Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias In all of the years South Dakota has had a lottery, I�ve maybe purchased six tickets. Period.

Rarely have I saddled up behind a video lottery machine to take my chances. And the one time I was in a Black Hills casino, I focused my efforts mainly on nickel slots.

The Lias clan, you see, doesn�t win anything. Ever.

It is a lesson I learned from, of all things, Thanksgiving.

I don�t know if this tradition continues. But the weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday was dubbed Turkey Day in my hometown of Humboldt.

For weeks before this big day, people who bought stuff at the Humboldt Supply grocery store (which also sold, of all things, televisions), C&K Hardware, the Sweet Shop Cafe, Ideker�s Garage, Truex Standard Oil or a host of other establishments, could fill out tickets and stuff them into a box secured by � in the case of the Humboldt Supply, the same white paper cold cuts were wrapped in.

It was an exercise that, in many ways, resembled the election of Nov. 2. Without the lawyers and the eye-rolling.

The tickets were printed by Cootie Masters, publisher of the Humboldt Journal, and husband of my first grade teacher. We think she had a first name, but my classmates and I never really (formally) learned what it was.

She was, simply, Mrs. Masters.

Anyway, when Cootie wasn�t pre-occupied with recording the Mayberry-like happenings of the community, he fired up the equipment in his print shop each fall.

He churned out blank Turkey Day tickets by hand-feeding an appropriately-named hand-fed press without ever getting his hands caught in the machine.

Occasionally, we would stop outside the Journal office to peer through a big glass window and watch him in action.

We learned that he didn�t like to be distracted while working. Especially if a break in his concentration might cost him a finger or two. His reaction to our visits to his window were always predictable.

He ignored us.

Eventually, Turkey Day arrived. Many women in our community, I reasoned, had already purchased their holiday birds by then.

But I�m sure there were a significant number of town and country folk who held back on their Thanksgiving shopping, hoping against hope that they would be among the lucky ones.

When you stop and think about it, the event was really a big crap, er, turkey shoot. Some people, I�m sure, came to Turkey Day each year with the belief they had a chance of winning.

On that special Saturday morning, all of the business owners brought their boxes of filled-out tickets to the back of a pickup parked in the middle of Main Street.

One year stands out for me. My dad and uncle were still busy with harvest, and couldn�t partake of this annual Humboldt ritual.

We attended Turkey Day that year with our grandfather, who seemed more enchanted with sitting around a table in the Sweet Shop, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and swapping tales with his buddies.

My brothers and I had a hard time comprehending this. Even when the drawings for turkeys had begun, he didn�t budge.

�Gramps! We need to go! They might call your name!� we implored.

Actually, we could have cared less about his chances of winning. For the past month, Mike, Jeff and I each had filled out our fair share of tickets. We were sure that we would each go home with a bird.

Maybe he said it because he didn�t want to leave his coffee or cigarettes. Maybe he said it because it is true.

Our grandpa looked at us, and uttered this life-changing statement: �We Liases never win anything.�

He was right. Year after year, he would take us to Turkey Day. Year after year, practically every name in town � except Lias � was called.

My mother took no chances. During one of those pre-Turkey Day shopping visits, when we were busy filling out tickets, she would purchase a plump bird.

Mom wasn�t about to let the fate of Thanksgiving dinner hinge on the luck of the Lias family.

Plain Talk editor David Lias hopes a satisfactory Thanksgiving meal was a sure bet for everyone. You may contact him at

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