Just before the old year ended, former South Dakota Supreme Court Justice Frank Henderson died. He was 84. I saw the news of his passing on a blog. It was a quiet and unremarkable way to learn of the death of a loud and memorable human being. Henderson did few things in a small way, whether serving during the Korean War, writing a stinging dissent in a Supreme Court decision or attempting to abolish the state Game, Fish and Parks Department as a member of the South Dakota Senate.
As the New Year approaches, I'm tempted -- as I am every year at this time -- to sit down and draw up a list of resolutions to make my life even better in 2013. I learned over the years that if I were planning to make some New Year's resolutions, the time to make them was before Jan. 1. Of course, I learned that back in the days when my New Year's Eve often included alcohol, so the next day wasn't a great time for anything serious. Yes, I was making some poor choices in those days. Odd thing is, when I did quit using alcohol, I discovered I still made poor choices.
We're entering the time of the year I always refer to as the "breather." When I was a full-time newspaper guy, I used the phrase to mean the time between the Christmas season and the start of the annual legislative session in early January. It wasn't a free time, but it was generally a little lighter for news demands, so a person had more opportunities to push away from the keyboard now and then and catch his breath. I stole the idea of calling it a breather from an old radio friend who introduced me to the concept in maybe 1970 or 1971.
One Christmas not long after the family moved to town for school years, my kid brother, Kevin, received a sort of bucking horse as a main gift. If I were to take the time, and if I knew which of many unlabeled boxes to search, I could find a video of the kid riding the horse. (When I say video, I mean the old style video, taken with a Bell & Howell recorder on either 8- or 16-millimeter film. My dad was wicked with that movie camera. We have, as I indicated, hours and hours of footage to prove the point.
Reliance didn't offer kindergarten when I was a boy, so what I know of that level of education I learned when my own children grew old enough to go off to Washington Elementary School here in Pierre. Washington Elementary was, and remains, a cozy, old-fashioned school building, a one-story brick structure that runs the length of a block of Capitol Avenue, with plenty of outdoor space on the east and south sides for playground equipment, basketball hoops, fresh air and sunshine. It is located just four blocks east of our home, almost within sight of the governor's residence.
The other evening when I got home from work, I saw three cardboard boxes stacked on the front porch. It reminded me of times on the farm when the mail carrier delivered Christmas. We ordered some of our special stuff then. We didn't get to town all that often. We bought what we could in Reliance, eight miles away, and other stuff in Chamberlain, which was not a spur-of-the-moment trip. For major needs, we had Mitchell and Pierre. Mitchell and Pierre were about the same distance from our farm.
Maybe the best thing about a blizzard-filled weekend such as the one just past is the debriefings during coffee breaks back at the office on Monday. This time, I had a story or two to share with the other weekend travelers, because Nancy and I traveled from Pierre to Sioux Falls on Saturday morning and back as far as Chamberlain before we called it an evening. The trip down was uneventful, with just a bit of slipperiness on the road south from Pierre, then smooth sailing along the interstate.
This is the day our first child was born, a daughter, back when we lived in Sioux Falls in the shadow of McKennan Hospital. I used to write columns about our daughter's birthday, not every year, but sometimes on milestone years, you know? I suppose if I were being brutally honest, I'd have to admit I mentioned it often enough that she and her friends developed a fear that I might still be writing about her birthday when she was 40, or 60 or 80. Come on. That would be silly. To be clear, this isn't an essay on my child's birthday.
Many years ago, I sometimes swapped stories with another editor in the quiet, early-morning newsroom while we ran wire-service copy through a machine that turned a string of yellow perforated tape into news columns that could be pasted onto a page. It was repetitive work, and we had time to talk over the world's problems. A recurring conversation I recall well involved what the other editor saw as a growing disrespect for elected officials.
Every so often, it hits me that I'm growing older. You're shocked, I know. Me, too. Much of the time, I'm neither young nor old. Now and then, though, I do the math, and, goodness gracious, I've been around a long time. I guess I should blame Howard Elrod back in Chamberlain High School. He made sure I learned math, and advanced math and algebra and geometry. I never forgot that stuff. I've thought a bit more often about aging lately because I can look back half a century, 50 years, to the end of high school and the beginning of college.