One afternoon shortly before the high school prom my junior year, the class advisor called us into his room and gestured to a table set with glasses of water and packets of saltine crackers. "That's what the prom banquet menu will be if you don't start selling,'' he growled.
For many years if you drove into our farm yard and parked near the machine shed west of the garage, you would see a dark patch of soil where my dad used to change the oil in the tractors. We did nearly all of our own service work on the farm. Once in a rare while there'd be something that required an actual tractor mechanic's attention, but things as simple as an oil change? Mere child's play.
Yesterday I pulled up a photograph from 24 years ago, showing Gov. George Mickelson and me standing near a table in the lobby behind the Senate chamber, obviously listening to someone who was off-camera.
I played guitar in the pit orchestra when the Pierre Players, a local theater group, performed a week-long run of the musical "Godspell'' some 35 years ago. I had to borrow an electric guitar and an amplifier. A local rock musician took time out of an evening to teach me how to adjust various amp and guitar settings to create "fuzz'' tones. He showed me how to bend notes. It was a technically challenging bit of guitar playing for me, so when I wasn't terrible at it, the whole thing was a rewarding experience.
News reporters exist to go places and witness events for other citizens who can't or don't wish to be there, I believe. Think of Mark Kellogg. I learned of Kellogg when I joined The Associated Press and read a quick history of the newsgathering cooperative. Kellogg, a Bismarck Tribune reporter, accompanied the Custer expedition to Little Bighorn in June of 1876. One online account says, "As a newspaper stringer whose reports were picked up around the country, Kellogg is considered the first Associated Press correspondent to die in the line of duty.''
I look at the obituary picture of the soft-eyed Marine in dress blues, and I think, "Gosh, he looks even younger than he did in junior high.'' The Marine is my friend Ross, a classmate from schools days in Chamberlain. He died a week ago at age 73, half a century after a tour in Vietnam as a pilot with the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron. After Vietnam, he spent some time in Pensacola, Florida, as a flight instructor. Then, having served his country, he returned home to serve his community.
I watched an aluminum boat drift lazily past my dock this morning and thought, not for the first time, "I don't get fishing." Two guys sat in the boat, one on a kind of pedestal chair near the bow, the other on what looked like a more comfortable chair back near the motor. Both wore coveralls and hooded jackets (looked like insulated gear in the 38-degree chill) and baseball caps. Both held fishing rods, and in the light of the mid-morning sun the lines running from the rods to the smooth water glistened like strands of a spider web.
John Egan, the sports editor at my first real newspaper job, saw great value in the relationship between young athletes and a good coach. He's the one who told me every kid should have someone in their life that, as long as they live, they would call "Coach." We were talking sports, but it was understood that he spoke of any endeavor a young person undertakes with the guidance and support of a dedicated instructor.
Near the end of the 1970 session of the South Dakota Legislature, a guy asked if I'd manage his campaign for a statewide office. Think of that. Some would-be candidate saw me in the press box in the Capitol, scribbling away in one of those pocket-sized reporter's notebooks and thought, "Aha. That 26-year-old farm boy with the wacky necktie and the saddle shoes looks like he could run a successful campaign.''
My kids, adults now, grew up with "Sesame Street,'' which meant that Nancy and I did, too. The show first aired on Public Television in the fall of 1969, when we had a daughter almost 2 years old and a son just eight months. I remember thinking it was kind of a goofy show. As the kids grew a bit older, it was clear that they found many of the program's characters and features fascinating. They were learning a thing or two about numbers and letters and communication and how to treat people, too.