When we bought our home 43 years ago, I failed to check to see if the lights worked in the upstairs closets. Turned out the upstairs closets didn't have lights. "Hey, there's no light switch in here,'' Nancy said as we began moving clothing into a closet after closing the deal. I looked. "Hey, there's no light.'' Details, right? Who would build a house without lights in the closets, right? Apparently at least one home builder back at the turn of the century—not this century, the one before this. The early 1900s, you know?
I grew up believing my dad might be the only Democrat in Lyman County. That wasn't true, but it sure seemed like Republicans surrounded him. And, while I know my dad had strong convictions about where the country should be headed, I also know he was kind of contrary. Another farmer once told him something like this: "Hank, if everyone else was a Democrat, you'd just have to be a Republican.'' Perhaps I inherited some of my dad's streak. Perhaps that's one of the reasons I'm not a fan of most Minnesota sports teams. Vikings, Twins, Wild, Timberwolves, even Golden Gophers.
The first day of my sophomore year of college, I couldn't find the classroom for my "Literature of England'' course. Yes, I was 19 years old. Yes, it was at South Dakota State, a place I knew pretty well from visits with the high school band and from trips with my family to see my big brother during his college years. Yes, I was pretty lame. In my defense, my first year of college had been at Creighton University in Omaha. Not sure how I found my way around that campus, but I don't recall ever missing a class—well, I might have missed one or two, but not because I couldn't find them.
Nearly 40 years ago, I sat in the press section at Madison Square Garden and watched Jimmy Carter deliver a speech accepting his party's nomination for president. I'd never covered a national political nominating convention before. The Associated Press sent me to New York City to write about the doings of the convention delegates from South Dakota and North Dakota. The North Dakota delegation had a sort of private meeting (with, you know, about a hundred reporters nearby) with the candidate.
One warm fall afternoon when I was in fourth or fifth grade, the physical education teacher took his class of boys down to the football field below the school, tossed out a goofy, white, undersized ball and proceeded to teach us the basics of soccer. I know, right? This was the middle of the 1950s, and the teacher was trying to interest a group of 10- or 11-year-old all-American boys in (gasp!) soccer. The finer points of the sport failed to gain traction with my classmates.
The start of the school year across South Dakota reminds me that long ago I missed the chance to start my formal education in a country school. Yep, a farm kid, and I never went to country school. Be honest. How many experiences in rural America are bigger than going to a one-room country school, a place with maybe six or 10 students ranging from first grade through eighth grade?
Many people may have trouble imagining this, but there was a time when the committee meetings and floor sessions of the South Dakota Legislature were not streamed live over the Internet or archived in digital files accessible to anyone with an online connection. That time was more than four decades ago.
For a good part of her life, my mom had a desire to travel through Ireland, land of her McManus ancestors. Notice I said she longed to travel "through'' Ireland. She loved the idea of being in Ireland, the idea of seeing the shamrocks and the leprechauns, hearing the lilt of Irish laughter and watching the sun go down on Galway Bay and all of those other colorful things that were in the Irish songs she would sing as she played the upright piano in the east room back home. But she couldn't come to grips with the notion of traveling "to'' Ireland.
The world is a much better place when grandchildren and grandparents get to spend time together. I'm not suggesting that grandparents should raise the grandchildren. Heaven forbid. We'd spoil the little darlings silly, and they would run us into the ground inside of a week. There's a reason most infants are given to younger couples. But frequent contact between the old folks and their children's children is—in all but a few, crazy situations—a good thing. I say that coming off a few days with the 7-year-old granddaughter. She lives 85 miles away.
When the gang at the Office of Emergency Management offered me the chance to leave retirement temporarily and do some public-information work with them for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, it seemed like a pleasant way to spend a few days in August. As I idled on a stretch of head-to-head traffic in a construction zone on Interstate 90 west of Murdo last Saturday afternoon, I was thinking maybe I should have stayed retired and spent that time sitting in my porch swing with a mug of coffee. I only came out of retirement for a week, so it wasn't like Michael Jordan trying baseball for a season.