The folks who attend our early service on Sundays are an intriguing little group. They can make visiting preachers sweat, because they sit stoically through sermons, giving little emotional reaction to what’s said.
But after that they gather around the kitchen counter downstairs and shake the place with laughter, community gossip, short stories and tall tales. They tease one another at a level only tolerated among sincere friends.
A few Sunday’s ago, with multiple conversations ping-ponging around the counter, one of them turned to me and began to reminisce. He gave my outsider’s eyes another precious glimpse of Northern Plains life.
He’s a retired educator, now in his early 80s. He was just back from his High School reunion in – rather near – Spencer, SD.
“There were 16 in my graduating class. There are only 5 of us left now. But we have such a great time.”
He talked about all the farm work he picked up as a boy, when all of the men were gone to war. He shared some other pre- and post-high school memories. “All in all, it’s been a good life,” he said with a smile and bright eyes.
I asked him if they hold the reunion at the school itself.
“Oh, no, because Spencer’s not there anymore,” he said.
“You mean they tore down the school?”
“No, the town’s gone. Spencer was destroyed by a tornado a few years ago. Everything’s gone – we have the reunion at a community center in another town.”
Later I would Google “spencer south dakota tornado.” It was at this time of year, late May, in 1998. South Dakota Public Broadcasting maintains a site all about it – “the deadliest and most destructive tornado in South Dakota history.” Plenty more details but really it was enough to hear my parishioner’s simple statement that “Spencer’s not there anymore.”
And at the same time to catch the glow from his face as he affirmed that “All in all, it’s been a good life.”