The last thing I expected when I moved from New York to South Dakota was to meet complete strangers who were neighborly.
Lessons from my upbringing regarding strangers were counter-intuitive to the nature of South Dakotans: Mind your own business. Do not make eye contact and most of all, do not speak to them.
Over time, stories like this one changed all that …
On a hot sticky afternoon in the summer of 1980, slowly I pulled away from the lumberyard in my red 1978 Datsun pickup. A storm that had been building since late morning had let loose, turning the moody sky into a dreary downpour.
The bed of my truck was loaded down with two-by-fours, four-by-fours, two-by-sixes and two-by-eights – enough lumber to construct a new deck. Just as I was about to turn onto the main highway, I noticed in my blurred side mirror someone chasing me – arms waving, legs striding, shouts muted.
Slowing to a stop, I cracked my window to see that it was the young man who had just loaded the wood.
"You got a flat, ma'am," he shouted from under the hood of his soaked slicker.
I expected him to direct me to the nearest service station or tell me to wait awhile until the storm passed or simply walk away.
"Pull back around and I'll fix 'er for ya," he hollered through the storm, which had grown bigger and louder. Then, with long swooping arm signals, like a skilled angler on open water, he reeled me back to the loading dock.
I got out of my truck and ran for cover beneath an overhang, where I watched as he systematically undid all of his work. Without cursing or complaining, he unloaded every last board. Then, quickly changed my tire and reloaded my wood.
It's not what I expected. I didn't understand. He would not accept payment and appeared a little taken aback by my gushing gratitude.
"You're good to go," he said, nodding with a smile, his face dripping.
In pouring rain, sizzling heat, and freezing cold, encounters like this one play out over and over again in South Dakota, where it's second nature for people to be neighborly to complete strangers. Convenience and comfort are irrelevant. It's the way people are here.
A resident of Southeast South Dakota for more than 30 years, Paula Damon is a popular columnist, keynote speaker, and freelance writer. Her column writing has won first-place national and state awards in The Federation of Press Women competitions. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright � 2007 Paula Damon