Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gobble, Gobble, Gobble on the Prairie in 1938

In the tenth year of the Great Depression, Gus and Elizabeth Toble would assure sweet potatoes and turkey were on your Thanksgiving Day table. You would have cause to give thanks.

As for Gus and Elizabeth, on Thanksgiving Day in 1938, they had reason to be sad, and reasons to be happy. Elizabeth started the Depression already two years a widow, and Gus was widowed in the second year of the Depression. After meeting at a dance in Govert, South Dakota, they married in 1935, during the sixth year of the Depression, and lived near Cash, about 15 miles from Bison, South Dakota.

Back to Thanksgiving dinner ... this from the Govert Advance: "Mrs. Gus Toble of near Cash, nearly always has one of the very best gardens in this section of the country, and this year is no exception. However, she has added another item this season in attempting to grow sweet potatoes. Mrs. Toble told us last week when in Bison, that the plants had begun to “run” or vine. The plants were sent to her by a sister who lives in the Ozarks of Missouri. They were in excellent condition upon their arrival, which is remarkable considering the great distance and the time required to send them. Mrs. Toble believes that the sweet potato plants may develop fast enough to mature if the grasshoppers and cool weather do not get them. Mr. and Mrs. Toble have a flock of nearly 300 turkeys that are helping to keep the grasshoppers from doing too much damage around their fine garden."

Like Gus and Elizabeth, Govert farmers and ranchers raised turkeys, too. Not everyone can fix a complete image in their minds of large flocks of domesticated turkeys on the prairie. Perhaps thinking of the turkeys as a "herd" will help. Then again, the idea of herding 300 turkeys ... or any number of turkeys ... might instill serious uncertainty in the toughest of cowboys. Segments of The Turkey Business just might help fix that image.

With the menu taken care of, how do you otherwise feel gathering with friends and family around the table on Thanksgiving Day in 1938? This was the year Action Comics #1 was published, introducing America to Superman. This was also the year of Wrong Way Corrigan, the nylon toothbrush and, in 1938, Franklin Delano Roosevelt started the March of Dimes Polio Fund.

You may not have paid much attention when, in 1938, Adolf Hitler reorganized the German military complex to consolidate his authority. Day-to-day life on the prairie was a struggle, and maybe you didn't have the luxury of time to become unsettled by the mobilization of Czechoslovakia in response to German threats. After all, Europe is so far away, and those Europeans are always fighting about something, like that Spanish Civil War flap beginning in 1936.

Or, maybe, this unceasing military maneuvering in Europe has been unsettling, making you hope that distance counts. Two months ago, in September 1938, the radio broadcast of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" may have made you feel more vulnerable. How did you react, only two weeks ago, after 9 November, when Germans Nazis looted and burned Jewish businesses? Kristallnacht was shocking and, you hope, still far away. But the distances are becoming less protective. Are you wondering what will happen during the year to come, leading up to Thanksgiving 1939?

As everywhere else in America in 1938, the farmers and ranchers in the area of Govert, South Dakota, were living and working through the Great Depression. They never had much before and still found a way to get by even after nine years of economic downturn. Rooted in the middle of the prairie, Goverites may have had reason to be comforted by distance. They could still look to the far horizon and see nothing but their own shadow.

Everyone has something to be thankful for, whether that be a homestead shack or a modest frame house on the prairie, partial protection against the prairie winds, or whether that be a modern home with the luxuries of plumbing and electricity. Even in times of great hardship, men and women still met, fell in love, and they still raised children. Gus and Elizabeth did. They also raised sweet potatoes and turkeys. On this day of thanksgiving, look with eyes of gratitude upon what you have, in whatever circumstances you may find yourself.

Listening to the wind blowing through the prairie grass. Kate

[Based on an entry in the Govert Advance Thursday, 7 July 1938, reprinting an article originally published in the Bison Courier; with gratitude to the U.S. National Archives for allowing Internet access to holdings in their video archives.]

