Indian Summer

There are years when Indian Summer skips over North Dakota blown away by rainy, windy days, early snowfalls (last year crops were left in the field never to be truly harvested), or times when the sun shines so briefly it seems we jump from summer into winter. Some years Daylight Savings Time disappears in October and leaves us grumbling about dark mornings and dark evenings. This year the pall of virus concerns hangs over us making a lot of things different, but in between we have had several days of sunshine and warmth. There have been days when shirt sleeves or a light jacket was all we needed to enjoy being outdoors and that was a good reminder of long ago days and activities even I remember and younger people claim they have never enjoyed. Attitude has a lot to do with what we remember.

Last year I wrote about potato picking which is now done by machines. Other years I have written about the flocks of geese overhead day after day with their unique “V” formation. As a teacher I could take my students out for recess, and we had an impromptu mini-science lesson watching the ducks and geese overhead. Driving to school before the sun came up, I could see the constellation Orion off to the left when going west on Highway 5. In the ditches, where a pond might be near, there would be tall cranes feeding each morning. In the evenings, ponds in Rush Lake would be resting places for migrating birds in the hundreds or some said thousands. Those same areas would have muskrat houses spring up overnight, and long-time residents predicted the winter snowfall by the height of those winter homes. Today drainage projects have removed a large portion of the ponds and waterfowl from view. If the skies are filled with migrating birds, most of us no longer notice them or hear their honking voices overhead. It is a fall feature I miss and so do others.

Halloween used to be a day or two in late fall. Now decorating begins in September, and the other day I heard a discussion on the radio about the Halloween season which was described as the time between Labor Day and Christmas. We have become used to seeing the outdoor decorations, complete with lights which may stay up for Christmas or maybe even remain year around. They are a cheerful and colorful sign of changing times.

Football is now a big deal for Langdon residents and fans. Years ago I wrote about the first games played on an open space at the fairgrounds when Wallace Osmon was the coach. Former players, from apparently all corners of the globe, wrote their memories for a long ago column which included quotes about “the ground was always frozen solid, the temperature was 40 below, the first game of football they saw they played in, they were always beaten by 300 lb. potato eaters from Park River” and so on. Our teacher for at least one class was Mr. Osmon who informed his students that we were “required to attend a game” one chilly day if we wanted a passing grade. There is a vague memory that he may have told us he would take attendance of students who were there because some of us made a special attempt to show up. The games began when classes ended, not in the evenings. Most of the boys were on the team but not all in matching uniforms. The team sat on the ground and maybe, because they also practiced in cold weather, cowered under blankets. The “crowd” was very small, had no blankets, no seats and stood shivering and shaking on the sidelines. We knew nothing about the game or if there was scoring of any kind. What some of us do remember is a cheerleader who dated one of the star players. If he was tackled, she screamed at the opposing team to “get off him and don’t you hurt him because he has to play basketball!” She was more entertainment than the game. Even with bleachers and relatives on the team, I was never again enticed to attend a game at Langdon. Yes, Mr. Osmon had quite a bit to say about that many years later when he was still a football fan and I was not. In more recent years the football field moved and acquired not only a loudspeaker system to help you keep up with the score when the weather is warm plus radio announcers for days with inclement weather.

I have both good and not so good Indian Summer memories of elections in North Dakota. When voting in other more southern states, we were rarely snowed out of casting our ballots. Coming back to North Dakota, I was asked to work on precinct elections and especially the November ones tended to offer varieties of weather. Several times we went in early in the morning – especially in the years when polls opened by 7 a.m. – with a light jacket and winter blew in during the day. By 2 or 3 a.m. when the ballots might be counted (one year it took us much longer than that because two of us serving as clerks fell asleep) there could be drifts of snow to get through going home. When it was my turn to return the ballots to the courthouse, my car refused to cooperate and remained in the precinct parking lot for a few days. I remember riding with a co-worker who had a heavier car one year and one time with someone who had a pickup. Not only were the drifts on the street but they covered the steps to the courthouse resulting in several falls while carrying the bags of ballots only to find the courthouse doors locked! Eventually a candidate waiting for the final count opened the door, but protocol required that I deposit the bags on the counter of the auditor’s office. Later Hannah and Munich election workers told me they had permission to bring in their ballots after the roads opened up!

The sudden storms caused another problem. Farmers liked their wives to vote at a rural precinct even if they had a house in town. This gave their township officers more of a say in county business, but some wives worked in town and got stuck in snow drifts going to their home in town. When they showed up at our precinct, I could verify that they did live in town since some were my neighbors but was it legal for them to vote in town? We checked with the courthouse and were told yes. So the wives voted and later learned their husbands disagreed. The next day they wanted their ballots back! Even while they were shouting out the names of the candidates they had voted for, we could not exchange the ballot cast the day before for a new one. In later years we sent those people to the courthouse to vote.

Until the COVID pandemic and the need to maintain social distancing, I took seriously voting in person. Sometimes the candidate you want wins, and if not, at least you have cancelled out the vote of a person you disagree with. However, many of my friends have voted by mail for years so this year I sent back the card to vote by mail with no fear that my ballot will be discarded or lost in transit. Whether it snows or not, I can sleep on election night.

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