By the calendar, we're a little more than halfway through the season of fall, with winter officially nearly six weeks away. I love October most years. It brings a combination of warm days and cool nights, with soft colors and slanting rays of sunlight and the first real rustle of falling leaves. Real grass spread across an outdoor stadium in mid-October is the way football was meant to be played, and no one who grew up in a small town in South Dakota can see the approach of dusk on one of October's best days and not immediately smell burning leaves. April in Paris is one thing.
I've been to Washington, D.C., just once in my life, and my tour guide packed so much stuff into the couple of days I was in town that I didn't get to process the experience. I was in the nation's capital on business and had most of one day and part of a second to see the sights. It was a slap-dash affair, rushing from place to place, monument to monument, all over the city. Two things I clearly remember. The Lincoln Memorial was magnificent.
The world would be a sorry place if we didn't pause to note the passing of Shirley Donahue. To say she was a teacher doesn't begin to describe the blessing that her long life was to a couple of generations of school children, especially those children fortunate enough to have grown up within the boundaries of the Washington Elementary School here in Pierre. My kids were among those lucky young people.
I married a fine person. For a long while I thought if I outlived her -- which seems doubtful -- there would be consolation in being able to say, "This is the only unkind thing she ever did." That was before Monday evening, when she treated me so shabbily I'm still trying to come to grips with it. What did this caring, good-hearted woman do that was so dastardly? No sense sugar-coating it. She left me alone on Halloween. I've written (some might say complained) over the years about Halloween at the Woster house. It's a great old house in a great old neighborhood, most of the year.
After I retired from daily newspapering at the end of 2008, I spent several months without a full-time day job, and that gave me the opportunity to meet a man named Wally Halverson. I did some freelance feature writing for the Pierre paper during my retirement. Lucky for me, while I was doing that, the Capital Journal decided to do a series of features called "Hometown Heroes." The premise of the project was that the community was filled with folks who mostly flew under the radar while doing good works and contributing to the betterment of their fellow citizens in some way.
It's been nearly 17 years since I had my first PSA test, but I'm still convinced the thing helped save my life. If that's too dramatic, well, for sure I'm convinced it helped detect my cancer earlier than without the test. I believe that saved me from more prolonged medical treatments and a more uncertain prognosis. But what do I know? The PSA (that's "prostate specific antigen") was in the news earlier this month when a task force questioned its value for routine cancer screening. A positive test doesn't always mean cancer.
I started working at a definition of love because I'd just stumbled across an old column by a writer friend of mine named Jim Carrier. Carrier talked about fall and leaves and soft colors and chain saws and apple cider and the sweetness of an October-afternoon kiss, and it seemed to me he was circling around a definition of love.
Fall can be a fickle time of the year. That's old news to anyone who has sweltered in shorts and flip-flops on one October day and splashed through icy rain in a hooded coat and winter boots the next. Still, the crazy changes catch me by surprise every year. Seems like only yesterday I was getting home from work and jumping into shorts and a T-shirt. Earlier this month, I was thinking I might just keep that outfit, my basic summer casual wardrobe, handy all winter.
Opening day of pheasant season in South Dakota has always been an incredible spectacle. It was pretty cool to be a young guy hanging around with the adults and mentally ticking off the minutes until it was legal to start shooting. The shooting during the first day, first weekend, was usually pretty intense when I was younger.
Sometimes a guy gets a reminder of his mortality in the strangest of places. The other day, the reminder came at a four-way stop in Miller. It isn't like I'm unfamiliar with the territory. We've been traveling Highway 14 between Pierre and Brookings for most of four decades. My little sister has lived there since forever, our three kids got at least part of their higher education there over the years, our daughter and her family have been there a couple of decades, and we have three granddaughters currently living there -- two in college, one in high school.