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Lorraine Jensen Carlson, Keeper of the History of Sorum, South Dakota (Part 3)

When she was 79, Lorraine Jensen Carlson sighed in remembrance, "There never was a time when I didn't know Smokey Joe." Lorraine grew up behind the counter in the country store that served Sorum, South Dakota. When she was very young, she peered around the end of the counter, the same way other children would hide their faces in their mother's skirt. Then, when her head cleared the top of the counter, Lorraine could help her parents, Beatrice and Otto Jensen. She was, after all, the storekeeper's daughter.

Now, from a perch atop all the years of her life, Lorraine looked back to the beginning, back more than 70 years. She told the story of how she came to know Smokey Joe. At the country store you got to know everyone who walked through the door more than once. And then there was that December so long ago. Was it 1939? You might as well stir chocolate into hot milk and settle in for a while with the comforting warmth of your mug, because Christmas stories are never short.

Remaining true to the operative facts Lorraine shared, perhaps it happened like this.

Trix Jensen stood wearily in front of her kitchen work table and impatiently brushed the uncooperative lock of hair off her forehead. The backward wave of her hand, lifted from the dough resting on the table, added another puff of flour to the air which eventually settled on her hair and on the floral patterned house dress mostly hidden behind the apron hanging from her neck and tied at her waist.

On the table sagged a bag of flour, more empty than full, and another bag of sugar, and boxes and tins of dried fruit. Folded in the box under the table were more bags, already emptied, ready to be made into towels after the holidays. December always was busier than other months, but this was a happy kind of busy. Not only did Beatrice and her husband, Otto, make sure all of their customers at the Sorum store had ample amounts of the same supplies for Christmas baking, Trix needed to steal away from the busy store to bake for her family and for customers who couldn't do for themselves. Trix had a special concern for the old bachelors living in shacks in the area surrounding Sorum.

For four days Trix had swirled flour and sugar and dried prunes, dates, apples and citrus into sweet breads and strudels. She baked dozens and dozens of shortbread cookies and oatmeal raisin cookies, removing one baking sheet from the oven and sliding the next one in. Then Trix wrapped her Christmas treats in waxed paper, arranging the packages in baskets, always with a jar of jam or jelly.

Offering Christmas cheer to the old bachelors was part of Beatrice's annual Christmas plan, but this year she had in mind that Lorraine would follow the route with her father to deliver the gifts. "Lorraine!" Trix raised her voice to get the attention of her youngest daughter. "Lorraine, go change your clothes. I want you to help your father deliver these Christmas baskets."

Lorraine did as she was told. She climbed out of last year's clothes she wore for work and play, now faded and too short. Then Lorraine slipped her school dress over her head, pulled clean white cotton anklets over her toes, and tied her school shoes. Lorraine was an obedient child, but she was also curious and sensed something special in the air. The season was, after all, magical.

Lorraine knew one of the baskets would go to Smokey Joe. He was one of the old bachelors her mother fretted over. When Joe came in the store, Lorraine peered out at him from behind the end of the counter. He was a man unlike any she had ever seen. He didn't look like her father or the fathers of any of her friends. Smokey Joe seemed bigger than life to Lorraine. He was a legend, as legends go in Perkins County.

Lorraine saw some women purse their lips disapprovingly and they moved to the side when Smokey Joe was in the store. Men exchanged a few accommodating words with Joe, but nothing more. To Lorraine, Smokey Joe seemed alone, even with other customers in the store. He seemed mad and sad at the same time. Maybe Smokey Joe didn't have a best friend, like she did. And Lorraine wondered whether this is what happened to men who didn't have a wife.

"Otto!" her mother called to her father. "Otto! It's time! The baskets are ready. Take Lorraine with you and deliver the baskets. Don't be back too late." But, of course Trix knew the sky would be its darkest and the air at its coldest when the two Wise Men she sent out returned home to the Jensen house in Sorum.

