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WOSTER: Hey, you kids -- get off my porch

Terry Woster

Not long after Nancy and I moved into the house we own at the corner of Capitol and Washington in Pierre, our next-door neighbor told us of a visit she received from a brash young couple who wanted to buy her house.

The neighbor at the time was a kind, old woman named Florence. When I say old, I'm thinking back 40 years. Nancy and I would have been in our late 20s, so a lot of people looked old. It was a time when Abbie Hoffman or Jerry Rubin or one of the Chicago Seven was running around saying, "Don't trust anyone over 30.'' In that context, Florence (then probably about the age I am now) would have seemed, well, old.

She was lively, though, quick to talk over the white picket fence to our young daughter and son, nearly as quick to hurry into her house and return with a plate of fresh-baked sugar cookies, snickerdoodles or something she called "pep pills,'' her own concoction. I can't remember the ingredients of the cookies she called pep pills, but I'll never forget that every time she offered a plate of the tasty little snacks, she said the whole mix contained just one egg.

I wrote once of Florence that "she wasn't deaf, but a lot of words escaped her as she grew older.'' As I reflect on those words, I could have been describing me today. Ah, mercy. Not only am I over 30 and no longer trustworthy, I'm as old as Florence and a lot of words escape me. Ask any of my grandkids.

The world would have been a little happier in the quiet neighborhood near Capitol Lake if a few of the words of the brash young couple had escaped Florence the time those kids stopped on her porch and knocked on her front door.

To set the scene, it was a time in Pierre when housing was tough to find. Newcomers to town got a visit from Welcome Wagon, but they didn't get much cheer from their search for a home.

Nancy and I were lucky when we moved here. Friends of her parents, already Pierre residents, did some serious looking and found us a place to rent before we even got here. It was a smallish, older little place with stucco siding. It was in the same neighborhood where we live now, but neither the basement nor the attic were the least bit finished, and the garage was so narrow I had to concentrate every time I drove in or out to avoid taking a side mirror off the American Motors Rebel station wagon we drove. We'd walk around the neighborhood sometimes in those days, admiring the larger homes, homes like the one where we've lived for four decades, and homes like the one where Florence lived.

Many couples new to town did that, walking or driving through neighborhoods, coveting the homes that weren't going to be on the market for years or decades. One couple, brash, as I said, decided they couldn't wait that long. The way Florence told the story, the brash couple showed up unannounced and uninvited, stood face-to-face with her on her very own front porch of her very own home and suggested that she should move to a smaller house or even an apartment. If she'd do that, she could sell her house -- to them -- and everyone would be happy.

They said it right to her face, Florence said indignantly, right to her face; as if they already owned the house she'd been living in for a good part of her life. They were thinking of starting a family, she said, and the house and huge back lawn would be perfect for their needs.

Well, I'd seen her take a broom to stray cats now and then, and I have to tell you, the brash young couple caught a break. A few well-chosen words were all it took to chase them from the porch and out of the neighborhood. Good riddance, Florence said.

Hang on. I'll finish the story shortly, but there's a young couple on the front porch, and they're ringing the bell.