South Dakota Blues
This fall I made a trip out to South Dakota to visit my mother and to do sundry poking around. My last visit was in 1994 when we had a big shindig for her 80’th birthday. I had originally planned to go in early September, a plan foiled by the NW Airlines pilot strike. I tried again in early October, Oct 1-9. The advantage of this scheme was that my visit would overlap with my youngest sister’s visit – she was arriving the 6’th. I couldn’t stay much past the 9’th because I would be running into hunting season wherein every hotel and motel is booked up solid by out of state hunters.
This time I made it. It is no easy matter to fly into South Dakota, particularly if you want to get to Highmore. NorthWest flies to Minneapolis with puddle jumpers to Pierre and Sioux Falls. United flies to Denver with puddle jumpers to Rapid City and Pierre. Pierre is much closer to Highmore, being only an hour’s drive away. The connections, however, are horrible. I opted for Sioux Falls, a good three hours plus away.
My timing wasn’t auspicious. I started to come down with a cold the day before the trip. Surely this was okay – SD sunshine and dry weather would do wonders for it. Wrong. I had skillfully timed my trip for a major midwestern weather event. The Southern plains were drenched – one of the football games was drowned out with five inches of rain. SD never gets five inches of rain in one week; however it was in the pattern. It was cold; it was raw; and it rained and thunder stormed for the first five days that I was there. This did not do good things for my cold.
I was assured, though, that I had done a good thing by bringing rain with me. They needed rain. There is nothing novel in that – SD always needs rain; it had not rained for a couple of months. It is so nice to know that I have done a good deed; this one I would have preferred to have done at 1500 miles remove.
Lois (my sister) arrived in due course on the 6’th; she brought sunny weather with her. Things were looking up. Unfortunately weather patterns travel from West to East. By the time I was ready to go back the weather pattern that had drenched the plains was now sitting nicely over Boston. On the trip back I got to sit for six hours at the Minneapolis airport, two of them aboard the plane, while Boston tried to find some runways. Naturally, when I got back, I got to enjoy another week of Richard’s curse (or blessing if you live in Highmore). Boston definitely did not need rain.
I had several objectives in my trip. One, of course, was to see June (my mother.) Another was to visit people I had not seen for a long time. Still another was to indulge in nostalgia – drive around and see places and people that I’d grown up with. Finally I am seriously considering moving out of New England for sundry reasons. One of the possibilities is to move back to South Dakota. One of my objectives was to investigate possible places to move to.
I spent a fair amount of time driving around. I visited the town of Pierre (the state capitol) which has a population of about 12,000 and Huron, also pop 12,000. Pierre has, I am informed, a volleyball league and the state library. Apparently it does not have any bookstores worth speaking of. I don’t know whether Huron has a volleyball league but there is a small college there. More to the point it does have two bookstores, one generic and not terribly large, and the other a used book store run by a chap who caters to collectors. We had a delightful chat for a couple of hours. Pierre has the disadvantage of being in the middle of the state which is to say that it is to hell and gone distant from anywhere. Huron is a good deal closer to Mitchell (moderate size) and Sioux Falls which is a real city. Houses are cheap – I can get a decent house for about $70K in Huron and $95K in Pierre. Taxes and utilities run about half what they do in dear old Mass and other costs are lower. The politicians are as vile but they are cheaper.
As I say I did a lot of driving around. I drove up to the town of Redfield to visit my aunt on my father’s side. She is the same age as June and lives in a retirement home. I visited where the ranch used to be. The buildings are long gone – there are rocks in the ground where the foundations used to be. The stock pond where I almost drowned as a child is still there. I walked around; the buildings may be gone but you don’t forget the land.
I like driving in the praries. I like the way the land looks. I like driving through the small towns.
I visited Roger Wurtz whom I went to country school with. It is odd talking to someone whom you last saw in grade school who is now retired. He took over his parent’s farm.
Farming has changed a bit since I was there – they use a lot more machinery and the tractors now have air conditioned cabs. They grow a lot of sunflowers; it’s a big crop. The farmers all have pot bellies now because they use machinery for everything.
I stayed at the Prarie View motel. It is aptly named – it is just outside of town and there is nothing to see except prarie. It’s cheap and the TV and the heat works. I do not recommend it unless you want to stay in a motel near Highmore. There is a restaurant/bar/bowling alley within walking distance. The food is actually decent and you can always kibitz the pinochle players.
The town of Highmore has about 850 people; it boasts a number of stores – a drugstore, a decent grocery store, sundry machine vendors, several churches, the court house, a couple of used clothing stores, et cetera. The court house is neat; it has a round dome and excellent wood work and tiles. It used to house the county library which was one of my favorite places when I was a child.
One of the high points of the visit was the chance to talk at length with my sister Lois. I was close to Lynn, my eldest sister, when I was young. My other sisters, Nanci and Lois, are much younger and I had left home before they grew up. All of them live in California and have for many years.
My mother is a bit frail – she is 84, after all – and needs oxygen every now and then. She manages quite well, though, and is active. She keeps up her gardening, talks at length on the phone with her children, and keeps active in various projects.
All in all, it was a good trip.
This page was last updated November 1, 1998.