Lorraine had never been to Smokey Joe's shack. There were always rumors. No one got close to Smokey Joe to know the truth about him. Lorraine didn't know what he was, but she knew what he wasn't. Men who were married were like her father. They went to church. They went to the meetings at school. They knew the schoolteacher, the minister, and everyone else important in their small town. They had jobs. They took baths. When Smokey Joe came to town for supplies, Lorraine knew he wanted to be like the other people in the store. What was it ... was his face cleaner than his clothes? Maybe you had to be an old bachelor to be like Smokey Joe. "Maybe men would never take a bath unless a woman made them," considered Lorraine. And then Lorraine wondered at the power of being a woman.

Lorraine heard her parents talking about Smokey Joe. Well, at least she heard her mother talk. Her father didn't say much about Joe. For a young girl, Lorraine was very observant and, instinctively, Lorraine knew her father's silence was the kind of respect that comes from the sympathy one man holds for another.

What did Beatrice say? Often when Lorraine was supposed to be in bed, she hid where she couldn't be seen and watched her parents sitting by the parlor table in the glow of the kerosene lamp. Beatrice rocked in a chair, pushing the floor rhythmically with her toe, intent on her handwork. Otto, Lorraine's father, sat in a straight chair, reading the Bison Courier. The Govert Advance rested on the table, waiting its turn. Otto liked to keep up with the happenings in other West River towns.

"Otto," Beatrice started. Otto acknowledged his wife with a quick movement of his head in her direction without fully breaking concentration on the local news. "Otto, I worry about those poor bachelors living out there in the country in those rickety, one-room shacks with only tar paper for insulation. It's not healthy. Living alone like that is just not normal." Otto suffered a sigh and turned the page of his newspaper without a word. "You take that Joe Ogden. He's a lost soul. I would bet my last dollar a woman is involved somewhere in this. That man was disappointed in love. All it would take is the love of a good woman ..."

Otto slapped the newspaper against the table. A solid "uff-dah" passed his lips and Beatrice fell silent. That was enough of that.

Without a doubt, whatever Lorraine learned about Smokey Joe, was a combination of what other people said and her own observations. In any case, Lorraine at 79 spoke of Joe Ogden with respect, edged with a sort of fondness, and humor at her own responses as a child.

Beatrice sent Otto and Lorraine to deliver Christmas baskets and out they went. Otto lifted Lorraine up into the passenger seat of the store's delivery truck, and tucked a blanket around her. He looked fondly at his sweetest of daughters, the last child he would raise. She was like him, observant and intent. His baby was wise beyond her years.

He felt the slight breeze, cold on his cheek, and knew this was one of those nights when the crystalline air carried a man's voice endlessly across the prairie, yet tonight he himself would be content to follow the dirt road in his truck. Otto breathed deeply of the night air as he walked around behind the truck he had driven so many miles down prairie roads. He opened the driver's door and climbed up behind the steering wheel.

The delivery truck slowly bounced away from the Jensen house, the dim headlights picking out the edge of the dirt road. Together Otto and Lorraine dropped off baskets with their cheery Christmas greeting, saving the basket for Smokey Joe for last.

When they had driven three miles north of town, Otto turned to Lorraine and said, "When we get to Smokey Joe's place, don't sit down and do not touch anything." Lorraine froze, the implication of her father's words being that she would carry away from Smokey Joe's shack some sort of vermin yet unknown to her. Lorraine's imagination couldn't take her beyond the tiny mice seeking warmth in the house after the summer passed. Mice were common to prairie life; what would happen if she touched the arm of the chair, Lorraine wondered.

As Otto and Lorraine approached the shack where Joe lived, a faint light skittered across the window pane from the inside of the shack. On the prairie you could hear a car approach from a long distance but Joe didn't investigate the noise of wheels churning the dirt road. He waited until Otto knocked before he came to the door, just as if he was expecting Otto and Lorraine, and he played along, a proper host. Joe opened the door and light filtered outward, making a path for Lorraine to follow inside. Joe didn't seem surprised to see them, and the slightly upturned lines around his eyes and his mouth said he was definitely pleased.

