If there’s one thing I know, it’s what it’s like to grow up Najacht in Middle America. Both of my parents have spent a considerable amount of their lives in South Dakota (from 1972 to 1987 and then 1999 to present). I was born in Hot Springs and lived there until my family moved away when I was 10 years old in 1987.
Working. This is a hallmark of growing up Najacht. My estimate is that I started working around the age of 3 — picking up “schnibbels,” little pieces of paper — off the floor of the newspaper office.
I moved on to “inserting,” which is putting the flyers into the newspaper. This was done after school. It’s tedious at best, but I was allowed an hour of television, so watched a couple of my favorite cartoons like Transformers or G.I. Joe.
Jon, one of my older brothers, worked at my side doing the same thing. He was much faster than I was, and he often told me so. And anyone else who would listen. I would sing Stevie Wonder songs and other music that was popular on the radio to pass the time, but I was told to be quiet in favor of moving a little faster. Working slowly is not being a good Najacht.
So, as far back as I can remember, I’ve had a job. With both parents working and us three boys, that’s a whole lot of work going on. At home, I was required to do chores. Contributing is a big part of being a Najacht.
During the summer, I was signed up for as many activities as possible. From art classes to gymnastics to baseball to basketball, I had all my bases covered. When we moved to Nebraska, I played all the sports available and was even on the swim team for a few years (until it became increasingly harder to find rides to meets). Activities are a Najacht hallmark.
In high school, I worked mostly on the printing side of the business, putting calendars together and the like. I occasionally wrote an article, and I was the janitor as well. There were lots of odd jobs to do. My dad suggested I quit sports to concentrate more on my studies and work. When I got pneumonia during my junior year of high school, I didn’t have much choice but to curtail my extra-curricular activities. Being a Najacht meant school and work came first anyway.
Najachts hunt. I don’t consider myself a terrific hunter, but it’s something Najachts do. The first time I remember hunting with my dad and brothers, I was much too small to participate. But I was there when my dad shot an antelope and had to cut its throat. It may have been a little much for someone so young, as I haven’t forgotten the sick feeling in my stomach that day, but, nonetheless, it’s part of being a Najacht.
These are all pretty Middle America things that define us. Najachts are pretty Middle America.
When I was in high school track, our team was at a particular away meet. Our school sent our small team (including middle schoolers) in two vans. The vans were pretty dirty. It was tempting to write things on the vans. In hindsight, it wasn’t a good idea, but I started writing on one of the vans with my finger. Pretty soon everyone had added their two cents. Some of the things written were obscene, including swear words. What was a simple “wash me” turned into a bathroom stall.
The next day in school our coaches came to us and related to us what we already knew: this was not how our athletes comported themselves. Nearly everyone who was present that day wrote on the van. The coaches wanted to know who was responsible. I raised my hand, qualifying that I didn’t write anything obscene. Only one other athlete, Neil Mills, fessed up. Neither of us had anything to gain by being honest. It was just how we were raised.
Neil and I were to wash those dirty vans the next Saturday. We showed up on time and did according to our deed, no complaints. We weren’t the only ones to write things on the vans, but we were guilty of our part. It’s a small thing, but it illustrates what we in Middle America do — we do the honest thing even if it means being thrown under the bus. Or the van. Or just cleaning up your mess, whichever the case may be.
On a strange sidenote, of the four of us there that day (two coaches and two athletes), only two of us are still alive today. Neil died in 2003 and one of my coaches, Kevin Foster, died in 2004, both in automobile accidents. It kind of puts the whole thing in perspective. Life is too short to be dishonest or to live anything but the best version of your life because you never know when it’s going to be over. And who knows what kind of stories folks will tell about you.
If you’re just fixing what you made wrong, then there’s not much gain in that. But, making a habit of doing the right thing is great gain. And that’s what we strive to do in Middle America.