I have a friend named Jim Carrier who grew up fascinated by the West. I capitalize the word because it's a region, of the mind, if not of the land. Jim grew up in upstate New York, and he said in something he wrote once -- or at least a draft of something he was writing -- that the bedroom window in his childhood home faced west. That explained much, he suggested. I met Jim when he moved to South Dakota in 1975 to work for The Associated Press.
Everybody in the world has read "The Catcher in the Rye," right? I got to Creighton University in the fall of 1962, and I'd never heard of the book. I'd never heard of the author, J.D. Salinger, although I had a hazy sort of notion that he might be related to the Kennedy family somehow. I was thinking of Pierre Salinger, of course, but I was also scrambling to keep up. All I knew during those first, hectic days on the Omaha campus was I had never heard of half of the books the other kids in my literature course claimed to have read. Now, mostly, Chamberlain prepared me well.
John Wooley, a former Associated Press news reporter with whom I later worked at the Pierre Times, once told me that he'd learned the priorities of the citizens of his community during an interview with a mayor about to leave office. John asked the city official to name the question most frequently asked by citizens during his tenure. "Easy," the mayor said.
I play rhythm guitar with a 20-piece big band. I'd never have gotten the chance but for a guy named Juell Johnson. It's been a marvelous experience with the Over Forte Orchestra, playing some great old standards with a bunch of really decent people whose day jobs range from heavy equipment operator to medical doctor. Juell was the inspiration for what has become a late-winter or early-spring fixture in Pierre, the Juell Johnson Jazz Festival. He started playing music when he was just a kid and taught himself pretty much everything there is to know about a keyboard.
Once upon a time, when I was 15 years old and a know-it-all sophomore at Chamberlain High School, I led a student walk-out of English class. Well, it wasn't all students. None of the girls walked out, and a few of the boys changed their minds and stayed in their seats, which turned out to be a pretty good decision. But a bunch of us walked out, even with the teacher yelling at us to get back in our places. We hadn't been getting dismissed exactly when the bell rang, see? It happened three or four times.
I have a lot of rock and roll heroes, but Ricky Nelson is the reason I started playing guitar back in eighth grade. Everyone knew Ricky Nelson and his brother David, the two sons on a television sit-com called "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet." Ricky started playing guitar and singing in real life, and he had a string of simple songs that appealed to love-struck teenagers.
Words mean something. Names mean something. What we call things means something. That's a really quick summary of part of an interview I once had with a longtime literature professor at South Dakota State University. His name is Chuck Woodard, and he believes in being precise in the use of language. I think of our conversation now and then when I read news stories or watch clips on television or in a variety of multimedia computer posts.
My dad had a deep affection for the land and the wildlife of South Dakota. He loved hunting, didn't mind fishing, paused to watch a hawk circle or listen to a meadowlark's song and breathed deeper whenever he stopped the truck on a high spot in the pasture and took in the Lyman County countryside spread out below him. My dad also had, with his big brother Frank, a 3,000-acre cattle and grain farm to operate.
Hey, I went to my first cross country meet of the season last weekend. The Chamberlain distance runners, kids I would have had to call thin-clads or harriers back in my sports writing days, competed in the Mitchell Invitational. The weather last Saturday was glorious for running, cool with some sun and a light breeze. It was the sort of day I could only have wished for back when I ran in the state meet in the fall of 1961. Back then, we ran the state meet -- boys only, all classes of schools on the line at the same time -- on the golf course north of Brookings.
One of the things I wait for each election cycle is the chance to see how the various candidates sell their messages. Each year brings new techniques in spreading the news of the campaigns. I've read that President Obama had an incredibly broad electronic messaging campaign structure, so that thousands upon thousands of people could be reached and could reach others in a matter of minutes.