With a stiff movement of his hand toward the light inside, Joe invited Otto and Lorraine into this shack which held such mystery for Lorraine. Lorraine wasn't afraid of Smokey Joe. Curious, yes, but not afraid. When he made his weekly trip to the store, Joe could see Lorraine peeking out at him from around the end of the store counter. Joe knew her hiding place and he kept her secret. On her part, Lorraine knew that he knew that she knew that he knew she was there, and that gave them a sort of commonality. It doesn't have to make sense; it just was. Why, there was nothing to be afraid of, Lorraine was confident. She had been curious about how an old bachelor would live, and now she had a chance to see just that. Lorraine marched right past Joe standing there as he was beside the doorway, white anklets bobbing with her steps, and her eyes moved across the room.

Joe boomed, "Have a seat!" Lorraine stopped short and her eyes widened. She sputtered, "But I ...", and her voice trailed off remembering her father's admonition that she not sit and that she not touch anything. She didn't want to say words she sensed to be unkind, and looked pleadingly at her father.

Otto shook his head and smiled, "Now, now, girl, be polite and sit down." Lorraine sat at the edge of the chair Joe offered, feet together, one white anklet touching the other, hands in her lap, attempting to comply the best she could with her father's earlier admonition. "Don't touch anything," he had said. He needn't have cautioned her, because Lorraine didn't want to touch anything.

Mother was right. Joe's home was a tar paper shack, held together by little more than imagination. His life filled one room ... the only room ... a room crowded with a tumble of furniture and Joe's possessions. "Oh," Lorraine thought, "Mother would never stand for this mess and dirt." A layer of prairie soil seemed to cover Joe's few furnishings, but the dirt was disturbed as if Joe made a mostly futile attempt to prepare for visitors. Dirt was inevitable in these old shacks. Any prairie soil not held fast to the ground by the snarled roots of the prairie grass was bound to find its way through the spaces between the boards. The shacks were not built to withstand the wind, carrying with it as it does both soil and the cold.

Lorraine looked intently at Smokey Joe that night. She saw now that Joe's skin and his nails were streaked black and yellow. Years and years of smoking more tobacco than any wife would tolerate must have been part of it ... maybe that's why Joe was called Smokey Joe. Respectfully, Lorraine tried not to stare, but that didn't stop her from looking around.

Empty cans had begun to stack up in the corner waiting for disposal at winter's end. Lorraine knew that bachelors ate a lot of canned food. At the store they bought more cans than the women did. The bachelors also didn't buy as much flour as the women. In fact Lorraine remembered the times Joe arrived at the store late in the day, after the last loaf of ready-made bread had already been sold. He growled, "Dang those women, they should be making their own bread and leave the ready-made bread for those of us who can't." Lorraine thought that was a funny thing to say. Still, somehow she understood.

When the last Christmas greetings were exchanged and father and daughter returned to the delivery truck, Otto once again tucked the blanket around his little girl, and father and daughter headed back to town. Otto glanced down at his daughter, as she struggled to stay awake, and thought how proud he was of her. He reached over and pulled the blanket up where it had slipped from her shoulder. "My baby is growing up so fast. How many more times will I share a Christmas miracle with Lorraine before she is completely grown and off with her own family?" Otto knew, with certainty, Lorraine was his very own Christmas miracle.

At 79, Lorraine remembers that Joe Ogden sold his shack to an itinerant combiner from Oklahoma. This laborer was working up near Sorum, traveling with his wife and children in a sort of primitive motor home he built. Smokey Joe had let the family park on his land. After that Joe packed up what little he had worth taking and moved down to the Govert area.

I've also heard it said that, one day, a few years after the Christmas visit made by Otto and Lorraine, a rusty old bus limped into Sorum. In the bus lived a dirty woman, long past hoping, and a passel of dirty children. They were in desperate need of a place to live, and even more desperately in need of hope. Joe Ogden traded his decrepit one-room shack for their even more decrepit bus so the family could finally have a home, a proper roof, even if it was attached by little more than imagination. Then Joe nursed that old bus 28 miles until he reached the Govert townsite, and there he scuttled it, making this metal shell his new home.

Other stories have been told about Smokey Joe, one about a fire in Joe's tar shack, in which he was badly burned.

