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Monday, November 2, 2009

A Mother's Prairie Love


There were many things to fear during my childhood on the hills and prairies of western South Dakota. There were man eating rattle snakes. I was always afraid of being caught in a stampede of buffaloes. Another was getting caught in a sudden blizzard and freezing to death on the open plains while trudging through waist deep snow on my way to our one room school house heated by a single coal stove.

Getting beat up by my older (and meaner) sister was a more domestic fear. She was one heavy drinkin, tobacco chewing, card playing, sharp shooten sixth grader picking on her younger and meeker brother. She was vicious but could be counted on to keep meat on the table. If it wasn't a deer picked off with her Winchester at 100 yards it could be the neighbor's dog. We didn't ask questions, just kept several bottles of ketchup on the table.

Having to deal with my younger brother’s violent temper was another. I could push him only so far before he snapped. And when you heard that POP, followed by a wild look in his eyes, the only safe and logical thing to do was to run for dear life. In his delirious state he would stop at nothing until you were bloody and unconscious. Yes, I could wrestle him down to the floor and hold him there, but that plan had its flaw. At some point in the day you’d have to let him go, and when you did, you’d better be quick. You needed to get into the bathroom and lock the door before a flying knife or Tonka Truck struck you in the back of the neck. He had a good arm and could nail a squirrel at 50 paces.

Rapid City was a town of 40,000 unique individuals. The infinite prairie boarded the city to the east. The majestic Black Hills boarded the city to the west. My home town was the bright spot of civilization for half the state. We had a hospital. We had three movie theaters (each with one screen). We had a Red Owl, Piggly Wiggly and Safeway grocery stores. We had the Chuck Wagon Restaurant with it famous Friday Night Fish Fry. We thought we’d hit the big league when Kmart opened a store at the Northgate Shopping Center. Imagine Rapid City with its very own Kmart. Now we could buy things at a discount. I loved the Kmart. The Blue Light Specials fascinated me. They just never had a special in the toy department. It was always linen or house wares of ladies underwear of something silly.

I was asked once if we feared an Indian uprising. After all, during my high school years the Indians became militant and took over the courthouse at Hill City, a little mining town thirty minutes or so out of Rapid. They burned the courthouse down, broke a few windows, and made a real nuisance of themselves. Taking all that into consideration, I can honestly say I never feared the Indians. Most of them stayed on the reservations. The ones in town kept to themselves and their bottle, if you know what I mean.

Some feared being a Mormon in a city full of Lutherans. We were teased because of our religion several times while growing up. It didn't’ bother me. I could give back whatever they dished out, especially to my Jehovah’s Witness friend.

No, the real thing that my brothers, sisters and I feared growing up was a lose tooth. You never wanted my mother to see you working on a lose baby tooth because if you did, the most unimaginable torture awaited. My mother was raised on a Montana ranch. She was the daughter of proud Swedes and stubborn English/Scots. She laughed at pain, especially having delivered 8 children. She had a motto that whatever was good enough for her was good enough for us. If her loose teeth were pulled by a string and a few good yanks then so should ours.

My mother specialized in capturing us unexpectedly. It was usually just as you left the bathroom. She'd catch hold of you, pin you to the ground, lasso your lose tooth with a bit of yarn or sting and then start the agonizing one, two or three mighty yanks required to capture that baby tooth. My teeth surrendered easily, flying out of my mouth on the first or second pull. Some of my siblings weren't as lucky. Many lost a section of jawbone when mother was forced into a fourth pull. I still remember the screaming to this day. Of course in those days parents could pretty much torture their children without fear of the law, especially in South Dakota.

That was the floor method. My memory also recalls another clever use of string and door knobs. She’d tie the string around your lose tooth on one end. The other end of the string was tied to a door knob. You sat in a chair near the door. She’d stand by the open door and count down to zero. At zero she'd slam the door. The motivated tooth flew across the room, just barely ahead of the blood curdling screams following.

Yes my friends, let this picture be a reminder to all that survived the tooth on the string application of mom’s love. We grew up tougher for it.
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