Our annual trek to South Dakota wasn’t nearly as long as it’s been in the past, feeling like only a week and a half instead of the two or three weeks from past trips. Please don’t misunderstand me. I love the relatives and friends we see back there, I love the old hometown (which is more and more unlike the old hometown we remember). But after four or five days I’m usually ready to climb aboard a plane and head for home. More than ready. This trip of seven days was more bearable, probably because daughter Jeri was with us. It was fun seeing old sights and old relatives through her eyes.
We managed to show her the lovely walking/biking trail from Fourth Ave. East, circling 2½ miles along the Oahe Reservoir west past the viaduct to below the outdoor theater, the lovely road to nowhere with the lovely light standards that continue to go unlit until the damn railroad okays the crossing at the bottom of Main Street. The water was right up to the level it once was, the level it should be, the level the Corps of Engineers too often drop by as much as twenty vertical feet to accommodate the barges on the lower Mississippi. We sat in the heat at the cemetery for the Living History presentation called “Business and Monkey Business,” one that featured Lars Larson, sister-in-law Doris’s grandfather and the founder of the Larson Furniture Store and the Larson Funeral Home; Meta Hellriegle, one of the sisters who had a lingerie shop that appealed to the “girls” from below the tracks; Oscar Heuttner, the father of photography in and around the Mobridge area; Ethel Wrigley, from one of the town’s most prominent families; and the nameless madam of the West End Tavern, the longest surviving cat house in the Mobridge area, outlasting several other houses of ill repute from early in the century, to be shut down finally in the mid-Sixties. We went to the Klein Museum after the history lesson at the cemetery for chips and soda and brauts, after which we wandered around the museum, examined the Wrigley house, the schoolroom, the post office, and most of the displays inside the main building. On July 3 and 4, we watched the parade from Doris’s front yard. Typical of Mobridge parades, most of it featured the tossing of candy to the kids along the way, a few dozen poopie horses, a few dozen small floats, old classic cars interspersed between the floats, and only one band, not even marching but riding a flat bed, a dozen instruments now comprising the Mobridge city band (oh, how the mighty have fallen, the city band for years and years featuring all the Zimmers in a band of at least thirty). Jeri wasn’t very impressed. But she and I were both very impressed by the rodeo on the Fourth. It was the first rodeo I’ve seen since I was about seventeen. They’ve come a long way since that long ago time. The bareback and saddle bronco riding was the same, the calf roping and steer wrestling the same, but the Brahma bull riding was a little more restricted by a green fence the workers set up. I remember when the bulls often came charging right at the fence protecting the audiences, way too scary for my taste. I enjoyed watching the young ladies on their handsome horses competing in the barrel racing. Several new events which were amusing. “Pink My Steer” involved teams of four who had to drag a roped steer to a line in the arena, then wrestle it to the ground, then don it in a pair of pink boxer shorts with the tail through the fly, and the first team to grab a nearby flag won the event. “Mutton Busting” involved about a dozen kids from three to six who were put aboard sheep, then released to see how long they could stay on. Not long for most of them. In fact, several times the sheep fell on top of the rider. No one got hurt, but it looked sort of dangerous to me. I’m guessing this may have been the last time they feature mutton busting. The arena clown and the announcer, riding a gorgeous palomino throughout, traded banter during the two-and-a-half-hour performance, both of them really excellent. At 10:00 the arena lights were extinguished and we enjoyed a half-hour fireworks display. In the distance to the north and west, other fireworks were going off, starting even before the one at the rodeo grounds, and when we left and drove north to see what was happening, the private displays were still bursting, at least four separate ones. And they weren’t little bottle rocket and Roman candle things; these would have to have cost between $10,000 and $15,000 each. We still can’t figure out how that many people in Mobridge could afford displays that expensive.
The rest of the week was taken up with the three girls finishing the cleanup of Phyl’s apartment and getting her settled in the Golden Living Center, arranging for the auctioning of her furniture, taking clothes to the battered women’s office and the thrift shop, going out to visit old Tatanka Iyotaka (Sitting Bull) where he rests on his lonely spot west of the big water, and donating our $90 to the Indian casino (Rosalie $20, Jeri $40, and I $30). We had two nice buffet meals with a bunch of relatives whom Jeri had never seen or had seen some forty years ago. We could quiz her on who was who, but she’d never pass the test. Just too many to keep straight.
The highlight of the week for Jeri, what would have made her visit a success even if all else failed, was the tale of the shirt, the bi-focal dark glasses, and the upper plate of false teeth. On the morning of the Fourth, we discovered the three items on the corner of Bonnie’s flowerbed near the sidewalk—a crumpled plaid shirt on the grass, the glasses and plate on the bricks near the flowers. No one really wanted to touch anything, so it was decided that the someone who had left them there would miss them, especially the teeth, and would backtrack to find them. We left them there for two days and no one took them. Jeri was about to take them to the police station and had written a note explaining how we had come by the items. She picked up the shirt and discovered a checkbook in the pocket, a checkbook now thoroughly soaked by Bonnie’s automatic watering system. But the checks were legible and showed that they belonged to an Art Nordstrom. When Bonnie heard the name, she chuckled and told us the Nordstroms were distance relatives on her mother’s side. On the morning of the sixth, we drove to the address given on the checkbook, knocked and were told that Mr. Nordstrom no longer lived there, but the fellow just one house east knew where he lived. Corky Jackson had been Art’s landlord and knew where he now lived, but he looked skeptical of our intentions until Jeri explained her story, that Art had apparently had too much to drink and had wandered back from Main St. toward his house, had decided that Bonnie’s lawn looked a lot like his bed, the flowerbed his nightstand. He took off his shirt, put his glasses and teeth on the “nightstand,” and fell asleep on his grassy bed until the automatic sprinklers awakened him the next morning. Corky, who knew all about Art’s propensity for booze, agreed that Jeri’s story might very well be true. Rather than try to explain where Art now lived, Corky rode along with us to a tiny, miserable shack on 8th Avenue, the place Art had acquired for $800 in a foreclosure sale. Jeri and Rosalie knocked on his miserable door, entered when someone shouted for them to “come on in,” and discovered Art in bed. They insisted that he not get up (for fear he was wearing nothing under the bedclothes), explained they were returning his belongings, and left after his hearty thanks. The story is golden for a lot of years to come, and it made Jeri’s visit equally golden.
Before we knew it, the week was over and it was back to Bismarck for our flight home. As we were checking our two bags, Rosalie looked up to the second level where people were going through the security check, and there they were—the young father and mother and their two loud children, the ones who had the seats in front of us on the flight to Bismarck, the two-year-old with the best set of lungs I’ve ever heard, the four-year-old who had kicked the seat in front of her non-stop for almost three hours. “Oh, no,” Jeri groaned, “not them again.” We were just sure they had the same assigned seats as before, but fate was kind to us and they were seated ten rows in back. An uneventful flight home, arriving in Mesa just over half an hour after boarding in Bismarck (thanks to the two-hour time difference). I retrieved the car and picked up Rosalie and Jeri and our bags right at 10:00. Dropped Jeri at 11:00, and home at 11:30. The kids were very glad to see us, not that they didn’t appreciate Jackie’s care for them. But, Auntie Em, there’s no one like Mom and Dad. Oh, and there’s just no place like home.