What happened after that Christmas visit? How did Joe Ogden become the last resident of the Govert townsite? Which story is true? Maybe they all are. Or maybe not. That's the way it is with people who have become legends, people who have been given a special name like "Smokey Joe".

Listening to the wind blowing through the prairie grass. Kate

[Written with gratitude to Lorraine Jensen Carlson for sharing her memories.]

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Lorraine Jensen Carlson, Keeper of the History of Sorum, South Dakota (Part 2)

What has never been written ... and what has never been told ... will be forever lost. For those who want to know more about the past, too much has already been lost. What's to be done? Tell what you know and write what you've heard. Become a storyteller and a scribe.

Here, today, you will read much of what Lorraine Jensen Carlson shared of her recollections as the storekeeper's daughter in Sorum, South Dakota. Lorraine and I talked 23 June 2010 when I had near given up trying to find the true identity of Smokey Joe, the last person to live on the Govert townsite 28 miles from Sorum. Not only did Lorraine know Smokey Joe's real name, she met him when she was just a slip of a girl. And all this Lorraine told me matter of factly, as if she didn't realize she had just solved my mystery of the decade. "There never was a time when I didn't know Smokey Joe," said Lorraine. She gave me this gift, and then she gave me so much more. Lorraine shared her memories as the storekeeper's daughter.

The Sorum store was already up and running when Lorraine's parents arrived in 1921. Unlike the store in Govert, which was owned and operated as a partnership by Govert Van der Boom and Howard Jacobs, the store in Sorum was owned by a group of ranchers who hired Lorraine's parents, Otto Jensen and Beatrice Dearborn, to manage the business. Folks thereabouts knew the Jensens as “O.W.” and “Trix”. Eventually these storekeepers also became store owners when they succeeded in buying the shares of stock held by the ranchers.

The store tended by O.W. and Trix in Sorum was a wood frame building, at a time when wood buildings and heating technology existed in an uneasy balance. Fuel was coal, wood or kerosene and, with these fuels, fires were common. As in so many other prairie disasters, the Sorum store, too, became a statistic when the kerosene stove exploded and reduced the building and the inventory inside to ash and cinder and the oddly shaped debris of melted manufactured objects.

Even with this fire to discourage them, the Jensens wasted no time setting up a successor store, this time in an empty building across the street. There the Jensens continued to serve their customers, rebuilding the earlier store on the same spot, this time out of adobe brick. Members of the community worked hard to raise the adobe building. In normal years store customers would run a tab all year and then pay in the fall. This year they could exchange their labor to reduce their store debt.

Then, as fate would have it, the interim store burned, too, this time in a fire believed to have been started by bootleggers stealing sugar. Lorraine remembered many rural stores were robbed for sugar to make whiskey, naming the stores at Date, east down Rabbit Creek from Sorum, and Reva, to the west of Sorum and just north of the Slim Buttes. The common element to these robberies was the singular focus on sugar.

Just before the fire, the Jensens took possession of the Friday shipment at the Sorum store. Every Friday wholesalers sent the Sorum store a shipment of staples: 500 pounds of flour and 500 pounds of sugar, in addition to everything else the Jensens needed to keep their customers content. In the ruins of the store, O.W. and Trix found no burned sugar, no crystallized sugar, no melted sugar. The fire in Sorum was believed to be arson, a cover for the larceny of sugar.

With the nightmare of two fires, storekeepers with less persistence might have packed up their family and moved on, but the Jensens just moved back across the street. The store being built of adobe brick was only half complete. The Jensens served their customers from the basement until they could once again do business at street level.

Through all the moves from one side of the street to the other, the Sorum store continued to carry every imaginable staple, including the core staples of canned foods, flour, sugar, and salt. In later years, the store even offered ready-made white bread, a favorite for bachelors and busy housewives. Without reliable refrigeration, the store at Sorum did not sell raw meat. Canned sardines and salmon were in big demand, but raw meat would have to wait for refrigeration to come to town.

