Olbermann and the Flood


How ironic that as I type, Keith Olbermann (msNBC’s Countdown) is addressing his frustration with the conservative opposition to health care in light of their support for mandatory property flood insurance.  I listen having just spent an hour reading and remembering the Rapid City Flood of 1972. I’d forgotten how much I remembered about that night.

Just a week before, I was wading in the Rapid Creek, where I made it only to the middle before a friend’s father had to fish me out.  The waters were already high and running strong that spring.

We were supposed to go camping at Deerfield Lake that weekend, but Mom didn’t feel well, so we postponed our trip.  I still remember my parents waking me that night to help “bail out” window wells at our base home.  They were filling so fast from the heavy rainfall…I had a hard time keeping up with the rising level, pulling water out with a kitchen sauce pan.  I was just 9 years old.

My mother told us the next morning about the flood.  My father and Cal had gone to town in Dad’s fishing boat, looking for survivors.  I remember hearing that the waters came up to the base gate, though I don’t know if that’s true.

Mom went in to help with the injured (she was an RN at the city hospital)…and eventually to help look for a friend’s new wife who had been swept away in the waters when their car was hit by the wall of water pouring down the canyon from failing dams.  Their were so many bodies, they had to be laid out in the local churches.

Children from the trailer park who had lost members of their family came to stay for a while with our neighbors on Jefferson Street.  I don’t remember how long they were there, but I remember how quiet we all were, sitting with them on the curb outside our houses. It was not a time for playing all-ye-all-ye-in-come-free.

The city was a mess for a long time…debris everywhere.  I remember that they were still finding bodies throughout the summer. All told, over 230 people died in the Rapid City Flood.  Twenty-five years later, we lost a home to the Red River Flood in Grand Forks North Dakota, again encompassed by the unexpected havoc water can play on homes and lives.  But, oh how blessed we were not to lose any lives.

So, Keith, your point is just that much more poignant tonight.  The health and lives of those we love is more precious than any property we hold.

Slow Goodbyes at the Aase Place…



For my tenth birthday, my aunt gave me a copy of Mandy, by Julie Edwards (a.k.a. Julie Andrews, of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music).  The story embraces a young girl who lives in an English orphanage where she is treated well and enjoys the friendship of other girls.  But Mandy wants a home of her own.  When she slips beyond the walls of the orphanage to discover a tiny cottage with an enchanting garden and shell encrusted walls, Mandy begins to imagine the cottage as her own.

The book spoke to me, my young life having been spent living in and moving between military housing units.  The only permanency I could claim lay in the small rural community of Spink, South Dakota, where my grandparents and mother’s extended family lived.   Less than a year after I read Mandy, my parents purchased a farm there…in preparation of my father’s military retirement.

We moved to South Dakota in June of my eleventh year. There were only a couple of short years left to my childhood when we arrived.  I filled them with a rich fantasy life. I often imagined our new (old) farmhouse as a “little house on the praire,” homesteaded and all our own … a real “home” for my family.  All I needed to complete the picture was a playhouse.

During the mid 1970′s, in the rural midwest, farmers were consolidating land (larger equipment allowed for larger farms) and recently abandoned farmhouses dotted the landscape.  My older brother, David, along with his friend Steve, adopted the Locke place — down the hill from the church, along the creek bottom where Steve’s uncle farmed.  Reached most easily by motorbike, the place was, in any case, off limits to little sisters.  But closer down the road, about a 1/2 mile, sat another recently abandon house…the Aase Place. With it’s victorian charm, octagonal floor-plan, and dumbwaiter to the cellar, the house was magical.  Sometimes alone and sometimes with other neighboorhood kids, I dug treasures from the “burn pile.” and set up house. I had found my cottage, just like Mandy.

Over the years, the Aase place has remained “mine,” although I don’t technically have any ownership rights.  I left South Dakota at eighteen to take up my own transient life. In almost thirty years, I’ve never lived in any home longer than the seven that I lived in Spink. Regardless of distance, I’ve come home often to visit, and as often as I have come home, I have visited the Aase place–weather allowing–documenting, with my camera, it’s decline.

