By Dave Hess
I’m a lucky guy in general. I have a lot of reasons to say this. I have a loving wife, wonderful family, and good friends. I’m healthy. I’m not rich, but I have enough money to eat well and have a lot of fun. But in addition to being lucky in general, there are certain instances of very intense luck when it is crystal clear that, at that exact moment, I am truly the luckiest person alive.
This is a story about one of those moments.
Thanksgiving was approaching, and as we had done the last couple years, we would be spending it with my mother-in-law. Jann and her husband Paige live in South Dakota. My wife, Stacy, and I live in Wisconsin as do my parents and her dad. It is tough to get out to see everyone at Christmas, so we usually spend Thanksgiving with Jann and Paige. This Thanksgiving promised to be especially important for two reasons. First, Stacy’s brother, Ryan, and his fiancé, Linda, would also be there. Secondly, Stacy and I were planning on leaving to cruise the world in a sailboat soon, and this would be our last major holiday with this part of her family.
Everybody arrived safely in South Dakota, and we had a wonderful Thanksgiving……so much to be thankful for.
The next afternoon we decided to head into town to do some shopping. Jann and Paige live on gravel road on the edge of Mission Hill, which is very small and would not even qualify as a town by Wisconsin standards because it does not have a single tavern. Luckily Vermillion, a town of about 10,000 souls, is about 15 miles southeast, and Yankton with a population of about 5000 is 10 miles southwest. While we would not have the Mall of America, there would at least be a few interesting shops and places to have coffee.
So Jann, Stacy, Ryan, Linda, and I crammed into Jann’s little car and were off. Paige, who likes shopping for anything other than antiques and tools even less than I do stayed home to work in the shop. We worked our way south and west on farm roads that mark the edge of sections of land and eventually ended up on the main highway, which we took into Vermillion. I had kept track of our path and knew that it was about five miles from the house to the main road and fixed the intersection in my mind. I suspected I would need that later.
Vermillion is a college town, so it has some of those little artsy-fartsy, liberal feeling shops that we actually like and are absent from most small towns in South Dakota. We had coffee and poked around……a record shop, some used book stores (my favorite out of the mix), and other small shops. But even though I was in the company of people I love and find genuinely interesting, I was reaching my shopping limit. Then Jann suggested we move on to Yankton, and soon we were heading out of town of the same main highway that we had come in on. I saw my opportunity. “I think I’ve had enough shopping for one day,” I said. “Why don’t you drop me off at the intersection up here, and I’ll walk home.”
It was an excellent day for a walk. The air was cool but not cold, and the sky was starting to turn orange with the coming sunset. I headed north on a paved road for two miles. I saw deer and listened to the birds. I studied the features of farms that I passed, and imagined that I could tell a lot about the people living there by what I saw. At one point a guy in a pickup stopped to ask if I needed a ride. I didn’t, but it’s still nice to be asked.
As I approached the gravel road that I would take west, I noticed cattle in the field on my left. I was especially interested in a large bull that was actually running across the field towards a group of his bovine friends in the southwest corner of the field. I’ve seldom seen cattle actually run, but this guy maintained a good, steady pace all the way across the field.
I turned on the gravel road. I like the sound of gravel under my feet, and the sunset was really coming on. It was also getting a little cooler. I felt fantastic. There were no houses on this particular stretch of road, and other than getting passed by one car the only signs of human life were all in the distance. I scanned the fields for deer, but it was starting to get a little too dark. I continued walking into the sunset and felt at peace with the world. I also felt something else that was a little less abstract. It was the double latte starting to press on my bladder.
You know, if you’re in town and you feel “the call of nature”, you need to find someplace with a toilet. A store or fast food restaurant usually works. But here in the South Dakota countryside, a man can just whip it out anywhere he pleases. I think that’s nice. It’s good to piss on the earth. It seems so much cleaner and spiritually rewarding than using a proper indoor toilet. As I walked along I thought “Hell, I could piss right in the middle of the road if I wanted.” But no, that just didn’t seem right. I continued walking and reflecting on the whole situation. Just a head I spotted a fencerow running perpendicular to the road. This looked like a natural spot. I walked down slightly into the ditch and started to enjoy one of the more primitive pleasures. There were a few birds fluttered by, and the dying sunset was fantastic – red and orange with puffy, purple clouds. Then some insect bit me on the thigh right through my jeans. I was surprised. Then another bit me at about the same point on the other thigh.
It was at this very moment as I peered down in the dim light……….the crystal clear moment when there is no doubt as to the identity of the luckiest man on the face of the earth…….that I saw the electric fence that I was peeing over.