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Recent rains have helped, but parts of eastern South Dakota - including Roger Holtzmann's yard - are still in a moderate drought.
Recent rains have helped, but parts of eastern South Dakota - including Roger Holtzmann's yard - are still in a moderate drought.

Thy Neighbor's Rain

Jun 18, 2015

Ever since Moses came down from Mount Sinai, we have been on notice. No killing. No adultery. No stealing. No giving false testimony against your neighbor. Which means if you accidentally run over your neighbor’s trash can don’t swear your other neighbor did it.

I have never worshipped a golden calf or other false idol, but I have run afoul of most of the other commandments in my time. My one bright spot, morally speaking, is that I have never had any problem with the last two commandments: thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods and thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. I’m not unmindful of the charms of other men’s wives, but I know if I ever crossed the line to coveting them my wife would find out and I’d be dead within the hour. This tends to keep me on the straight and narrow.

As for coveting my neighbor’s goods, my protection against envy is two-pronged. I am a simple man, and am content with simple things. Bigger, better, faster and fancier things don’t get me all googly-eyed, so I don’t lust after them. Plus I am well practiced in the art of creative disparagement, or seeing the glass half-empty. If my neighbor has a big house with a pool I think, “those things are a major headache. You’ve got to clean them every day or they get all gunky. No way would I want a pool.” If my neighbor has a big screen TV I recall something I once read about how they cause eyestrain or cancer or something. This makes me appreciate my TV, which has a screen the size of a paperback book.

My commendable record regarding covetous behavior, unfortunately, may be in jeopardy. I’m not sure because I’ve wandered into a gray area. It’s not my neighbor’s wife or my neighbor’s goods I’m coveting. It’s my neighbor’s moisture.

It’s nearing the end of spring. Tulips, daffodils and those little purple flowers I can never remember the name of have made their appearance. Our Nanking cherry bush is loaded with blossoms, as are our apple trees. An ancient mulberry, which is always the last tree to leaf out, is finally awakening from its winter slumber.

Meanwhile, large swaths of our lawn look like a none-too-well-maintained Berber carpet. On every side there are bushes and trees that didn’t make it. Many that did survive look far from healthy. I feel bad for Carolyn because she has put so much time and effort into nurturing them, but I also realize that lawns, flowers and shrubs are a trifling matter in the grand scheme of things. Across the road are the stalks of last year’s stunted corn crop, sticking up from ground that’s as lifeless as chalk. What will it mean for farm families if the rains don’t come?

I’m not a weather worrier by nature. I’m one of those goofballs who love blizzards, and who does exactly what you’re not supposed to do when the wind starts howling and lightning bolts rend the heavens. Instead of heading for shelter I run to the window in hopes of seeing Dorothy’s house or the wicked witch fly past. If I ever get sucked into a funnel cloud I expect the last thing I’ll see is Carolyn yelling up at me, “I told you to get in the basement!”

Even so, I have been conjuring up all manner of dreadful drought scenarios of late, and I didn’t need maps in the newspaper indicating Yankton County is in the “drier than Mars” stage to get them started. All I needed to do was look at my rain gauge, which is filled with dead bugs that didn’t die by drowning.

When I was a wee lad my dad used to play the guitar and sing a song that caused my siblings and me to roll our eyes and cringe in embarrassment, as children are wont to do around their parents. Now it’s the soundtrack to my nightmares.

Oh, it ain’t gonna rain no mo, no mo

It ain’t gonna rain no mo

How in the heck can I wash my neck

If it ain’t gonna rain no mo?

Which brings me, at long last, to the matter of my covetous ways. We had one snowfall of consequence in Yankton this past winter, and a couple that barely whitened the ground. My mom and dad in Milbank, on the other hand, seemed to be in the middle of, or just getting over, a major storm every time I talked to them.

My obsession with moisture was such that I watched those storms dump on the northeast and all I could think of was, what did they do to deserve a blizzard? How come they get to be snowed in and not me? I’d see pictures of the interstate with stranded trucks barely showing above the drifts and I’d be perturbed to the third degree. Why do they have all the luck?

We had a rip-roaring, old-fashioned thunderstorm a couple days ago, which has helped my mood somewhat, but I’m pretty sure somebody got more rain than me. That leaves me right back where I started, with my soul in peril. It seems odd that a people who live in the desert, where every drop of water is precious, wouldn’t spell out whether coveting your neighbor’s rainfall is a sin or not. I don’t know where I stand.

Could you say a prayer for me just in case?

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the July/August 2013 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.


08:27 am - Thu, July 9 2015
LaVida Dickinson said:
It's so good to be able to enjoy your writing once again. Your sense of humor, even during a drought, is admirable. And I think that confessing your coveting will get you off the hook.

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