By Shirley Anderson
A beautiful piece of heaven fell to Earth, and we named it South Dakota. In the more than 50 years while I was a visitor to when I returned as a resident, Frederick and the surrounding area turned into one of the most splendid places on Earth.
In the 1950s I was a student at Northern State Teachers College, working two jobs to pay my tuition. The costs were much lower then, but I got a first-class education. I quit college in my senior year in 1956 to become a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines in Miami.
I loved airplanes and everything about flying. Before college I had worked in Mexico, Mo., and learned to fly single-engine airplanes. I joined the “flying Navy” as a Ready Reservist, and completed four years of monthly train trips from Aberdeen to Minneapolis to the Naval Air Station where I was trained and worked as an air traffic control person. We were called Weekend Warriors, or the “snot-nose” Navy by the “regular” Navy personnel.
During my years in Miami I continued accumulating flying hours and passed the private pilot written test, but never went for the flight test to get my license. So during the mechanics’ strike that crippled and finally killed Eastern in 1991, I was able to retire just six months before it closed. We were the lucky ones who were able to leave with our retirement funds intact. I then went into a private, nonprofit criminal justice program, using the master’s degree that Eastern helped me finance.
At Grace Lutheran Church in Miami Springs where I lived, I met people from the Dakotas and Minnesota. Duane Berreth and his family were from Groton, I believe. And another young couple were from southern Minnesota. Besides the comfort of the familiar liturgy and hymns of my faith, I found the High Plains people fed my need for connection to home. But it was never enough, even then.
I experienced the trials of growing up: college, marriage, divorce, loss of friends from death and moving away, and yet I stayed in the heat and humidity of a rapidly changing metropolitan area. I enjoyed the benefits of a big city and free travel as an Eastern Airlines retiree. Then on Sept. 11, 2001, the twin towers went down, the Pentagon was smashed into and Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania. Those horrible days made me acutely aware of the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death. And family and home became No. 1.
My mother and father lived in Frederick and are buried in the Wayside Cemetery just outside of Frederick. My sister, Coralie, and her family lived in Frederick, along with my brother Bruce, who has since passed. Frederick has always been home for me. So in August 2002, I sold my house in Miami Springs, bought the “old Della Emery” house, and moved here. I came home.
It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be around people who were friends with my parents, who know all my brothers’ and sister’s antics growing up and going to school in Frederick. I love the space, of course. When people ask me what I love most about the Dakotas, I say, “Nothing.” And follow with the explanation that I love the fields, the animals, the sky, the sight lines across dozens of miles, unpolluted air, safety and the peace and freedom that comes from living in the country. There is a joyous abundance of “nothing” here that fills me so full sometimes I cry.
Even during the past winter, I have never once regretted leaving Miami. I confess Arizona is pretty tempting following this year’s spring blizzards and bitterly cold February and early March. But when the black earth is thawed enough to turn over and plant gardens and flowers, the harsh winter memories will fade. The secret to a happy homecoming is to have financial resources for emergencies.
Finally, it’s been an adjustment for a bleeding-heart liberal Democrat to learn when I need to keep my opinions to myself and to appreciate the pioneer spirit and politics of my hometown. In spite of differences, we always know who and how to help, whether it’s digging out a driveway or just how to open a new red can of gasoline to refill the lawn mower.
I remember the first senior citizens meeting I went to after being ordered to get ready and essentially kidnapped to attend by my 90-year-old neighbor, Helen Rexinger. It was the first time I had said the Pledge of Allegiance since I was a kid, and I couldn’t stop the tears rolling down my face. Then saying grace before we had our lunch completely did me in. That was when I knew I was truly and forever Home.
Her website is www.coachmiami.com and email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
When people ask me what I love most about the Dakotas, I say, “Nothing.”