The college professor who taught the courses I loved most dearly at South Dakota State died late last month. When I learned of her death through an e-mail from her relatives to The Daily Republic, I had a sudden urge to sit once more in her classroom and listen to her talk of her feelings for Coleridge and Gerald Manley Hopkins. Mary Margaret Brown might have kept me in college all those years ago. She taught at South Dakota State University for nearly three decades. My years there coincided with a few of her teaching years. I've said this before, but with her passing it bears repeating.
I once stood in front of a booth at a carnival in Chamberlain for more than an hour listening to the patter from the guy running the place. I can't recall what he was trying to sell. I mean, I know he was asking people to buy something. That's the point of a carnival booth, to get the folks strolling past to stop, listen and buy something, take a chance on something, try their skill at something, whether it is matching numbers, pitching pennies into dishes or knocking cleverly weighted dolls from a shelf with a baseball.
Greg Latza saved my life one afternoon in the parking lot of a hamburger joint in Lead. The farm kid from Letcher is an inductee into the South Dakota Hall of Fame this year. They will tell you he's going into the hall because he makes amazing photographs with his cameras. In truth, he makes the pictures somewhere in his soul. The camera simply records what he sees there. If he hadn't been inducted for photography, I'd have recommended him for life saving. If he hadn't put down that double-sized burger and followed me out to my Jimmy that day, I'd be a goner.
The enormity of the story grows on a person as time passes, this current-events tale of 33 miners trapped nearly half a mile under the earth in a copper mine in Chile. When I first heard the news earlier this week that rescuers had made contact with the miners and that all of them were alive after 17 days, I listened to the story and then went about my business. After work that day, I had time to consider the event. If I'd been trapped in that mine with those workers, I'd have been underground now for two and onehalf weeks.
Something like 30 years ago, when Johnny Cash was headlining the State Fair in Huron, I tried to track him down at a motel in Mitchell. I was doing public relations stuff for River Park, the Pierre-based alcohol treatment program. We hoped to persuade the country superstar to tell his story of addiction and recovery on tape. Cash had an inspirational story, and he could really hold an audience. Trouble was, it wasn't easy getting to Johnny Cash to make our pitch.
I've become fairly adept at reading online newspapers and periodicals. That's a significant statement for a guy who vowed they would pry the printed page from his cold, arthritic hands. For a long while after "online" became a catch phrase in the news business, I tried to ignore it in my personal time. In my professional life, I accepted electronic news.
A problem with a long life well-lived is you run out of some of your oldest friends when it comes time to mourn your passing. That thought came to me earlier this week during the funeral service for Sarah Vehle. She lived more than 94 years, and until the very end, she was active and independent. She and her late husband, Ab, moved to Reliance in 1948 and to Chamberlain 10 years later. They began making friends the day they moved to Reliance, and they never stopped.
One nice thing about being a newspaper reporter covering the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was being able to quote people with names like "Snake" and "Miss Kitty." In the news business, we usually wanted first and last names, hometowns and sometimes age. During the years I worked in news, I sometimes had the feeling during rally week that even people who volunteered their names might be putting me on. How would I know if Jimmy Joe Sullivan was from Little Rock?
When I was a kid, I used to take a library book, climb the tree in the south yard of our home in Chamberlain and read for hours. What kind of tree it was, I don't know. My little brother Kevin could tell you. He grew up asking the name of every plant and animal he encountered on the farm, along the Missouri River breaks and across western South Dakota. I can tell you the names of a bunch of the books I read in the tree out in our yard.
I looked in the mirror the other evening and saw why the cost of medical care is climbing. I'm becoming a case study in the many ways living longer increases health-care costs. I read somewhere what percentage of the cost of health care in the United States is because of older folks like me. I can't remember the number, but it was higher than I would have imagined. I'm higher maintenance than I was five or 10 years ago. I see no indication I will become less expensive any time soon. Time was I went to the doctor once a year, if that.