On Monday of this week, August 21st, my father, Norman, would have been 107. On Wednesday of next week, August 30th, my mother, Evie, would have been 109. Their 87th wedding anniversary is on this Thursday, August 24th.
Because of that two-year age gap, in the lead up to their wedding, my mother flatly refused to marry my dad while he was still a teenager because she didn’t want to be regarded as a “cradle robber.”
They got married three days after he turned twenty. For those few days between the 24th and the 30th of August, they were only one year apart rather than two.
It’s no surprise then, that toward the end of August, my thoughts often turn to them. A few weeks ago, when I received a very touching email from Edd Kande, I had to respond in kind. Below, with only a few edits, is what I sent to him. Please excuse the repetitions.
My parents were married for 68 years. My mother was two years older than my father. Their birthdays were nine days apart. My father turned twenty on August 20, 1936. My mother turned twenty-two on August 30. They married on the 24th of August so she couldn’t be accused of being a “cradle robber.
They were true partners. They raised seven children together. My father worked. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. Growing up, I heard them quarrel one time only. After the being pregnant nine times total—seven live births and two miscarriages, my mother told my father that it was time for him to do something about that. Eventually my mother prevailed, but only after packing up the car, loading it with five children, and going home to her mother—from Bisbee, Arizona to Summit, South Dakota. By the time we came home, the future baby problem was solved.
My parents never saw the movie, Thelma and Louise, but when they moved into assisted living in their late eighties, they still had their Buick and planned their own Thelma-and-Louise-style exit. Then my father had a stroke and died, leaving my mother alone and mad as hell for the next five years because “Norman had no business going off and leaving her like that!”
In our family my mother was always a source of strength and joy, and she had a wonderful sense of humor. She also sang like crazy. She knew the lyrics to hundreds of songs. We sang while we did the dishes. We sang while we did housework on Saturday mornings. We sang while we rode in the car. Without ever having had a music lesson, she taught us to sing in four-part harmony.
After my father’s death, she insisted on leaving assisted living and moving in with my youngest sister. It’s a miracle my sister’s marriage survived. It was as though the Evie Busk we once knew had undergone a personality transplant. She became spiteful, mean-spirited, and manipulative.
I wonder now if perhaps she was dealing with some sort of dementia, but this is where your story and mine join forces. When my sister called to say that our mother was gone, I didn’t cry. When I went to Bisbee for her funeral, I didn’t shed any tears there, either. I knew she was finally where she wanted to be—with my dad.
In life my parents loved having forenoon coffee—a holdover from living on a farm and my mother taking a mid-morning snack to my father when he was out working in the fields. They also loved having forenoon coffee picnics. They traveled around Cochise County with a red-and-white-checked, oil-cloth tablecloth stowed in their trunk. They could spread that over any filthy picnic table they found along the way. They had an old Scotsman thermos that they filled with coffee. They had two faded Melmac cups which they had purchased from the high school garage sale. And then there was the paring knife my mother always carried in her purse. That purse was a wonder and a marvel. Obviously, she never traveled by air after 9/11.
The other ingredient for their forenoon coffee? A day-old sweet roll which they split in half with the paring knife. In all the years they were married, I don’t believe either one of them ever ate a whole sweet roll.
Is any of this sounding familiar? It should because of a scene right at the beginning of a book called Damage Control. It’s the one in which a little old couple have a forenoon coffee picnic at the Coronado National Monument in Joanna’s Cochise County. After they finish, clean up the debris, and repack the trunk, they get in their Buick and then, without engaging their seatbelts, the husband slams the gas pedal to the floor, and they go flying off the edge of the mountain.
I didn’t cry at my mother’s funeral, but I shed buckets of tears while I was writing that scene, because it was a writer’s way of grieving for my parents and a daughter’s way of honoring them.
So Happy Trails to all four of them—to your George and Eleanor and my Norman and Evie.
We were lucky to have them for as long as we did.