Before the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) brought electricity to the area in the late 1940s, Lorraine's father had a wind-charger and generator. When the wind didn’t blow, her father would start the generator, which was a long row of batteries in the basement. With the wind-charger and the generator, the Jensens could keep food cool, they just couldn’t refrigerate or freeze food. As to alternative power sources, Lorraine remarked that, in the years approaching the mid-century mark, more people had refrigerators and stoves that ran on bottled gas.

Then Lorraine talked about the connection between the store in Sorum and Sorum High School. The high school cafeteria, a critical feature of what amounted to a boarding school, was set up in the basement of the store. Living conditions there for the cook were primitive, as were the kitchen facilities. Lorraine wondered how the town ever convinced the cooks to stay. Still, the cooks were enthusiastic and the students well fed. The cooks were assisted by high school students who washed dishes and cleaned the cafeteria in exchange for tuition and room and board. The boys were the ones who, in the absence of plumbing, hauled clean water in from the well, and the dirty water back out.

Sorum High School was not Lorraine's alma mater, as the school closed the year her older brother, Reed, graduated, Lorraine says in 1941. Lorraine's sister Joan, who was three years older than Reed, and 10 years older than Lorraine, also went to Sorum High School. The high school was a blessing to Sorum and to the ranchers and farmers from the area, Lorraine said. The children would learn what they could in the local country schools, but many families couldn’t afford to send their children further than Sorum for the higher grades. However, with the school cafeteria in the basement of the store, and the boys’ dorm in an old flour mill, the high school was struggling and, finally, the high school closed.

Look at the hour! Smokey Joe's big "reveal" may have to wait for another time. Because everyone deserves the respect of a family name, I'll tell you that Joe was Josiah, also known as Joseph F. Ogden. You'll see Mr. Ogden's name again.

Joe Ogden will be remembered, thanks to Lorraine. Lorraine's detailed brush-work of Sorum will also survive her. Being Lorraine's scribe is an historian's pleasure. You might be surprised by how attached you can become to the people who have the answers to the questions you failed to ask.

Listening to the wind blowing through the prairie grass. Kate

[Written with gratitude to Lorraine Jensen Carlson for sharing her memories of Sorum.]

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Lorraine Jensen Carlson, Keeper of the History of Sorum, South Dakota (Part 1)

Have you ever paused to listen to the voices in the wind stirring the prairie grass? The wind remembers the voices, joyful voices, sorrowful voices. Listen to the wind blowing through the prairie grass on a summer day and you will hear the lilt of the children of the prairie.

The wind's testimony cautions us to remember every child of the prairie. Lorraine Jensen Carlson, was a child of the prairie who, as an adult, became a keeper of the history of Sorum, South Dakota. Sorum was the small town in Perkins County hosting Thrall Academy. When I wrote about Thrall Academy in August and revisited Thrall Academy in September, I couldn't consult with Lorraine. Lorraine Jensen Carlson died two months before I started writing that story.

What I learned about Lorraine, and from Lorraine, since 2010 gives me cause to be grateful for Ma Bell and her successors and competitors. Without the telephone, I would have missed meeting Lorraine Jensen, the child of the prairie, through her stories, and Lorraine Carlson, the woman, a prairie historian who continued to have the strongest of connections with the North Country. Lorraine's parents were the proprietors of the country store in Sorum, just as Govert and Emma Van der Boom tended the country store in Govert. Sorum fit the template of all small country towns west of the Missouri River in South Dakota. The experience of life in Govert would be similar to the experience of life in Sorum 28 miles distant, or any other small West River town, even giving full credit to the effect of distinctive personalities. Lorraine remembered, and she shared this experience with me, connected as we were by telephone.

Lorraine remembered even more than this. Without the telephone, and without Lorraine on the other end of the line, the true identity of the last resident of Govert, South Dakota, may have remained hidden. I would still be wondering "Who in the world was Smokey Joe?" In my South Dakota travels, by car, by phone, by email and by the US Postal System, I asked everyone who would listen, "Who was Smokey Joe?" No one knew him by any other name and never questioned whether Joe had a family or even a family name. "He's just Smokey Joe", they said. Smokey Joe is no longer lost, his identity is no longer a mystery. Smokey Joe's story was a crossover story from Sorum to Govert.

