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.
I don't have to work very hard to remember back to late May and early June when I thought it might never quit raining in South Dakota. Those were the days of levee building and river-gauge watching and friends gathering to help neighbors pile sandbags and move belongings. Sometimes during the early stages of the Missouri River flooding, it seemed like it was raining every time I stepped outside.
My brother Jim said it the other afternoon during a ceremony at South Dakota State, but I'd been thinking it to myself just before that. Boiled down, what Jim said was that there are few finer times than early autumn on a college campus. That's what I was thinking as I walked with Nancy and our Brookings family across the campus to the new health building. Our Brookings family lives a couple of blocks off campus, just a block or so west of Scobey Hall and West Hall.
Driving from Pierre to Brookings and back in the same afternoon and evening is a bit of a challenge for a couple of mature folks like me and Nancy, but we made the trip on Wednesday for the pleasure of watching my big brother honored at South Dakota State University. Jim, the oldest of Henry and Marie Woster's five children, is four years older than I am, but he graduated from Chamberlain High School five years before I did. He skipped second or third grade while we were still at Reliance, so he graduated from high school a couple of months before his 17th birthday.
I think I understand the notion of subliminal messages pretty well. Those are things hidden in other messages on television, in films or in songs. The idea is to make the person watching the program or listening to the tune suddenly realize he wants to buy a BMW or a bomber jacket or a big bag of buttered popcorn. I read in Wikipedia -- a modern-day encyclopedia much like the World Book series except trained researchers generally researched the World Book entries and they couldn't be randomly altered by any electronic passerby -- that subliminal stimuli were first used in 1895.
As I read the sports page in the local newspaper the other day, I happened on a quote from a high school cross-country coach that made me realize once again how far, far back my athletic career was in the Dark Ages of organized sports. The coach was talking about his best runner and how he would hold her back in practice, having her run with the other members of the team to help develop the bond that is evident in so many of the cross-country squads these days. Left to her own pace-setting, that girl would have left the other runners in the dust.
When I reached the kids' place in Chamberlain a while before sunset a week ago Friday, I parked the truck, got out and leaned over in the driveway to scoop up Sage, our 3-year-old granddaughter who came sprinting across the concrete to welcome me to town. After a hug or two with Sage and some pleasantries with her parents, I found myself in the trampoline with Nancy and Sage, bouncing around like jumping jacks and generally acting like something other than a senior citizen who ought to be thinking about calling it a night. I tired rather quickly. Sage didn't mind that.
What I thought I might do last Sunday was read the paper, drink some coffee, go for a walk with Nancy, do a little writing and catch a mid-afternoon nap as the temperature climbed to the upper 80s. Well, I got the paper read, with the help of two or three cups of coffee. We went for a long walk, too, down toward the river and through Griffin Park. The writing had to wait until later, and the nap didn't happen at all.
Ten years seems such a long time, until you look back at something like the terrorist attacks of Sep. 11, 2001. Then it seems no time at all. I remember feeling that way in 1982, 10 years after the Rapid City flood that claimed 238 lives in the space of an early June overnight in the Black Hills. A decade after that flood, I could remember as if it were only that morning how it looked to drive into the east edge of Rapid City just at dawn and see the cars crushed, the trees uprooted, houses moved from foundations and debris hanging from every fence rail and storm drain.
When I was a sophomore at South Dakota State back in 1964, one of the BMOCs (that's big man on campus for folks who didn't grow up half a century ago) was a guy named Don Barnett. He and my big brother were friends, and I got to know him mostly through Jim. Barnett was involved in a ton of campus activities -- and a few non-campus activities, so the stories go -- so he was pretty visible and kind of a hero to introverted underclassmen like me. He graduated, did some time in the U.S.