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.
One day not so very far in the future, the last strains of the final song will fade and a voice will say softly but authoritatively, "Captain Jayco has left the building." Actually, that isn't going to happen, not quite that way. It should, though, because the guy who came to be known as Captain Jayco -- my pal Marty DeWitt -- is leaving the South Dakota park system later this month.
Tomorrow is the first day of September. School is back in session, and the State Fair has started a five-day, Labor Day weekend run that signals either the beginning of fall or the end of summer, take your pick. It seems an eternity ago that we were in the run-up to Memorial Day weekend.
The 1959 spring track and field season at Chamberlain High School started with a new coach at the helm. Had you walked among the thin-clads warming up on the outfield grass at the baseball field next to the school during the first practice or two, you would have guessed which of the baby-faced guys doing calisthenics was the coach only by the whistle around his neck. Don Giese looked like he shaved about as often as the 15-year-old freshmen he was planning to whip into some semblance of a track team in the coming eight or 10 weeks. Actually, Coach Giese still looks like a baby-faced kid.
A few years ago when legislators were talking about how to spend money from a railroad trust fund (and, yes, I'm oversimplifying the issue), I sat in a committee room and fought to keep from laughing out loud as Rep. Gordon Pederson of Wall explained how a railroad bed falls apart if it isn't properly maintained. I wasn't laughing at the explanation from the veteran Republican legislator. I was laughing with delight at Gordie trying to give some relatively green lawmakers a quick lesson on why railroads in general and the railroad trust fund in particular, were important to the state.
The sun had just dropped behind the river bluff on the west edge of Lower Brule a week ago Friday evening when the spiders began to drop from the top of the arbor around the pow-wow grounds. I'd been admiring the quiet evening, with the moon just beginning to rise over toward the east from the general direction of Big Bend Dam. You couldn't have special-ordered a better temperature if you'd been best friends with the producer of The Weather Channel, and the pow-wow circle filled with dancers each time a drum group began a song.
Years ago when people were working with souls who had drinking problems, they sometimes used this example to point out the craziness of repeating dangerous behaviors. If a person stepped into a busy street without waiting for a signal or checking for traffic, got hit by a car and broke his leg, wouldn't it be a little crazy if he repeated that experience again once he got out of the hospital and out of the cast? And wouldn't it be more than a little crazy if he stepped into the street without checking for traffic a third time or fourth time?
It could be that the best thing about growing older and having the kids graduate and move away is not worrying about rushing away from work to catch a child's activity. That's something, I suppose, but it doesn't begin to offset the worst thing about having the kids gone. The worst thing is just that -- the kids are gone. They aren't around, even if when they were it meant a steady stream of basketball and tennis, concerts and recitals, plays and parent-teacher conferences.
Back in 1976, while covering covered the Democratic National Convention for the Associated Press, I met a cab driver who absolutely brightened when I told him I was from South Dakota. That was the time I made a most disastrous choice from a hot-news standpoint. It was a marvelous decision, though, from a "see a major city for a week with expenses paid" perspective. Here's how that decision came about: The lead reporter in Bismarck, N.D., and I were to cover the two national nominating conventions that year. I was senior, so I got first choice.
For a spell when I was in high school, I tried to stay in good physical condition in the summer. That's an odd concept for a farm kid. Everyday life is one big workout. I worked about 10 times as hard in the summer as any other time during the year, what with stacking hay and shoveling grain and digging post holes by hand. A couple of my classmates lifted a few weights in the morning and lounged around the city swimming pool in the afternoon. They developed impressive shoulders and biceps.