Growing up, I had no idea how flat our piece of Lyman County really was. The evidence was all around me. I just never gave it a thought. The lane leading from our farm yard was slightly inclined, but not so much anyone would mistake it for a hill. If I stood in the middle of the farm yard, and if a shelterbelt and a few isolated cottonwood trees hadn't been in the way, I could have looked a mile or more in all directions. That's pretty flat. The only time the landscape became an issue was in the winter when I wanted to try out a new Flexible Flyer sled that came under the tree at Christmas.
If you are like me, you probably don't get too deep into New Year's resolutions. I used to be pretty fired up over resolutions, but I found out I was setting myself up for failure, usually within five or six weeks of the last strains of "Auld Lang Syne." If you're thinking to yourself, "That sounds like a classic example of a cop-out," you're probably right.
Several of the fields I was passing at 75 mph had combines in them, and long, powerful grain trucks, too. That's a familiar sight along that stretch of South Dakota highway, of course, but something was different about the scene this trip. The fields, while they held some corn and other crops, had snow in them. The furrows were covered with snow, and so were the weed patches along the fencerows. That's what had been bothering me subconsciously.
When I was a kid, my dad took the family to Kansas City for Thanksgiving. His big brother lived there with a large, loud family, and when we got together with them in one house, it was chaos, but enjoyably so for the most part. One of the things I remember about that visit to Kansas City was that the day after Thanksgiving, the city's stores and shops began their Christmas decorating and merchandising. Until that Friday, Thanksgiving dominated. After that holiday had been properly observed, attention turned toward Christmas.
The first year we were married, I worked in the newsroom on Christmas Day. I think Nancy had the whole day off. She was working at the hospital, and I was a photographer for the newspaper. Our first child, a daughter, was two and one-half weeks old, and we couldn't make it home to Chamberlain. Now that I've been a grandparent for quite a while, I know how difficult that must have been for my folks and Nancy's folks. At the time, I just thought it was a bad deal for us, and especially me, because I had to work in the newsroom. It was a short shift, I have to admit.
Way back in the 1970s, Bob Karolevitz wrote a history book called "Challenge: The South Dakota Story." The reason for the title was obvious then and now. South Dakota offers many challenges to the people who would live, work and raise families here. It isn't always for the faint at heart. The notion of challenges struck me the other day as I read the front page of The Daily Republic.
By now, everyone who knows me knows my decision to major in journalism was because of Francis Church and Virginia O'Hanlon, and of course Merle Adams. Mrs. Adams taught Latin and journalism at Chamberlain High School. She guided the staff of the school newspaper, and she carried a briefcase that was nearly as big as she was. At CHS, we called her "Granny" behind her back. We didn't think she knew. Years later, I realized, of course, she knew. There's not a chance in the world that Mrs. Adams didn't know that was going on.
The latest sign that the world is changing far more quickly than I can keep pace: A daily newspaper story says some of the public universities in South Dakota are going to quit offering landline telephone service in student dormitories. When I read that story, the image in my mind was of the two phone booths in the lobby of Wareham Hall, where I lived during my year at Creighton University. The booths were pretty much like the public phone booths you'd see on street corners in any city of any size back in the 1960s -- tall, square boxes with a bi-fold door and a coin-fed telephone.
A number of people I've known who reach their 60s and retirement have used the so-called Golden Years to travel around the country. Well, Nancy and I have never really been big travelers. If there isn't a kid or a grandkid at the end of the trip, there isn't much reason to make the journey. For us, the journey has never been an end in itself. It's about the destination and how much of our family is at that destination. Still, we were asked once where we'd like to go if we could make a trip. Nancy, if I remember correctly, said she'd always thought she might like to see Hawaii.
I look at my calendar, and suddenly Christmas is barely three weeks away. Where did fall go? Actually, I checked the calendar only after seeing an Associated Press story in one of the daily newspapers. The story is one of those old chestnuts that some reporter drags out each year about this time. It runs through that holiday song "The Twelve Days of Christmas," and calculates how much it would cost in today's dollars to buy for your true love all of the items mentioned in the song. Forget for a moment that I wouldn't know where to pick up most of those things.