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Woster: Finding calm family waters during turbulent political times

The interview posted above is from SDPB's daily public affairs show, In the Moment with Lori Walsh.

You could call it a minor miracle.

Or maybe a major miracle, now that I think of it.

The Woster family got together for our annual family reunion at Thunderstik Lodge near Chamberlain, on a weekend when major U.S. Supreme Court decisions shook up the land.

And we didn’t have any political arguments.

OK, wait, there might have been a couple. But they were very brief, only a little testy and they barely put a ripple on the otherwise calm waters of the gathering.

There was great potential for more troubled waters, with waves and white caps of emotion. There always is that potential.

Our reunion group ranges from about 35 to 50, depending on the year. This year it was about three dozen, including my four siblings and an assortment of our kids and grandkids, some great-grandkids and some cousins from the area. We range from pretty far right on the political spectrum to pretty far left.

In addition to that, ours is a, um, fairly conversational family. We talk. A lot. About a lot of things. And we hold and exchange some pretty strong opinions.

In the past, we haven’t always shared those opinions wisely. I’ve been among those showing a lack of wisdom and restraint. And in a couple of instances, discussions that turned to debates degenerated into petty wars with words that got way too personal and caused wounds that took years to heal.

Years. That matters in relationships. Especially family relationships. That’s time lost. Important time, for people who love each other.

We’ve patched things up pretty well during the last five years, and I’m really happy about that. It has meant restraint and sometimes avoiding certain subjects — Donald Trump, for example — altogether with certain members of the family.

Trump was basically off limits in conversations between some of us this past reunion which is not to say one or two or a small group of like minds might engage in discussing Trump stuff, sort of away from the main crew.

People know how I feel about Donald Trump. Any reader of this column knows. My family certainly knows. And almost all of them agree with me, to one degree or another.

But not all. So Trump talk was avoided.

I have known and loved one particular member of my extended family for more than 60 years. He’s very conservative and very opinionated. I’m not very conservative and very opinionated. We’ve been arguing politics since the Richard Nixon days. It used to be those debates were mostly fun, a sport of sorts, with words instead of racquets or balls or clubs (as in golf).

I got mad sometimes. So did he. I don’t think either of us has ever changed the other’s mind on any meaningful political points. But we enjoyed our debates. And neither of us stayed mad for long.

Those were different times. Less divisive times. Most people got their news from the same sources back then. And most people believed the news they got. If not on points of politics, there was a general agreement on the facts.

It’s different now. Way different. Meaningful dialogue between people of opposing political views is still possible. It still occurs. But it’s difficult to pull off. And it takes the right people, with a commitment to calm consideration of potentially explosive issues.

That’s not the environment you typically find at a family reunion, where everybody has history — long or not so long — with everybody else and feelings run deep.

So what’s the sense in arguing and hurting family relationships that matter and have mattered for many years?

I missed my conservative relative during those years we allowed our political differences to drive us apart. I missed talking about our mutual love for hunting and fishing and other sports, and our shared upbringing in the river country of central South Dakota.

We didn’t speak much, or see each other much during those divided years. That’s a bad way to be with people you love, especially as the years go by.

And they do go by, seemingly with accelerating speed as they multiply.

I’m 70. The family member I patched things up with is about 80. So each time we get together, it has more meaning than the last. Because any one of those meetings could be the last time we’ll see each other.

I tried to keep that in mind last weekend, as we lost ourselves joyfully in the reunion.

It’s an easy place to get lost. We’ve been taking over Thunderstik for a few days each summer since the year after our mom died in 2004. It’s mostly a hunting and fishing lodge that’s crazy busy during the extended season of preserve pheasant hunts. But it is expanding into spring and summer fishing and summer prairie-dog hunts.

We’re sort of grandfathered in for our family reunion.

They treat us well at Thunderstik. And we make the most of it — watching the kids in our family bounce wildly along on the Missouri in a big multi-passenger towable tube pulled by a boat piloted by my nephew, Scott; fly casting for smallmouth bass along the rocks below the I-90 bridge; letting the kids cavort on the beach in the North Park; strolling, or speed walking, the gravel road leading through verdant pastures on the route to Thunderstik; sitting on the big deck after supper in the evening, watching the sun go down over the Missouri to the west; and standing on that same deck, surrounded by the night, as a lightning storm puts on a fantastic show.

That was the family reunion we all wanted, and the one we got.

Politics came up, of course. And the Supreme Court’s decisions on Roe vs. Wade and gun rights were powder kegs full of explosive potential.

We managed to not light the fuse.

Oh, some of us discussed them, expressing our concerns and exploring our disagreements carefully and in limited conversations, and mostly with love.

Which is the way we concluded our annual gathering — with love rather than rancor, togetherness rather than division.

That’s the way a family reunion should always end.

Click here to access the archive of Woster's past work for SDPB.