Sometimes I think the best thing about being a newspaper reporter was getting up every morning with absolutely no idea what the work day would bring. I know. If a person stops to consider it, we all get up every morning with absolutely no idea what the next moment will bring. We have our plans and our short-and long-range goals. Most of the time, most of us move a day closer to those plans and goals, but not all of us, not all of the time. On a smaller scale, being a newspaper reporter was like that.
Last Sunday wasn't a particularly pleasant day to be staggering around between a rented house and a rental truck. Even at mid-morning in Brookings that day, the combination of temperature and humidity settled on the shoulders like a heavy wool coat. Frequent references to "heat index" on the broadcast news programs and the Weather Channel only made things worse. (I've never liked "wind chill," not as a concept and not as a measure of the effective level of coldness on a frigid winter day. The only wind chill I have tolerated was in the title of a book by Thomas Gifford. I read it years ago.
Two of my favorite histories of South Dakota -- books I've used countless times over the years -- were written during the 1970s. I'm not saying they are the best histories of the state. In the past, there have been some fine histories of South Dakota, although not enough of them have been updated to detail the last couple of decades. But history books aren't supposed to be current events.
In one of our upstairs bedrooms, a soft blanket thrown across the bedspread has images of a Teddy bear and the words, "It takes a long time to grow an old friend." I do most of my personal writing in that room, so I see the blanket often. It doesn't attract my attention most evenings when I'm up there working. Last weekend was different. We had just returned from a cruise on Lake Oahe with the two Pierre couples who have been our close friends for nearly all of the last four decades.
The first bicycle I ever owned didn't come from a store. Wait. That isn't true. The tubes and tires came from a second-hand store, and I suppose most of the rest of the bike came from a store at one time or another, just not at the time I got it. My dad put the bicycle together from a frame and a couple of wheels he found somewhere in Reliance, the second-hand tires and tubes and a few welded pieces he pretty much hand-made from scraps of metal he dug out of the pile of junk between the garage-bunkhouse and the machine shed.
I finally got my boat out on the river this past weekend and burned through most of my first tank of gas since late August. A boat, for those who have never owned one, is a peculiar sort of thing to have. In its way, a boat is a lot like a saddle horse on a spread where all of the cattle herding is done with pickups and four-wheelers. The boat, like the horse, sits idle for long periods of time. Unlike a horse, a boat -- if properly prepared -- can sit idle for long periods without needing to be exercised and without needing to be fed.
One Fourth of July as we visited family in Chamberlain, our younger son started a fire that burned a wide swath across the west slope of the gulch across the street from his grandmother's house. From the time we moved to Chamberlain when I was starting third grade, we lived in a modest home on the west edge of the gulch near the community swimming pool. The floor of the gulch was covered with tall weeds and volunteer trees, and it was a great place to explore and kill an afternoon for a 12-year-old boy.
By the time this is published, and if all goes according to plan, I'll be back from a trip to the Twin Cities and a concert by the Dark Star Orchestra. It isn't really an orchestra, at least not in the sense of horns and strings and all that. It's a group of young musicians who recreate entire concerts done previously by the Grateful Dead. Nancy and I received tickets to the show for Mother's Day and Father's Day, and we decided to go. When's the last time you saw anybody recreate a Grateful Dead show? Thought so. I don't get to the Cities very often these days.
Back in high school, I drove a 1958 Chevrolet Biscayne that looked a lot like an Impala without the ton of chrome or romping V-8 engine. The Biscayne was a four-door model, with a six-cylinder engine and a stick shift -- "three on the tree," the car nuts called that model. My dad had a thing about six-cylinder engines, and the Chevy got good gas mileage. Ron Ballou and I could pool our pocket change, pump in a buck-ten's worth of gas and drag main all night long. The Chevy wasn't mine. It was a family car we paired with a 1956 Pontiac three-seat station wagon.
Sometimes it's good for me to be reminded that I have it pretty good. I have an old friend who always, when asked how he is doing, replies, "Best day of my life." I was around him on some days that weren't all that great, but I never heard him say anything but "best day of my life" when asked the question. I've developed a similar reply when people ask how things are going. "Couldn't be better," I like to say, whether I'm knee-deep in clover or up to my ears in quicksand.