Years and years ago -- so many that we can't tell when it happened -- we invested in a set of 20 luminaries for the curved railing of our front porch. I know traditional luminaries are supposed to be candles in bags weighted down with sand or something. That would have been wonderfully quaint and pure Martha Stewart decorative. Lighted candles in paper bags is a pretty impractical notion, though, don't you think, when we're talking about placing them atop a porch railing of a house located in a part of the country where the wind sometimes tears through the pillars at 40 mph or 50 mph.
Every year for Christmas, each member of our family receives a calendar for the new year. The themes for all of the calendars were set years and years ago, so one son gets Grateful Dead months, another gets Phish, our daughter usually gets ballet, Nancy gets bears and I get The Beatles. I was in the process of replacing last year's Beatles calendar with the 2012 model, when I took a close look at the January photo. The Lads from Liverpool were early in their career, and the place they played looked pretty tacky.
When I was in high school, the Christmas break was one, long period away from the basketball season. It's no longer that way. My junior year, we played a couple of games during the Thanksgiving break, traveling to Deadwood for two nights at the Franklin Hotel and games against Deadwood the first night and Lead the second. Christmas break, though -- the two years I played varsity ball, anyway -- we rested and hung out with the family. Some of us skated on the frozen river.
Forrest Gump's momma might have been wrong. She's the one who said -- or at least her little boy, the character played by Tom Hanks in the movie, says she said -- "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." A box of chocolates, at least those I saw this Christmas season, contains a nicely spaced chart that tells you exactly what you're going to get. Now, it's true that sometimes what the chart says you're going to get from one square or another in the box of candy isn't something you are going to like.
As both the old year and the long war in Iraq come to an end, I find myself thinking of several South Dakota soldiers whose lives touched me even though I never knew them before being given the assignment as a newspaper reporter to learn more about then as casualties of the distant fighting. News reporters are asked to cover a wide range of different events and activities, some joyful, some tragic. If they work for any length of time in a small state like South Dakota during a period of war, it is inevitable that at some point they will be assigned to cover the funeral of a soldier.
Whether you're a kid for real or just an old man trying to think like a child and act like a child and eat like a child, this is a trying time in the Christmas season. The holy holiday is almost here but not quite yet.
I haven't been a college student since LBJ was president, but the approach of Christmas still makes me think back to a time when the holiday season meant final exams for fall semester were near. These days, fall semester ends before Christmas. When I started college, fall semester ended in late January. Christmas break was an unused opportunity to do some booking in advance of finals week.
When I go Christmas shopping for all my friends (who am I kidding? I only have two friends), I nearly always leave the house thinking it would be appropriate to spend the entire weekend looking at dozens and dozens of possible gifts, because my friends are worth that much time and thought. That's what I think.
Every year when basketball season arrives, I get all excited. I'm not sure why that is, since my own basketball career was something less than "That Championship Season." If you don't count some intramural games at South Dakota State and Creighton, my official basketball career ended on the bench in the old gymnasium at Parkston in March of 1962. That was the third-place game of the sectional tournament.
I was born two years and a month after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on this date in 1941, but I've known about it for as long as I can remember, certainly from my earliest school days. Every kid my age knew about Pearl Harbor, the sneak attack, the loss of lives and ships and airplanes -- the loss of an innocent belief that we were beyond the reach of the rest of the world's belligerent nations and leaders. I entered grade school while the Korean War was under way in the early 1950s. My first real current-events memories are of discussions about that war -- what Gen.