Last weekend as Nancy and I walked on a bike trail that meanders along the Missouri River shore here in Pierre, I idly noted the gray-white markings on the trunks of trees in the parks where we strolled. The markings, of course, are left from the great flood of 2011. Hard to imagine it has been three years since the water stood two, three and four feet high on the trunks of the cottonwood trees. Hard to imagine the path where we walked was covered by flood waters.
This Friday, it will be 70 years since D-Day. Well, of course. I'm 70, and I was born just a few months before D-Day. D-Day, as every American must know, refers to the Allied military invasion across the Channel and up the beaches of France to carry the fight to the German army. It marked the start of the deciding battles and military campaigns that ended World War II in the European Theater. Most of the military personnel who were involved in the Normandy landing are gone. Only a handful of the longest-lived among them remain alive.
I struggle sometimes to locate the latch that pops the hood on my pickup, but there was a time when I was a bit of a mechanic. That time was decades ago, and mechanical things were more, well, mechanical. If something went wrong, you'd pop the hood, listen to the motor (or if the vehicle wouldn't start, you'd listen to the way the engine tried to turn over) and diagnose the most likely problems.
The Grateful Dead were singing about truckin' when they did the line, "Together, more or less in line,'' but they could have been talking about the way six old friends kayak the Missouri River. When I say six old friends, I'm talking about Nancy and me and two couples who are some of the people we've known longest and best in our 45 years in Pierre. When I say old, yeah, I guess I mean in terms of age, but I mean much more than that. The six of us are pretty old by most standards. Nancy is the youngest of us. She was born just a bit before World War II ended. Virge is the oldest of us.
My granddaughter Lara has been in chorus all through high school, but never, not once, has she tried to be front and center on stage at any concert Nancy and I have attended. The other evening we made the road trip for the last vocal concert of this granddaughter's high-school career. Tomorrow, she will be among the Brookings High School Class of 2014. Not so long after that, she'll be college bound. So, this recent pop concert was another in a string of those "lasts'' for this senior, for her classmates and for all of their parents, grandparents, other relatives and friends.
When Nancy and I were first married, we had little extra spending money, and we purchased several household items with S&H Green Stamps. I read a bit of S&H history that says the 1960s were the hey-day of the company's success. Nancy and I weren't the sole reason, but we contributed as often as we could. My all-time favorite Green Stamp purchase was a Kennedy-style rocking chair. It was black with a colorful design running along the back rest.
Every now and then, just often enough so I remember why I should turn down the offer, I accept an invitation to speak somewhere. By speak somewhere, I mean in public. I mean in public in front of people. I mean in public in front of people who -- at least I always imagine so -- came to the event in part with the expectation that the speaker would have something interesting to say.
South Dakota is a land of incredible beauty and variety, peopled by characters who can be gruff, sweet, sullen, bubbly, soft-spoken or red-faced-loud. Now and then I miss the newspaper reporting days, mostly because of those characters. As a newspaper guy, I traveled from town to town, often several times a week one direction or another. I'd usually travel for a news purpose -- a public meeting, a campaign event, a protest, a court hearing, whatever. I usually managed to find an excuse to talk to the local characters. I'm something of an introvert. It's my parents' fault.
I was digging through the clutter on the shelves in our basement furnace room the other evening when I discovered an amazing invention -- a yo-yo. This one is blue and yellow, so it could be from South Dakota State, except that it has a "Stop, Drop and Roll" message. Maybe the fire marshal was giving them out, or the Pierre Fire Department. Whatever the origin, it's a good message, and a great little toy. All it takes is a piece of string and a spool of wood with a split that lets the string wrap itself around the stem of the spool. Everybody had a yo-yo when I was in grade school.
This will escape the younger folks, but people my age will understand why it remains memorable to me that, after Easter break in 1963, I received permission from my dad to drive our 1956 Pontiac station wagon back to Omaha and keep it there until the end of the spring semester at Creighton University. I was a freshman. Many things were memorable about that year in Omaha, but few more memorable than actually having a car on campus, if only for a couple of short months. (And it was a couple of months. Spring academic terms lasted until June, as I remember it.