Back on the farm, my folks tended to do their medical business in Chamberlain, but my aunt and uncle often traveled to Pierre to such appointments. I can recall one year when I was invited to ride along with my cousin and his family. I was pretty excited, because a trip to Pierre seemed like a pretty exotic thing back then. My excitement was for nothing. Before the day of the scheduled appointment, the Missouri River flooded, and the bridge across the Bad River in Fort Pierre was closed to traffic. Whether the bridge washed out or simply went under water, I can't remember.
The world is full of hamburger joints, but they lack the incredible aroma of those old-time cafes you could find along the side of the road in almost every town in South Dakota when I grew up. I remember most the smell of hamburger patties frying on a grill as broad as the deck of an aircraft carrier. At a corner of the grill, hamburger buns browned slowly. While the burger fried, the cook cut a huge pickle into thin slices to toss atop the patty.
Time was, a telephone brought people closer to each other. The old party-line telephone network stretched across the prairies of South Dakota when I was a kid. It was the social bridge in a country where driveways sometimes ran off over the far horizon. Our farm was eight miles from town and most of two miles from Kistlers to the north and Hamiels to the south. East or west? Forget it. The nearest neighbors in either of those directions may not have been so far away by today's Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.
If we'd had sports highlight reels back when I was playing basketball for Chamberlain, the time Roger Miller knocked me flat on the court surely would have gotten some air time. Roger and I were seniors on the same Cubs team in 1962. I never once was knocked down by an opponent, just teammates. Roger was a loosy-goosy forward with unorthodox moves, no interest in set plays or defense but an uncanny knack for being wherever the ball was going to be about a split-second before the ball got wherever that was.
Some years ago, the water softener in our basement popped a valve in the middle of the night, and water sprayed across the room for three or four hours. Our basement stairs descend four steps, then make a right angle and go down another seven steps. When I made the turn at the first landing that morning, I saw water covering the bottom step. It isn't easy for the mind to comprehend that sight first thing in the morning. We had a cat at the time. He stayed in the basement at night. I heard his pitiful meow before I spotted him.
It has been seven months since the medical professionals at Sanford diagnosed my youngest granddaughter, Sage, with Type One Diabetes. Dreadful as it is, the disease hasn't slowed her a bit. She turns 2 on Monday, and if ever a child was the epitome of what the advice-to-parents books say about 2-year-olds, Sage is that child. She talks faster than Usain Bolt runs, and he's a world record holder. She laughs at herself and everyone around her.
One of the first people I met when I transferred from Creighton University to South Dakota State College in the fall of 1963 was a Hermosa kid named John Meiners. John had just transferred, also. He'd spent two years at the School of Mines and Technology before he decided he had no interest in becoming an engineer. We were thrown together on the fourth floor in Brown Hall, and we became fast friends. After college, John joined the Army, became a Ranger and did a tour in Vietnam before making a career for himself in sales and investments in Idaho.
One thing I miss about not being a newspaper reporter at the Legislature is the hoopla that surrounds Valentine's Day. For as long as I can remember, when I'd report for duty on Valentine's Day during a legislative session, one of the first people I'd see would be that big, old Cupid of a lobbyist, George Valentine. It became a tradition for him to roam the Capitol building on the morning of Valentine's Day (or the day before if, as is true this year, the actual date came on a weekend) carrying sheets of stick-um red hearts.
I'll admit that when the light-colored Ford sedan blew past me last Saturday evening halfway between Reliance and Kennebec on Interstate 90, I was tempted to kick the accelerator down a notch or two and follow the taillights through the fog. I was driving my pickup, heading home from a Chamberlain-Winner basketball doubleheader in which the granddaughters played the nightcap. I went to the armory with my son Scott about 3:30 that afternoon to watch a ninth-grade game.
Sometime in the mid-1970s, Captain 11 made a personal appearance at Burke Real Estate here in Pierre, and I took Jennifer and Scott down to see him in the lot across the street from the old junior high school. We can prove we did it, because somewhere in the albums in the basement, we have a photo of the Captain, the two kids and me, standing there mugging for the camera. Just before the shutter snapped, Captain 11 took his blue-and-yellow cap and placed it on my head. The kids thought that was pretty funny, and so did the Captain.