I spent most of my professional career as a state-government news reporter. I don't miss the work, but I sometimes miss the people. This time of year, one of the people I miss is Gov. George Mickelson. The anniversary of the airplane crash that killed him is next Tuesday, April 19. It will have been 18 years since Mickelson, three Sioux Falls economic development officials, two state administrators and two state pilots died in the crash in an Iowa farmyard.
Time was, an eagle's nest rested high in the thick branches of a massive old cottonwood tree down near the spot where the White River empties into the Missouri River south of Oacoma. The place was off the beaten path, over a twisting, curving set of tracks worn into the dirt of the river breaks. At some point, a visitor had to park the truck and hike -- through trees, shrubs and vines, over and around downed logs and quite a lot of scratchy, sticky vegetation. A solid pickup would get you pretty close to the spot.
My sophomore year at Chamberlain High School, I had no prom date. Hard to believe, I know, but I wasn't always this hip cat, often mistaken for Charlie Sheen down on Main Street. Many schools these days limit the prom to seniors and juniors. Chamberlain must not have done that, because my freshman year I took Mary Jane Chaussee. The relationship didn't bloom, but her big brother married my big sister, so there is still, you know, a relationship. Anyway, sophomore year, I was dateless and didn't attend the prom. It still was the most humiliating prom-evening experience ever.
Not long before we moved to Pierre in the fall of 1969, we bought a mid-sized American Motors station wagon, the model known as the Rebel. The thing was deep green and brand new. We bought it right off the showroom floor (financed the entire thing) at a dealership in downtown Sioux Falls. The third seat faced the rear, so passengers got there from the back end of the wagon. One of the selling points for us (other than the fact that it seemed to run well, which was more than we could say for the Oldsmobile sedan we'd been driving) was that the second and third seats could be folded flat.
When my brother Kevin was a kid, he broke his arm one afternoon while we were throwing rocks at some ducks down by the stock dam north of our farmyard. At first, no one could believe it was broken, and I don't mean just me. I was there with him, his big brother. As I think about it, we probably were throwing dirt clods, not rocks. We didn't have many rocks on that part of the farm, but clods of dirt were everywhere, and some of them were thick and firm. They'd have done some damage if they'd hit something, but the ducks were alert and fairly agile, and we were mostly passing time, anyway.
Nearly 30 years ago, when I worked at the daily newspaper in Pierre, a fellow South Dakota editor engaged me in a conversation about the way to keep people reading newspapers in a world of pictures and audio. The editor, long since retired, was a big and hearty Irishman who loved his craft and the people who practiced it. From my first days with The Associated Press throughout my career as a reporter, he was a mentor in all things newspaper, and a friend in all things, period.
It's the first official weekend of spring, and that means we're about to start South Dakota's real high-school sports season -- track and field. When I was competing for Chamberlain High School half a century ago, we'd finish the basketball season, take a week or so off -- no idea why, that's just the way things went -- and then we'd report for track. On the first day of the season, sometimes the coaches would start things out by seeing just what sort of physical condition we were in.
A number of years ago, a work crew installed a pipeline through our neighborhood. We live on a corner, with grass boulevards between our sidewalk and the street on each side. The trenching crew chose our side of each street to tear up. If I'd been doing the project, I might have only done one side of my property, say the north-south line, and used the opposite side of the east-west street for the other line. That's dividing the misery. On the other hand, doubling up on me probably cut down the number of property owners who complained. I didn't complain about the project, really.
Earlier this month, after a long, cold and snowy winter, the temperature climbed into the 50s, the sun dried the boards of the porch floor and the snow melted and ran in happy little rivers down the gutter and into the storm drain at the corner. My reaction? "Oh, man. Why did this have to happen?" I know. Everywhere I looked people were peeling out of their winter coats, leaving scarves and gloves and insulated boots in their mud rooms and striding down the wet -- but not ice-covered -- sidewalks, smiling at each other and doing the whole "How about this weather, huh?
A friend who still covers the South Dakota Legislature recently wrote that lawmakers are talking about changing a weird procedure called the smoke-out. Bob Mercer, who writes stories for a group of daily newspapers including The Daily Republic, picked up the trail of the story by paying attention to the Legislative Procedure Committee. That's a group of lawmakers responsible for suggesting changes in the way the Legislature does its business.