It’s been a year now since Nancy and I left Pierre and moved to Chamberlain. And on a visit last week to the capital city, I realized I no longer consider it home.
That’s funny, when you think of it. We lived in Pierre for 50 years. It’s where we raised our kids and made our careers and found our closest friends. Those are the kinds of things that make a place a home, don’t you think? Fifty years in one place and in just a year away, it isn’t home anymore.
I shouldn’t be surprised at that. What should have surprised me — and, come to think of it, what did — was that Pierre ever came to be considered home at all. When we moved there in the fall of 1969, we weren’t planning to stay long enough to do a load of laundry, much less pay school taxes, donate to Scout programs, coach Little League and go to ballet recitals. We were just there to make some money and move on to the next place. It was a career stop. We didn’t call it that, but that’s what it was.
We moved to Pierre from Sioux Falls, where I’d been a sportswriter for the daily newspaper. I loved that job and my boss, but the pay wasn’t great for a couple with two young kids. When The Associated Press offered me $130 a week (with a bump to something like $145 within the year) to work as a Capitol reporter in Pierre, I jumped at the opportunity.
Even though my pay was only about $110 a week at the time, we really didn’t want to leave. In fact, I told the top editor about the offer and asked what my future looked like at the paper. He cleared his throat, blinked a couple of times and said he didn’t see how, “with the economy going the way it is, you won’t be making $150 a week within five years.’’ I’ve never thought money should be the primary motivator for what a person does, but it pretty much was that time.
We enjoyed Sioux Falls in those days. We were there for two years after college. When you’re that age, generally you don’t think of a place as home. We didn’t, anyway. It was just the place that had jobs available for nurses and news reporters. And it really wasn’t a big city then. It was more of a South Dakota small town that had forgotten to fence in its boundaries. When we were there, it was just starting to spill over on all sides.
Earlier, I referred to Pierre as a career stop. The AP in those days had a thing that some of us reporters called a “dateline stop.’’ You know the city or town at the start of a wire service news story? “PIERRE (AP)’’ and such? That’s a dateline. To put a location in the dateline, a reporter had to have been to that place for that story. Sometimes that meant a quick trip to the spot and then out — a dateline stop. When we moved to Pierre, it was to be that kind of stop. There and gone, off to better things.
We’d have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids, as the captured villains used to say at the end of every episode of “Scooby-Doo.’’
Kids grow, meet other kids in the neighborhood, start playing at each other’s homes, and pretty soon you meet other parents. Next thing you know, it’s time for school. Kids get to know many more other kids, which means you meet more other parents. You meet teachers, band directors and administrators. School activities increase as kids grow older. Before you know it, you’re going to all sorts of events, even participating. Without quite intending for it to happen, you set down roots, buy a house, a boat, a camper. Kids leave home, return for spring break, start bringing families of their own for Christmas, and there you are. Home.
I can’t call Pierre home now, but I don’t call it a career stop, either.