We’re all aware of acts of giving during the Christmas season, I suppose, but it never hurts to remember that people are kind to each other every day of the year.
I don’t get around as much as I did when I traveled the state reporting news, but I haven’t forgotten the stories I once did. Some of the most enjoyable assignments involved groups of people giving up a bit of their own time to help others who needed a hand. Those were the kinds of stories that were fun to do, and they were often some of the most-read, most-appreciated stories the newspaper printed.
One such memorable assignment involved a trip with photographer Greg Latza to the northwest country of Perkins County, out Lemmon way. The land is broad out there. The grass is short but it grows everywhere. The sun pounds the face and warms the shoulders, and the steady breeze ruffles the hair and sends dust devils swirling across the rolling prairie. It’s a lovely part of South Dakota, although the weather can be harsh and unforgiving in the thunderstorms of summer and the blizzards of winter.
Greg and I traveled out that way in the spring of 1997. We teamed up quite often on word and photo stories west of the Missouri River back when we worked together for the newspaper. We got pretty comfortable traveling together, swapping kid-on-the-farm stories between stops, reading about the land through which we drove and appreciating whatever part of South Dakota we traveled through on each assignment.
The Perkins County trip came in May that year. The winter had been harsh up that way in 1997. Farms and ranches are scattered wide. Dropping by to visit a neighbor takes work. Even with the modern conveniences, the newest equipment and the latest techniques, people get socked in for days at a time by frequent, heavy snows and the relentless, howling wind. That winter, outbuildings lost siding and shingles. Barbed-wire fences sagged as far as the eye could see, and the eye can see a tremendously long way out in that country.
Greg and I were reporting on the activities of a group of volunteers, Presbyterians from the Philadelphia area, who had traveled to South Dakota to lend a hand. We caught up with them as they mucked out sheep barns, branded calves and mended fences that stretched for miles across the grasslands. From what I could see, those Philadelphia church people worked their tails off. Maybe it was a chance to see a new part of the country, but they earned their passage from sunrise to sunset for the days they were here. I admired them for their industriousness and cheerfulness, and I drove away at the end of the assignment feeling pretty good about my fellow men and women.
I also left laughing at some of the impressions those Pennsylvania volunteers had of western South Dakota. Andy Coval, 19, learned to use a post-hole digger. He paused in his work to tell me, “I didn’t know the wind could blow that strong for a whole day.’’ His dad, Tom, a lawyer in Philadelphia, took a longer view, saying, “Until I came here, I did not comprehend the vastness of the open range. Just the sheer space is awesome.’’
One of the local ministers hosting the group said the mending and branding and fencing were just side benefits of the visit. “These people have brought hope to an area badly in need of a spiritual lift,’’ she said.
Somewhere in the country, somewhere in South Dakota, some person or group every day is doing the same thing - bringing hope to people badly in need of a spiritual lift.
It’s easy to read mean tweets and posts and to follow the angry exchanges at public forums and believe everyone despises everyone else. It’s easy to think that “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men,’’ as the Christmas carol says.
But it isn’t true. There’s more good than evil out there. Attention needs to be paid to that, this season and every day of the year.