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Woster: I've never minded sharing 'my' Missouri River

In the days of Letters to the Editor, when two readers’ letters constituted a public uprising, I had a couple dozen.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster
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In more than 40 years of writing personal columns for newspapers, I’ve expected that some people would be angry with my words. I never expected it to be over a light-hearted remark about the Missouri River.

That was a column I wrote when I lived in Pierre. I was editor of the daily paper in the capital city for several years, and I wrote regular columns. Then, as now, I usually wrote about seemingly simpler times, the good old days or the strengths of families and friendships. I seldom get into current politics and such, because there’s plenty of that elsewhere. So, when I wrote a goofy little piece about how crowded things were getting on the Missouri and its boat ramps in the Pierre area, the anger of several responses took me by surprise.

This must have been in the early to middle 1980s. Walleye fishing was hot. Salmon fishing was taking off. People from several states around were showing up to share the ramps and the river. Sometimes tempers were heated on the docks as too many folks jockeyed for position on too few ramps and too many rigs fought for too few slots in the parking lots. I’d heard of fistfights. I’d witnessed some angry exchanges that I half expected to turn into physical contests.

I wrote a whimsical piece about the times before the crowds. When I started boating on Lake Oahe, only a few places were improved. Ramps were primitive but good enough. Most times, even on weekends, a guy could arrive at a ramp and find only a few rigs in the lot and one boat launching or landing at the dock. A person inclined to talk like a bureaucrat might call that situation “under-utilization.’’

My column described how, with a couple of friends and their families, Nancy and I could take our kids up onto the lake and spend whole weekends never seeing another boat. I said I missed those times. I think I said something like, “It’s my river, see, and I don’t want to share it with anyone.’’ I never dreamed anyone would think I meant it. Boy, did I misread that room.

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In the days of Letters to the Editor, when two readers’ letters constituted a public uprising, I had a couple dozen. I also had several phone calls from terribly irate readers, and a few from people who weren’t regular readers but who somehow heard about the column. Each in their own words told me the Missouri most certainly was not my river. I had no right to refuse to share it (and how would I do that, anyway?) and I should be ashamed of myself.

One caller went so far as to say my mom must be disappointed in me. Well, she sometimes was, but I don’t think that was one of the times.

I told each caller, and I replied to each letter writer, that I’d been joking. Many years earlier, back in journalism school, a guest lecturer told us humor is a difficult thing to write well. He should have said it more emphatically, I guess.

I thought of that incident over the holiday weekend while I waited for a turn at the boat ramp and drove around looking for a place to park the trailer and pickup. Here in Chamberlain, the actual Fourth of July was pretty uncrowded at the marina – not without steady traffic, but not overwhelming. All in all, it was a relatively easy time, although with each passing year I find I have more trouble backing a boat trailer straight than I did the previous season.

The weekend days before the Fourth were more testing. We managed to get the boat into the water and back onto the trailer with, you know, some delays and frustration. I tried to remember a brother-in-law’s description of owning a boat in Santa Monica and spending most of an hour getting into the water and another hour getting out. It was never that bad here.

And once on the water, it was just family and a few friends. I don’t mind at all sharing “my river’’ with them.

Opinion by Terry Woster
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