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Students at Sacred Heart Elementary in Yankton sang songs of the season. Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.
The Bottum Line on Wisdom
Dec 20, 2012
By Bernie Hunhoff
Joseph "Jody" Bottum has become the international expert on South Dakota Christmas, and that sounds like one of the best writing gigs ever.
Readers of our paper magazine will recall that we told Bottum's story in our Nov/Dec issue. The Pierre native was making quite a name for himself on the East Coast as a prolific writer and essayist for the Atlantic, the Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal and other top publications.
But he and his wife wanted to give geographic roots to their teenage daughter, Faith, and Jody hoped to explore new writing opportunities so they moved home to South Dakota — to a big old wood-frame house that was the childhood home to Leslie Jensen, who became governor of South Dakota in 1936.
Last year he wrote a Kindle e-book called Dakota Christmas about his remembrances of early holidays, and this year he published The Christmas Plains, also a reflection on the spirituality of the plains.
Bottum also has a new Kindle book you can buy for 99 cents titled The Wise Guy. I read it last weekend. It's an entertaining yarn about a community of modern day outlaws and thieves who are compelled to perform 12 robberies at Christmas-time — a blend of The Sting and It's a Wonderful Life.
Bottum says some of the characters are modeled after people he's known in Pierre. Who, exactly, in the political town of Pierre shares traits with common criminals and thieves? He declined to answer officially. But he did acknowledge that a distinguished old lady in The Wise Guy has a bit of his grandmother. She imparts some wisdom to the thieves.
Wisdom, Bottum told me, doesn't seem like such rare commodity in South Dakota. "When I was living on the East Coast, I knew a lot of smart people but I find that I find a lot more wise people back here on the plains."
I thought of Bottum's comment as I watched the youth of Yankton at a Christmas concert last night in Yankton. The beautiful boys and girls all seemed very smart, very talented. But how do we, as a community, also raise them to be wise?
If Jody Bottum knows anything — and I'm betting that some of his grandmother has rubbed off on him — then we're on the right track. Raise them as South Dakotans — with big doses of nature, church, community and family. Let them pick pasque flowers and smell mountain pines and wander trails and canoe the Big Sioux. Show them how to catch a walleye, find a mushroom, ride a goat, or whatever else you yourself might know.
Teach them to be a real South Dakotan and a lot of the other things must just follow along as nicely as can be.