Monday, September 17, 2012

Pierre, Huron, My Family, and South Dakota

Saturday, September 15, 2012  (Posted online two days later)

Today was a travel day, but also a “Family Day,” for me.

We drove from our Comfort Inn in Pierre just a few blocks to the St. Charles Hotel, near the state capitol, which was the home of my Aunt Angie Pierce Warren, for many years.

In 1959, my family went on an eight week camping vacation, and the only night we spent in a hotel or motel was at the St. Charles, to stay with Aunt Angie.


Several years ago, Randy and I drove by the St. Charles for the first time since 1959. It looks exactly the same from the front. I ventured inside, then, to see if the cage elevator was still working. My sister and I had ridden up and down in that cage thing a hundred times in the one day we were there long ago. It was gone, worn out from time, I suppose. Today I peeked into the foyer, and things have not changed. Isn't it odd how a memory can attach itself to a location?

Mailboxes at the end of a road going into the prairie
We drove on out of Pierre and into the prairie. It is so oddly beautiful. Today's trip included some small towns, road kill, blue skies, and we appreciated the simplicity of this scenery.

We stopped at a family-run grocery to buy (what else)  fried chicken, which we carried across the prairie to a small town named Wessington, South Dakota. When I said “small,” I meant small. We drove off the main highway, Rt. 14, to find a place to eat, and instead of a park we found a covered area with some picnic tables under it. We were grateful to use them, and sat there in total quiet, except for the constant mooo-ing of a local cow. Not a problem. We just ate and enjoyed the sunshine, the cow, and the quiet street which was, apparently, the main drag.
We saw a woman peek out at us from the lone grocery store. We sat and listened to the cow.
Shortly, there seemed to be nine or ten cars or trucks pull up in front of the grocery store, and everyone appeared to be looking our way. I've lived in a small town. I told Randy that someone had called a friend and said that “strangers” were having a picnic in the town picnic hall. As one car after another pulled up, I kept joking about how one had called another and so on.............. We had to laugh. We know we thought we were the most important thing to happen there that day. We thought so, anyway.  Nice town.

I married a man who has a big family. He married me. My few living relatives are very important to me, but few of them live close enough to actually interact with me in my life.  I try, but it doesn't always work.

I jokingly told Randy one day that he had met more of my relatives in cemeteries than he had face to face. It was not a joke, actually. I have taken him all over this country, seeking my family, both sides, because that's what my parents did with me.

We arrived in Huron, South Dakota, at about 1:00 PM. We think. We are not sure of the time, since apparently the time zone line runs through here somewhere, and our GPS and cell phones are not in tune. Who cares, anyway, right now??? Apparently I do, because I've asked Randy a dozen times what time it is, and then I don't believe him when he gives me a number. I wonder if retirement will always be that way..............

My parents, Alice Mae Propst and Norman Pierce, were married in Huron, South Dakota, on October 27, 1933, at the home of my father's sister, my Aunt Angie Warren and her husband Charles. I called my sister in Texas to see if she knew the address, and she did. Thanks to Thelma*, Randy and I located the house and took a photo of the home in which my parents married. It has been renovated a bit, but we can tell it's the right place from old photos. That's 79 years ago...........

We visited Riverside Cemetery in Huron to see the graves of my uncle, Henry Pierce and his wife, Carrie. Henry was my father's brother. I've been here before, for his funeral in 1980, and again in 2007, just to say hello. At that time I was unaware that my Aunt Angie (of the St. Charles Hotel) and her husband, are also buried there. Because I am a very thorough family-searcher, I needed to “find” Aunt Angie.

I probably only saw Aunt Angie three times in my whole life, before her death in 1973, but she played a huge role in who I became and who I am today. Aunt Angie was a librarian, a reader, a person who knew the importance of a book in a child's hand. She sent books to my sister and me every Christmas of our childhoods. While my father was an avid reader, my mother was not a reader or a practitioner of the “knee method” of reading to her children. Those books from my Aunt Angie represented the importance of reading. There is also something about the ownership of a book, which is important. I truly believe that without those books sent from my faraway aunt, I may not have become the reader that I am. What I would have missed!

My husband will help me find my relatives, no matter how long the search takes. He knows how important they are to me. Today he proved that again by looking for my Aunt Angie. It was hot. We searched by car, then on foot, then divided the cemetery into sections for a foot search. We drove out of town to another cemetery. Not there. We drove to yet another cemetery and found it was only Catholics, which sent us back to Riverside.

After another search, we decided we'd better settle down in Huron for the night. It's a far piece across the prairie, and we didn't want to be out there without a place to sleep. We also hadn't satisfied my need to find where my beloved aunt is buried. Randy recognized that this was not just a “want, “ but also a “need.”

As there was still daylight, we returned to Riverside Cemetery before settling down for the night.
I don't believe in coincidences. I think that things happen the way they are supposed to happen, and that is the case this afternoon. We noticed, on our first visit to Riverside, that a funeral was going to take place. Chairs were set up, a grave dug, but no one there.

As daylight was burning, we came back, found the door to the equipment shed at Riverside open, so the men who used the equipment were using it for the funeral. It's all about the timing.............

We continued our search long enough for one man to return one piece of machinery for another, and he was a kind man. In spite of the fact that he had to get back on the job, he opened his records and told me where to find my Aunt Angie and her husband.

Mission Accomplished.

We found the fullest parking lot in the city to choose our dining place, and for $23 (no kidding) we had the best steaks we've had in forever, at The Tailgate Restaurant in downtown Huron. Nothing fancy, no dress-up stuff, but good food, good service, and the steaks were amazing.

We're hunkered down after a short walk across the street to lose $2 in a casino that is no bigger than my closet. I had to investigate it. I turned in tickets worth a total of 25 cents when I checked out. The check-out girl told me not to spend it all in one place.

I already did.

* Thelma is our GPS unit. Louise is my Rendezvous.