Forrest Gump's momma might have been wrong. She's the one who said -- or at least her little boy, the character played by Tom Hanks in the movie, says she said -- "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." A box of chocolates, at least those I saw this Christmas season, contains a nicely spaced chart that tells you exactly what you're going to get. Now, it's true that sometimes what the chart says you're going to get from one square or another in the box of candy isn't something you are going to like.
As both the old year and the long war in Iraq come to an end, I find myself thinking of several South Dakota soldiers whose lives touched me even though I never knew them before being given the assignment as a newspaper reporter to learn more about then as casualties of the distant fighting. News reporters are asked to cover a wide range of different events and activities, some joyful, some tragic. If they work for any length of time in a small state like South Dakota during a period of war, it is inevitable that at some point they will be assigned to cover the funeral of a soldier.
Whether you're a kid for real or just an old man trying to think like a child and act like a child and eat like a child, this is a trying time in the Christmas season. The holy holiday is almost here but not quite yet.
I haven't been a college student since LBJ was president, but the approach of Christmas still makes me think back to a time when the holiday season meant final exams for fall semester were near. These days, fall semester ends before Christmas. When I started college, fall semester ended in late January. Christmas break was an unused opportunity to do some booking in advance of finals week.
When I go Christmas shopping for all my friends (who am I kidding? I only have two friends), I nearly always leave the house thinking it would be appropriate to spend the entire weekend looking at dozens and dozens of possible gifts, because my friends are worth that much time and thought. That's what I think.
Every year when basketball season arrives, I get all excited. I'm not sure why that is, since my own basketball career was something less than "That Championship Season." If you don't count some intramural games at South Dakota State and Creighton, my official basketball career ended on the bench in the old gymnasium at Parkston in March of 1962. That was the third-place game of the sectional tournament.
I was born two years and a month after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on this date in 1941, but I've known about it for as long as I can remember, certainly from my earliest school days. Every kid my age knew about Pearl Harbor, the sneak attack, the loss of lives and ships and airplanes -- the loss of an innocent belief that we were beyond the reach of the rest of the world's belligerent nations and leaders. I entered grade school while the Korean War was under way in the early 1950s. My first real current-events memories are of discussions about that war -- what Gen.
I seldom want to go back and live things over, but as the winter weather season approaches, I wouldn't mind being 19 again and having no concept of what's involved in a storm warning. Whenever we plan a highway trip during the winter season these days, I spend parts of each day in the week leading up to our departure studying the long-range forecasts and plotting alternate routes to our destination in the event of a sudden snowstorm.
To understand what I will forever think of as Boo's Post-Thanksgiving Marathon, you'd have to have seen Isaac Vogel as a scrawny middle school kid trying to run with the big boys in cross-country. Everyone called the kid "Boo" back then. He's been our younger son's friend for a long time, but I don't know where the nickname originated.
I'm afraid we've lost our younger son to Colorado. I tried to prevent it before he left South Dakota last summer. I told him how great it was to have him within three hours of home. I told him that his mother sure would miss him because no way in the world I was driving her clear to Denver more than once every five or 10 years. I even told him what the late John Milton, the University of South Dakota literature professor, told me in a letter about standing atop a tall mountain and seeing nothing in any direction but emptiness. I might as well have been talking to the feeder steers.