Yesterday I wrote about my father’s realization that there might be a business opportunity doing road work construction in western SD.
Know-how he had. Cash and credit were needed. He went to a banker from Belvidere by the name of L.A. Pierre. Some folks questioned Mr. Pierre about doing business with a Jew, but that didn’t bother L.A. He and my father did business on a handshake for 23 years. L.A. supplied the finances, dad provided the know-how. They trusted each other and, as nearly as I know, never had a disagreement.
When the time came that L.A.’s family was no longer going to be in the business, one or the other of them suggested a price at which dad would buy out L.A. I never knew which one suggested the price but do know that it seemed fair all around, and the deal was done.
The one who provided the know-how was the one who kept the business, to the satisfaction of both.
Kadoka is a place where if you get broken down even in the coldest weather, there will be a place for you to sleep and someone to help you. Someone will give you a meal if you need one. There are many towns like that in South Dakota, and many—I’d like to say most—of the people in our largest cities are the same way. That is the one most precious thing, among many special things, that makes this state such a wonderful place. If we ever lose that spirit we will have lost our birthright as Dakotans.
At an exhibit in Rapid City honoring Pope John Paul II some years ago, a couple from Kadoka asked me if I knew how my very religious grandmother was able to run a business and keep Sabbath. They told me that she would not do any work from sundown on Friday night until sundown on Saturday—what we call Shabbat. Turns out, Christian women from the community would come to the store at sundown Friday to take care of the store, rent the rooms above the store to travelers, and run things until my grandmother returned Saturday night. I am thankful for those women who helped my grandmother
So often I wish that we were better at expressing that same spirit with each other these days, that appreciating and respecting differences could bring people together rather than drive them apart. It looks possible that this kind of better spirit will prevail during this Legislative Session.
While the State of South Dakota would be visible from a space station and the town of Kadoka would seem no larger than a fleck of dust, this state and that little town share the values that all human beings cherish, but to which most pay mere lip service.
My immigrant grandmother moved to Kadoka around 1920 and operated a general store there until the late 1930s. She was a very religious Jew. She had three daughters and a son who became my father. With one brief exception, a family named Margolies, my family was the only minority religion in a town that practiced Christianity as I have come to understand and appreciate it. They loved her, and she loved them.
When my Grandmother learned that in the town of Martin the businesses would charge Indians 10% of their $25 monthly allotment check for cashing the check and using it for merchandise, she thought it was not the right thing to do. Word got out that there was a different kind of woman running a store in Kadoka who would not charge that 10% fee. People drove 60 miles in open wagons and cold weather to grandmother’s store to save that 10%. She learned to speak Lakota – just as she did English – both with a Yiddish accent.
Grandma ate only kosher foods, and observed the Shabbat (sabbath) strictly. This meant no work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Seems hard to imagine for a small shopkeeper. You’d think that might have been impossible in that time and place, but she managed, with the help of neighbors and the help of a sister in Des Moines who sent her canned kosher meat.
I’ll continue this story in the coming days. In the meantime, what stories would you like to share about your family’s early days in SD?