No child who had even a mediocre relationship with a father ever forgets that relationship, or that man. For me, it's been 44 years since my dad passed, back in the heat of an August evening at the hospital in Chamberlain. Cancer took the big, strong farmer faster than his wife and five children could understand. One day he was Charles Atlas, strongest man in the quiet farming countryside northeast of Reliance. The next day, or so it seemed, he lay in a hospital bed, struggling to draw shallow, rasping breaths, oblivious to the presence of family members in the room or out in the hallway.
I see in the news they tore down the old City Hall in Chamberlain -- way, way too late to answer my prayers when piano recitals were a day away and I hadn't, you know, put in the time on the keyboard. Yeah, that was one of my unanswered prayers as a kid, to have the City Hall be demolished in some crazy construction project just before the doors opened and the moms and dads and grandparents started filing in for the annual recital. I took piano from Miss Willrodt for four years, and I think I prayed about this every year.
I've been thinking a lot about the Rapid City flood in the last several days as news stories began building toward the 40th anniversary weekend of that tragic 1972 event. The flood happened over night, June 9-10, with 238 people dead, several thousands of homes destroyed or severely damaged and something like $165 million in damage. I arrived on Saturday morning that weekend to cover the flood aftermath for The Associated Press, and the approaching anniversary has been stirring many memories. It took Tom Lawrence to stir one of the memories that was actually rather uplifting.
I read just the other day that former President Dwight D. Eisenhower mentioned himself not at all in a talk about the success of D-Day, the Allied invasion across the English Channel to the coast of France that began to turn the tide of battle in that theater of World War II. I read from the same source that Eisenhower, a U.S. Army general in command of the invasion forces, also had a speech prepared in the event that the initiative failed.
It's just about the time of year when we'd start cutting alfalfa back on the farm. I tend to connect early June and haying season because when I was growing up, school ended about the time June arrived.
I sat up late the other evening pondering one of the weighty questions of our time. What in the world ever happened to those wonderful old wool stockings we used to wear with our Keds or Converse low-cut sneakers, and sometimes with our penny loafers and white bucks, too? What ad wizard thought there could ever be a better foot-protection product than those things we called "sweat socks?" I know the Space Race and NASA and moon shots spurred numerous great inventions.
I remember a track meet a couple of years ago -- in Miller, I think it was -- when I discovered that one of the Chamberlain High coaches felt almost the same way about my granddaughter Frankie as I do. We were leaning against the fence at the top of the home straight, enjoying the warm sun and talking about the old days of track and field. Frankie was on the grass in the middle of the infield, beginning to stretch and limber up for the 300-meter hurdles a bit later on the schedule.
My friend Noel Hamiel was Robert Redford in the newsroom before most folks knew about Redford, Dustin Hoffman and "All the President's Men," the 1970s era film about the Washington Post reporters who dug into the Watergate mess that resulted in President Richard Nixon's resignation. I was thinking on that just last Friday as I watched him receive a plaque in recognition of his induction into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame. He spent most of his adult life, after a short stint as a schoolteacher, in the newspaper business, writing, editing and publishing.
I had the opportunity to consider a bit the importance of credibility in the news business recently during the recent convention of the South Dakota Newspaper Association. I found many aspects of being a newspaper reporter challenging during a 42-year career, but nothing worried me more than mistakes. The newspaper business is full of opportunities for mistakes. It includes reporters, copy editors, assignment editors, city editors, photographers, photo editors and all sorts of other people who handle a piece of copy before it goes into a newspaper.
If the universe unfolded according to plan, I'm having a six-week, post-surgery check-up on my totally replaced right shoulder just about now. I know. I talked about shoulder replacement some weeks ago. That should have been enough. However, several Daily Republic readers wrote or called (that's pretty much a landslide in the newspaper business) to say I should have written more seriously about the shoulder problem and the surgical solution, particularly since it's one of the health issues facing an aging population.