The massive barn (once the largest in Dakota Territory) burned twenty-some years ago and the still impressive foundation is now home to an “inside” forrest of trees and fallen timber. The silo houses a lake of rain water.  Scavengers have stripped the house of its stained glass and cornice molding (though, with permission, I have possession of a few ornaments they left behind).  A decaying roof and broken windows have allowed harsh winters and wet springs to ravage the interior….leaving the floors rotting and unsafe. About five years back, the beautiful front porch collapsed and now the elegantly curved front steps lead nowhere.  Experiencing the decline of my playhouse has been a bit like the bitter-sweet experience of life … of growing older.  I’ve held hands with her as she slipped away from me.

Less gentle will be the loss to come.  The “little house” where my parents still live sits in the shadow of a proposed Hyperion oil refinery…the first to be built in the U.S. in the thirty years since I left childhood.  The tiny community of Spink, grounded in agriculture, cannot survive the encroachment of industry.  At a time when my children are leaving me for lives of their own and my parents are aging, I can’t help knowing that this loss will be more heartbreaking, the impact more devastating, than the loss of my playhouse.

I continue to visit home … to document the “end to a way of life” many in the area refuse to see coming.  Today, my daughter had me take her down to the Aase place to shoot her “senior pictures.”  It’s an appropriate place to begin this documentary, I think. In just a year or so, the Aase place is sited to serve as the front gate to Hyperion’s refinery.

Reliving history…


Josie sent me a note with the transcript to this eerily echoing speech given by FDR in 1936:

We have not come this far without a struggle and I assure you we cannot go further without a struggle.

For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair! Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent.

For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.

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On reading “The Reader”


In the past week I’ve read the book “The Reader,” by Bernhard Schlink, and seen the movie. The tagline of the marketing surrounding the movie release asks: “How far would you go to protect a secret?” Some secrets in the movie are easily revealed to the viewer: Hannah’s illiteracy, Michael’s youthful obsession, Hannah’s role in the atrocities of the Holocaust. Still, there are secrets in this book that are less transparent: most notably, the collective guilt and the internal struggle that the children of the perpetrators (along with the survivors)endured (even embraced) in order to bring the horror to light.

There were 6 other viewers in the theater with us. Each was of an age that they would have some memory of the time and events in the film. I wanted to crawl into their minds. I was at the same time bothered and relieved that there were no young people in the audience who might be insensitive to the thoughtful silence in which these older viewers sat through the entire reel of credits (no bloopers here), and exited the theater, quiet and somber.

I found a file at work, just the other day, that revealed a challenge made to the book by a parent in our school just a few years ago when the Oprah list ushered the titled into our school library. How sad it is to know that the eroticism in the early part of the movie–necessary to the character development–will keep this film version out of our schools, where it would undoubtedly spark thoughtful dialog around not only the issues of action/inaction faced by people in the aftermath of WWII, but also that which faces us today.

Research in Hindsight


It pays to do research…
and hindsight is 20/20…
BUT doing “research in hindsight” is just plain painful.  

I suppose I’ve spent way too much time now, researching decisions/commitments already made.  My head (and heart) are stuffed with “if only I had knowns.”  Once you get into that state of mind, it’s just so damn difficult to reanimate the habits of looking forward and research for change.  How exactly does one participate in a changing something they had no hand in building in the first place?  I am being squeezed (to death) by leaders who claim to want change then point accusing fingers when change occurs (“you don’t know the culture here!”).

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Quietly advocating…OR…speaking through my muzzle.


“High school is often the place where young people think seriously about their legal status for the first time. It’s where the childhood cry, “That’s not fair,” becomes the adult assertion, “I’ve got my Constitutional rights!” How young people see those rights treated by those in charge is a formative political experience.” (from Fighting Censorship in High School (from Rethinking Schools Online)

Just thus was my own emergence into adulthood.  When I was 16, I was that student who argued for the rights of students. A good student, my teachers and administrators were oblivious to the mistakes I made (and I made my share of bad social decision).  On the other hand, I had a brother who, confused and angry, placed himself in the sights of every authority figure gunning to find a kid to “make an example of.”  My love for Dave (and the indignity I felt when he moved from simply guilty to proverbial scapegoat) became  my calling to advocate for the rights of my peers.  

A summer at South Dakota Girls State and a year of serving as my school’s student body president, and that calling became a determination to make my career as a lawyer specializing in “juvenile justice.”   I started my college years as a “pre-law” student.  

