I spent last Saturday in Brookings again, watching a granddaughter in oral interpretation competition. No, this isn't about the granddaughter, although Lara did really well in the humor division and although her Grandma Widman sent a message that I didn't give the child enough praise when I wrote about her reading an original story at the Great Plains Writers Conference last month. I'm in awe of the kids who compete in oral interp, I'll say that.
We moved to Pierre in 1969, and I've never thought seriously about living anyplace else since. Every now and then, though, I think it would be nice to be just a little closer to some of the events and programs offered in other communities in South Dakota. I had that thought a couple of weeks ago when Nancy and I traveled to Brookings to take in part of the Great Plains Writers' Conference on the campus at South Dakota State University. We also spent time with our daughter and son-in-law, our younger son, our college sophomore granddaughter and our middle-school granddaughter.
I don't know how the Easter egg hunt went at your place on Sunday, but around the Woster household, one 2-year-old girl set out looking for six dozen eggs. If that seems like unfair odds, well, don't feel too sorry for the eggs. She didn't mess them up too much. Actually, we had 76 eggs. Only 70 of them were real, live hard-boiled hen eggs, dyed and tricked out to look like a bunch of stained glass bulbs. We started with six dozen, but two were broken in the process of boiling and coloring.
I learned every word of Latin I know in the basement of a modest house on the banks of the Missouri River next to the Highway 16 bridge. That's where the Rev. T.J. McPhillips used to gather grade-school guys and turn them into altar boys. In those days, girls didn't have a chance to be altar boys, which is what everyone called us back in the 1950s. Father Mac sometimes called us servers, which has a sort of neutral ring to it, I suppose. Everyone else, including me and my classmates, used the term altar boys. In those days before Vatican II, the Catholic Mass was said in Latin.
Electronic storage has eliminated much of the need for clip files, but in my early days with The Associated Press, a couple of beat-up, battleship gray cabinets held decades of South Dakota's history as written by wire service reporters in Pierre and Sioux Falls. Each drawer of each cabinet was packed with manila file folders. Each folder was stuffed with yellowed newspaper clippings and faded-to-brown pages of teletype copy, each with some identifying date or name scrawled in one corner.
When I think of life on the farm, I tend almost as a reflex to think of a dry country. I recall years when the wheat was incredible and the corn stayed green well into the end of summer.
Health care is much in the news these days, and if you think I'm touching that one, you don't understand the Lyman County will to survive. However, this week marks 15 years since a guy named Lawrence Strawbridge cut me open and sliced out a cancerous prostate gland. The procedure was barbaric. It took several hours, I lost some blood (although not as much as some guys do when they have the same procedure) and the recovery process took weeks. I didn't have any other treatment, and I've had no other treatment or procedure in the 15 years since.
My friend and former sports-writing boss, John Egan, once wrote that if South Dakota has a blue belt across its middle, Al's Oasis is the buckle. John went on to note that the renowned tourist attraction in Oacoma marks the middle of the state and the middle of the Missouri River. He added: "For those traveling Interstate 90 between Sioux Falls and the Black Hills, the buckle loosens up at mealtime." John Egan's piece was about Al's Oasis, but he told the essential story through glimpses into the life experience of Al and Veda Mueller.
My mother would never forgive me if I had a column scheduled for March 17 and the topic didn't involve the Irish and St. Patrick's Day. Marie McManus has been gone these five years now and a bit more, resting next to a Bohemian farmer named Henry J. Woster in St. Mary's Cemetery just north of Reliance. It isn't coincidence that the marker for their resting place was crafted from stone with just a touch of green in it. That sounds garish, I suppose, but the shading is subtle, the setting is rural, and somehow it all works. My mother was all about Irish.
To say Terry DeVine and I worked together in the AP bureau in Pierre for a bit more than a year is to stretch things. We were assigned to the same bureau at the same time. We were rarely there together. Terry died not so long ago, after a long stint with Associated Press and the Fargo Forum. He was a barrel-chested, loud-talking Marine from Watertown, a good newsman and a unique character in my reporting career. I became boss in the Pierre bureau in late May of 1972. DeVine reported for duty a couple of weeks later, just in time for the primary election.