Dave Gullett

a miscellanea

Dakota Christmas by Joseph Bottum at First Things

“Late afternoon on Christmas Eve, the year I was eleven, my father took me with him across the river. I can’t remember what the urgency was, but he was a busy lawyer, and he needed some papers signed by a rancher who lived across on the other side of the Missouri from Pierre. So off we headed, west over the bridge and north through the river hills.

If you’ve never seen that South Dakota country in winter, you have no idea how desolate land can be. I once asked my grandmother why her parents had decided to stop their wagon-trek in what became the town where she was born. And she answered, in surprise I didn’t know, “Because that’s where the tree was.” The empty hills were frozen dry, as my father and I drove along, with sharp ice crystals blowing up from the knots of cold, gray grass.

We were supposed to stay only a minute or two, get a signature, and turn back for home. But you can’t pay a visit in South Dakota, especially at Christmas, without facing food—endless besieging armies of it, and usually the worst of American holiday cuisine: Jell-O molds with carrot shavings, chocolate-packet pies, neon-pink hams pricked to death with cloves and drowned in honey. If you’ve never seen one of those prairie tables, you have no idea how desolate food can be.”

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