It was important for Vernon Ashley to have me know, that time I interviewed him in 2009, that while he was homesick when he left his Crow Creek Reservation home for high school in Flandreau, he never cried. I thought of that story immediately when I read the news of Ashley's death this past week. The big man with the lined face, snow-white hair and eyes that seemed to see beyond the horizon would have reached 100 in another two months.
My little brother, Kevin, celebrated a birthday last Tuesday, and in a Facebook post reminded us that so did David Kranz, now-retired newspaper editor and political columnist. Kranz. The Kranzmeister. Kranz-a-matic. Kranzarama. Various co-workers used those nicknames at one time or another. I mostly called him David, a habit I picked up when we were both in J-school. He called me Woster, as in "Woster, what's your story?'' David was a couple of years behind me at State. That makes him 70. He's a scurrier. Even back on campus, he scurried.
Sometimes in moments of quiet reflection, I fear for my country. I don't spend most of my waking hours afraid. I have a life. I watch the news, drink some coffee, surf the Internet, visit the library to find William Kent Krueger novels, watch "NCIS'' re-runs, go for walks, watch the sun set and admire the gold leaves that fall from the green ash trees. But every so often, I worry. I don't worry that someone will take our country from us. That's not impossible, because there are a lot of bad people in the world who don't like the idea of this country.
When I was a boy, the family owned, for a while, a small house on the lot next to ours in Chamberlain. I don't recall the circumstances, but for a period of time, that house stood empty. It made a great place to play on rainy days. It wasn't outside, but it was out of my house, you know? I took a small portable record player (yeah, I'm that old) with a stack of 45 rpm platters to the empty house. I could play them as loud as I wished, with no one to complain about the volume.
I found two shotguns and a .22-caliber rifle tucked into a cranny in the furnace room when I cleaned in the basement the other day. Well, sure, I'm as Second Amendment as the next American, but I'd completely forgotten I was armed and dangerous and ready to protect my castle. Oh, wait. I should back up. I'm not completely ready to protect the old castle.
Strange to say, but sometimes it seems to me that weddings have little in common with marriages. I've been thinking about that now and then for the past week, ever since our granddaughter Jordan married her sweetheart, Patrick. They came together in a lovely and touching ceremony that focused on them — two young, earnest and excited people sharing a pledge to spend the rest of their lives together. I love weddings, especially when the couples are so clearly in love. There is so much hope, so much optimism and so much happiness. Nearly everybody is on their best behavior at a wedding.
A recent column about traveling South Dakota north of Highway 34 and west of the Missouri River on news assignments drew a quick and positive response from a teacher/newspaper friend who grew up in that part of the country. Jomay and I worked together for a while at the newspaper. She has returned to teaching. She appreciated especially the mention of the Red Scaffold area of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. I once had lunch there with the Head Start class following a blizzard.
Back in August, I saw a bunch of fallen leaves on the lawn and told people it was a disturbing sign that fall was near. I was premature. A better sign of the arrival of fall came day before yesterday when I winterized my boat. That's it. Summer over. The boat goes in the garage until spring. No big deal for landlubbers, but a significant change of seasons for a river rat. I have an inboard-outboard motor in my boat. I keep the craft in an unheated garage. That means I need to winterize things before the temperature drops below freezing.
Nancy and I don't regularly travel west on Highway 34, so naturally when we took that route recently from Pierre to Deadwood, I found along the way many memories of times Greg Latza and I did story-photo packages back in our newspaper days. Nancy and I traveled to Deadwood for the annual Festival of the Book. My kid sister, baby brother and I presented a panel on storytelling during the opening day of the festival. I started to write "taught,'' but who would I be kidding?
Viewed from a hilltop on the north edge of Chamberlain, the "blood moon'' eclipse last weekend lived up to its hype. From our vantage point, along the road that winds through the Roam Free Park above St. Joseph's Indian School, we had a clear view. Only a few wispy clouds threatened, and they were late to the party. On the hilltop, we were above most of the artificial lights of the town. Only light from the stars gleamed, from horizon to horizon. Townspeople clustered along the path, some with telescopes or cameras with telephoto lenses the size of small cannons.