I’m not entirely sure when that changed.  After a full three years headed in one direction, I burned out on school and changed my major to “history.” My intellectual focus wasn’t all that different (research and understanding the plight of the misunderstood), but I gave up my dreams of advocating for the young.  Three degrees later, settled into a career as a school library media specialist, I do work with young people.  Still,  I’ve sometimes wondered if I made a mistake in turning away from law.  Did I sell out for something easier?  Exchanged my dreams for far less pay and certainly less freedom to speak out on behalf of the young people I work with?  

In a new school–under contractual probation–I find myself choking on my ineffectiveness as an advocate for the intellectual freedom that is crucial to the graduation of these students into the society for which we prepare them.  How do I apologize to my colleagues, and my students?  

So, for what it’s worth, here are the resources that are NOT enough.  I wish I felt the freedom to add my voice.

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Shedding light…


“The mission of Sunshine Review is to create a place where regular people have the opportunity to breath new life into the political system by demanding transparent and honest government.”

I came across this in the course of reviewing writing career opportunities for Josie (my daughter). I admit the position of editor for this WIKI hold some personal appeal (though the pay isn’t enough at this point in my life). But then, even the no-pay position of “associate” writer for this blog is appealing in today’s political climate. Hmmmm….

A Moment in History..,


The vision of a a young girl–African American–tears streaming down her face, surrounded by the cheering and celebration in Chicago at the Obama Election Night rally. An historical moment pulls at our emotions in so many ways…but the most profound is that which grips a young girl who understands that equal rights have finally been realized in this country. I am so proud of the power of this country…with a foundation so strong that people CAN and do drive it’s future.

Senator McCain’s concession was both gracious and patriotic, a better reflection of the man I respected in 2000 for his willingness to work outside of party lines than the shadows of anger and bitterness that sometimes overwhelmed his campaign.

Hope and Fear Abiding


Eight years ago this evening, I watched my country begin to slide. Slide away from the ideals I’d been raised to believe governed this country: that every vote counts, that the people choose their leaders, that democracy works. Tonight I watch the presidential election returns with an odd mix of fear and hope. How can I not? We’ve almost come to the end of a long season of campaign where these emotions have been played on over and over.

McCain and the conservative camp have run a campaign that continues to preach a message of fear and suspicion that has dominated politics ever since the stolen election of 2000. McCain has managed to strike fear within me, though hardly the fear he sought. I sit here afraid that there are some within this country that would stop at nothing in their quest to disenfranchise me…to steal the vote of anyone who leans towards liberal ideals. On the otherhand, Obama has sent a message that punctuates his hopes that our country can and will regain its place as a world leader and a democratic ideal. Obama has restored in me a belief in the power of simple people to construct change from the bottom up…from the root of any democracy, its people.

Conflicting emotions…fear and hope. Will fear crush hope, hard won. Or will hope overcome the fear, hard learned. With a projected democratic win (at least according to MSNBC) change seems a sure thing. But memories of 2000 still plague. Will votes be disputed? discarded? Will those who have bought into the fear so carefully cultivated over the past eight years (and accelerated in a nasty campaign) stubbornly refuse to buy into any hope change offers us? Can we heal our broken nation?

Waiting for the Blue Screen…


I was 11 years old when the last of the Vietnam soldiers came home. My father served outside of the war zone in Thailand and Guam … during the course of 3 separate TDYs. Temporary duty stations that did not feel at all temporary to a little girl whose daddy was not home for up to a year at a time. Although I am sure my mother felt some comfort in knowing that as a sergeant in the Air Force working in a support unit my father would not see combat directly, a child doesn’t see things so clearly. There was a war, and my father was there. My most tangible memory of that episode of my life…the thing that I can still see through closed eyes…is the blue screen on the nightly news announcing U.S. casualties for the day. We were very aware of those losses as they amassed during the course of a war (conflict?!) that lasted too long and in which soldiers died knowing less than enough about what they fought for.

It haunts me — more than those blue screen images — that in THIS war we are fed this same steady diet of awareness. Yes, the facts can be found. We’re in the information age. Statistics and stories and personal takes abound for those who seek for them. But in an age when we pick the flavor of our news–when we may choose to consume no news at all–ambivalence is born not from the lack of information, but rather from too much information. In a market of “reality” television, how can the facts (real as they are) hope to compete. Today’s “blue screen” lay buried in the glut…unless you know where to look (thank you NYT).