And, without the telephone, I would have missed the joy of getting to know Lorraine, just a little bit.

Lorraine wrote her own obituary, so I've been told. I believe that report because any other author would have shared more of this wonderful woman than Lorraine did herself. Characteristic of Lorraine, her obituary was low key, even modest. After the necessary introduction detailing that Lorraine died in her own home 8 July 2013 at the age of 82 from complications of cancer, these are the words that appeared:

"[Lorraine Jensen Carlson] was born in Hettinger, ND, to Otto and Beatrice Jensen of Sorum, SD. She and Dewayne Carlson of Bison, SD, were married July 2, [1951], in Rapid City. She is survived by a son, Wade Carlson (special friend, Margaret Joseph); a granddaughter, Mackenzie (Jason) Grimes; her two beloved great-granddaughters; nieces; and a nephew. She was preceded in death by her husband; an infant son, Craig; a sister, Joan Meyer; a brother, Reed Jensen; and her parents. At her request there will be no funeral services. Celebrate her life by doing a random act of kindness. Love you forever. [signed] Mom."

"Why so sparse, Lorraine?" I wanted to ask her. But I already knew what her response would have been: "I didn't want anyone to fuss. I lived my life quietly, and I see no reason to change that now." Unassuming prairie folks. You can take the girl out of the prairie, but you can't take the prairie out of the girl.

I hope you are the reader who knew Lorraine best. If you are, and if you feel I'm not the best person to create a memory of Lorraine, you're right. I've never chatted with Lorraine over a cup of coffee. I've never shared a South Dakota evening with her raking through the old times. I never drove Lorraine to the medical center and I never held her hand while she endured round after round of cancer treatment. Lorraine and I could not boast a friendship born of shared experience. However, Lorraine and I did share something quite real, that being our appreciation for the small prairie towns of times past. One thing I can do for Lorraine is remember her voice in the wind. Lorraine was born a child of the prairie, and the spirit of that child running through the prairie grass never left her.

Lorraine was kind, thoughtful and, with the respect due the word as was given in her day, Lorraine was a lady. She communicated a sense of grace and graciousness, even on the telephone. Her mind was keen and her disposition patient, polite and friendly. She had determination and perseverance, and even cheer, in the face of what the rest of us would consider disaster. When cancer can’t be cured, you have few choices, and when Lorraine made her choice, she set the standard for acceptance, endurance, and love. Lorraine was a women other women could respect.

Next week I'll tell you about life on the prairie as Lorraine experienced growing up in Sorum, South Dakota. But first, let's take a look at Lorraine's last request that we celebrate her life by doing a random act of kindness. Her sparse obituary required few words and occupies only a few lines of newspaper print, little more than her birth in 1931 and her death in 2013 separated by a dash. The space represented by the dash tells you how this friend, neighbor, daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and aunt lived. Lorraine says no funeral, no flowers, no contributions to a favorite charity. "Celebrate [my] life by doing a random act of kindness. Love you forever. [signed] Mom." How much tenderness of heart does it require to make this last request and leave this public bequest of love? How many random acts of kindness do you think God credits Lorraine in her 82 years? When she was growing up, random acts of kindness were simply referred to as neighbors helping neighbors. This was the code of the prairie.

Maybe, having met Lorraine today, and learning more about her story next week, you will contribute a random act of kindness to her memory, too. All it takes is being kind to your neighbor, a long-time neighbor you know, or a person who becomes a neighbor by virtue of temporary proximity. Practice this for as long as Lorraine did and maybe you can change the world. Did Lorraine change the world? Don't short-change the possibility of a woman living a quiet life having this power. I believe Lorraine did change the world.

Listening to the wind blowing through the prairie grass ... and to the voices in the wind. Kate

[Written with gratitude to Lorraine Jensen Carlson for sharing her memories, and to Marie Kulisich for introducing us.]