Opinion: An opportunity missedWhen Nancy and I were out in Lyman County at an old neighbor’s farm a couple of weeks ago, I took the car and drove to Reliance to get gas. I probably could have waited until the end of the evening and just filled up when we got back to Chamberlain.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
When Nancy and I were out in Lyman County at an old neighbor’s farm a couple of weeks ago, I took the car and drove to Reliance to get gas.
I probably could have waited until the end of the evening and just filled up when we got back to Chamberlain. It’s only about six miles from our neighbor’s farm to Reliance, though, and I had an urge to drive once more down the main drag of my old home town, as long as I was so close. After a cruise up the main street, I filled at the station on the highway corner.
I enjoy driving along on those familiar old roads, remembering places where my cousin and I chased down a badger and turned it in for a bounty, where the front tire went flat on the old truck as I tried to beat a storm to town with a load of wheat, and where my dad worked himself and the engine of the old Nash into a fury grinding back and forth to kill a big old rattlesnake in the middle of the gravel.
This particular trip, I rounded the sharp curve just a mile west of the neighbor’s place and remembered the summer afternoon in 1962 when I watched from the field on the southeast corner of that turn as my uncle and aunt and their family sped past on their way to Pierre. It was a hot August day, and my relatives were on their way to see President John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy was in Pierre that day to dedicate the Oahe Dam. He gave a speech about hydropower, I’ve read in history books. I vaguely remember the Chamberlain High School band going to play there, but that doesn’t make sense, what with a couple of high schools right there by the Missouri River below the dam.
Anyway, I was out in the field working the soil. We’d harvested a crop of oats or barley earlier in the summer, and my task that day was to turn the soil, cutting through the stubble, loosening the earth, getting it in better shape to catch any stray rain that fell, I guess was the idea. It was a rectangle-shaped field, a lot longer than it was wide. The breeze came from the south that day, maybe from somewhere down in Oklahoma. It was that hot.
As I ran the tractor up the long north reach of the field, the wind was keeping pace, so the dust that rose as I worked the land hung all around me the entire distance.
I turned west and emerged from the dust cloud just as my uncle’s car passed. He honked the horn, and everyone in the car waved merrily. I lifted one dust-covered gloved hand and sort of waved back, but I was one pretty jealous farm boy. The car turned the corner and disappeared down the road. I took off one glove and wiped a layer of dirt from the lenses of my glasses, the better to follow the plume of dust that rose behind the car as it sped toward Reliance and the road to Pierre.
For some reason, I’ve never forgotten that moment. I’ve seen a president or two in my lifetime — not close enough to touch, but I’ve seen them. I never saw JFK, though.
I have talked with several people who were in Pierre that day.
An old gentleman named Dave, who ran an insurance office in the building where I leased a newspaper bureau, drove one of the cars that brought some of the Kennedy entourage from the airport. He told some great stories.
At the Oahe powerhouse below the dam a few years ago, I took a feature photograph of Jamie, a woman who was just a schoolgirl when she wrote the letter that prompted the president to visit the capital city.
I’ve talked with the people and heard the stories, but I didn’t see the president. I was getting a field ready for the next year’s crop.
If I’d gone to Pierre to see Kennedy and worked the field the following day, I wonder if I’d ever give that corner a second thought.
Terry Woster’s column is published Wednesdays and Saturdays in The Daily Republic.