When I was a kid on the farm, we always opened our presents on Christmas Eve and only with the immediate family. Well, how could it be otherwise? We lived 8 miles from town, a couple of miles from our nearest neighbors. People didn't just up and visit the neighbors for Christmas Eve, and family from far away generally stayed far away. I'm not saying that was good or bad. That's just how it was. Our dad sometimes took us kids for a Jeep ride to see if we could see Santa Claus, while our mother stayed home to digest the oyster stew or something.
Six years ago yesterday, I left the newspaper business after more than 40 years. I remember sitting in my office a few blocks from the Capitol finishing a last story while delicate snowflakes fell to the ground in the late-afternoon shadows outside my east window. Just before 5 p.m., I typed an end-of-message note and filed the story. I powered down the company laptop and set the company camera, recorder and cell phone on the desk next to the laptop.
This may surprise some people who think of me as a spacy sort, but I'm a very literal, by-the-book sort in many areas of my life. My brother-in-law from Longmont understands this. He goes to great lengths to make sure there are no unanswered questions when he works with me on any sort of project. Let me explain. Dan is the next youngest in the Gust family after Nancy. For many years, he has owned and managed Ace Hardware stores in the Longmont area. From several conversations over the years, I've come to understand that a good part of Dan's success in business has been customer service.
Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and a Democrat was governor, Jim Carrier and I sat on my front porch one evening and serenaded the neighborhood, accompanying ourselves on banjo and guitar. As I recall, in a bit of musicians' light-hearted humor, we dedicated one song to Gov. Dick Kneip, my neighbor across the street to the west. I have no idea what song it was, but we were playing and singing mostly bluegrass stuff, "Fox on the Run'' and other such tunes. Carrier, a former AP writer, was a wizard — still is, I'm sure — on bluegrass banjo and had a mellow singing voice.
Back in the good old days of newspapering, the printing and journalism program at South Dakota State College focused a great deal of its coursework and instruction on producing men and women capable of working in newspapers, particularly weekly papers. News writing and editing were essentials, of course. The curriculum also included, even for students planning to never set foot in the back shop of a newspaper, a strong dose of printing, font styles and sizes, layout and design and more.
Returning home from a trip to the courthouse to get new vehicle tags the other afternoon, I detoured past the Capitol building and around Capitol Lake to pause at the no-longer-flaming fountain and the memorials to past wars and the soldiers who fought them. A light mix of raindrops and snowflakes fell, but the temperature was moderate for the season, and I was warmly dressed. The precipitation dampened my hair and caught in my eyelashes. Many days, that would have been irritating. This afternoon, it made me smile.
Here's one more thing I like about the woman I married: She won't rush the seasons. Come the weekend, or sometime next week, she'll panic a bit about getting the house decorated and ready for Christmas. It's one of those years when Thanksgiving is pretty late in the month, so there will be just four weeks between this holiday and Christmas Day. When you have an upstairs closet as packed full of Christmas decorations (how in the world is it that we've never, ever thrown away a single decoration?) as we do, it takes some time to put them all in place.
When Nancy and I were first married, we had little extra spending money, and we purchased several household items with S&H Green Stamps. I read a bit of S&H history that says the 1960s were the hey-day of the company's success. Nancy and I weren't the sole reason, but we contributed as often as we could. My all-time favorite Green Stamp purchase was a Kennedy-style rocking chair. It was black with a colorful design running along the back rest.
My granddaughter Lara has been in chorus all through high school, but never, not once, has she tried to be front and center on stage at any concert Nancy and I have attended. The other evening we made the road trip for the last vocal concert of this granddaughter's high-school career. Tomorrow, she will be among the Brookings High School Class of 2014. Not so long after that, she'll be college bound. So, this recent pop concert was another in a string of those "lasts'' for this senior, for her classmates and for all of their parents, grandparents, other relatives and friends.
The Grateful Dead were singing about truckin' when they did the line, "Together, more or less in line,'' but they could have been talking about the way six old friends kayak the Missouri River. When I say six old friends, I'm talking about Nancy and me and two couples who are some of the people we've known longest and best in our 45 years in Pierre. When I say old, yeah, I guess I mean in terms of age, but I mean much more than that. The six of us are pretty old by most standards. Nancy is the youngest of us. She was born just a bit before World War II ended. Virge is the oldest of us.