 5 to age 18. Every one of them has at least one room added to it. I can understand not wanting to have 5 to 7 kids in a two-bedroom, but so many of the houses that are built now are enormous and I can’t imagine having to care for all that space, and most families are smaller. If I say anything more I’ll start ranting, so I guess I’ll stop now….

  20. I live in Bisbee Junction on Border Road. I drove by your house on Yuma Trail & was dismayed to see what it looks like now. The picture you posted looks like it was a great place to grow up in. Lois

    • So you know that after my parents left Yuma Trail, they moved to Border Road in Bisbee Junction? I lived there for a time, too.

  21. My godmother came from South Dakota, and remembered the Dust Bowl-
    She also apparently vowed never again to put up with winters like those she experienced as a child- She loathed being cold!
    She always said about Air Conditioning, even in the heat of New York City summers, “It doesn’t agree with me!”
    I have experienced the sun in Arizona as different somehow from sun in the northeast, even during the summer, as more soothing, with less of a glare-
    As a New Yorker, I have memories of growing up in an apartment next to the East River, of listening to the fog horns at night- I still have dreams of being there-
    I guess I am lucky that the building is still there and looks just as it did back in the 50s and 60s- It has to be heartbreaking to see a once-loved home no longer cared for- As usual, the stories you tell about your parents, Judy, make me really wish I had known them- The phrase, “Salt of the Earth” was made for them!

  22. It’s always good to be able to go back to a place in your life that stayed in your heart. Thank you for sharing another lovely story about your life and your amazing parents.

  23. Thank you, Judy. Your writing let’s people feel history not just know it was the past.
    It’s that tangibility which makes history become relevant.

  24. Amen! Loved this story. I noticed the clothes line right away. My Mom never had a washer & dryer, so we spent every Monday with our wringer washing machine and our clothes line. In summer it was in the yard and winter it was in the basement. I live in the country and have had a clothes line all my life. The only thing missing is my Mom. I treasure the days we spent together.

  25. I absolutely love all of your stories of growning up in a big family. So many things remind me of my childhood. As far as going back to visit old neighborhoods, it’s quite a disappointment. Many of the houses in the neighborhood are run down and the yards are left to be so overgrown and not cared for at all. Why does that have to happen? Please, do keep sharing your growing up stories!

  26. Both farmhouses I lived in when growing up in Iowa are gone. I have some photos, but it’s depressing to look at them. I was back last in 1995 for my Mom’s funeral and won’t go back again. Even the trees are gone. There was a cherry tree outside my bedroom window. Every year a robin came to build a nest in it. I loved watching it.

  27. This post reminded me of the house I grew up in. My mom and dad built it, a 2 bedroom back in about 1947 after the war. It had pine paneling and they eventually put in a central furnace. They sold it in 1973 to move to a newer home. I actually rented it for a time in my twenties. It stood until 2012 when there was a fire in it and it had to be torn down – luckily both my parents were deceased by then and didn’t see that. Thanks for reminding me of the specialty of my childhood home!

Comments are closed.