You just can’t make this stuff up.
I made it to the Festival of Books and called Dad that morning for his birthday. He had loaded the horses and was headed to the Buffalo Roundup three hours away.
An hour later, Mom called. “Perfect timing,” I said. “I’m right in between workshops.”
“Not really,” she said, calling from her own vehicle. “Your dad’s truck is on fire.”
“Fire. That’s all I know. I was on the phone with him and he said, ‘Whoa, there’s flames,’ and we lost our connection. I left early to drop Ginny (her dog) off with Kelly. The wild thing is, I had a premonition that we needed to take two vehicles. It didn’t make any sense at the time.”
“I was stopped for road construction,” Dad told me later, “and all of a sudden in the rear-view mirror, I saw flames flying out of the side of the wheels. Then, flames were flying up through the dashboard. I jumped out and unhooked the trailer and a road grader pushed it back away from the truck.”
With the horses safe and the pickup a smoking husk, a friend offered Dad a pickup to make it to the roundup yet. Dad hooked up the trailer to the loaned pickup, and he and Mom headed to the roundup. When they reached town 80 miles away, Dad found the one of the wheels had come off the trailer. “Usually, you know when you’ve lost a tire, because they’ll roll by and pass you on the road,” he mused.
At this point, Mom is thinking perhaps God is trying to tell them something about riding in the roundup. “These are not subtle signs!”
Onward. The next day I received a text from Dad. “We’re off.” I texted back, “Enjoy! Be careful.” As I listened to workshops and wrote through the morning, I kept checking my phone for the next text, which I finally received—a photo of Mom and the word, “Done.” I exhaled deeply for the first time that day.
Friend and photographer/writer, Sherry Bunting, captured this image of Mom and Dad.
At an event that evening, the speaker introduced the birthday boy, still in his riding gear, to the 300 people in attendance. I told Dad, “I think it’s only right that the state of South Dakota throw a birthday party for what will now be known as Dean Wink’s Smokin’ 70th!”
In Sioux Falls, SD, across the state from the flames and buffalo, the South Dakota Festival of Books whirled into full swing. The panels and presentations were marvelous. I immersed myself in listening and learning from others.
Rachael Hanel (We’ll be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter) spoke on the craft of memoir and through evocative photos guided us to memories long-hidden and rich with potential for writing. Gwen Westerman (MniSota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota) on the history of the Dakota,”I dreamt about it, as if all these stories were in one voice. It is our Genesis, little ‘g’ and big ‘G.'”
Malcolm Brooks (Painted Horses), whose book I now read, “The sun pools like a molten ingot and then drips progressively away, its color changing as it descends and changing in turn the hue of the sky around it.” Ashley Wolff (Miss Bindergarten Goes to Kindergarten) led us through how life and family infuse her art and writing. Jon Lauck (The Lost Region) gave voice to the revival of Midwestern history to highlight why the Midwest matters.
I spoke on “Writing the Land” and “Meadowlark: In Word and Image,” so grateful to share the journey of both with those who attended.
Two of the greatest blessings of my time in Sioux Falls were the time spent with my Aunt Elaine (Dad’s sister) and Uncle Ray, who drove from Iowa and a surprise visit from dear friend of my parents and me from forever Mary Jane Lunetta, who completely surprised me by appearing from Minneapolis.
All in all, an incredible weekend—filled with friends, flames, festival, buffalo, birthdays, and books.
You really can’t make this stuff up.