Nancy and I don't regularly travel west on Highway 34, so naturally when we took that route recently from Pierre to Deadwood, I found along the way many memories of times Greg Latza and I did story-photo packages back in our newspaper days. Nancy and I traveled to Deadwood for the annual Festival of the Book. My kid sister, baby brother and I presented a panel on storytelling during the opening day of the festival. I started to write "taught,'' but who would I be kidding?
Viewed from a hilltop on the north edge of Chamberlain, the "blood moon'' eclipse last weekend lived up to its hype. From our vantage point, along the road that winds through the Roam Free Park above St. Joseph's Indian School, we had a clear view. Only a few wispy clouds threatened, and they were late to the party. On the hilltop, we were above most of the artificial lights of the town. Only light from the stars gleamed, from horizon to horizon. Townspeople clustered along the path, some with telescopes or cameras with telephoto lenses the size of small cannons.
The first time I met Walt Miller, he was pretty new to South Dakota's legislative process. The former governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House and majority leader of the House became an institution in matters of state politics and public policy. When he died Monday, at the age of 89, we lost a wealth of legislative knowledge and history. We also lost a decent, hard-working man who believed in South Dakota and its people. Even so, when I met Miller late in 1969, I was a brand-new legislative reporter and he was still a pretty green lawmaker.
When Nancy and I moved into our first home in Pierre, her dad gave us a hammock for the backyard. Check that. He gave us part of a hammock. He gave us, laughing so hard his ample belly shook, a pair of chains to which we could hook a hammock, if we found one to buy. He sometimes did things like that. You remember me talking about the guy? He was a self-made handyman, and he helped us immensely with many, many home-improvement projects over the years. We would have been lost without him.
If I were to say "Hooray for Sen. Bernie Sanders,'' some people would think I've taken sides in the presidential race. Not at all. I'm registered as a "no preference'' voter. I don't vote in primary elections. Besides, political experts probably would tell you Sanders, a Democrat from Vermont, is a long-shot.
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.