by Thea Miller Ryan
I was one of those horse crazy kids. Every tree in my backyard was a barrel, a pole or the finish line on a horse race track. If I wasn’t riding my pretend horses, I was a horse, thundering through the back alley of my Rapid City home.
One day, I remember “whoaing” my horse next to a big Aspen in my backyard. There was a bug there about the size of my head. It was fuzzy, red and white striped and had huge wings with half moons on them. I wasn’t sure if I should scream or dismount my invisible appaloosa and become a scientist. That’s when the screen door opened into our backyard and this really pretty lady came out on our patio with my mom and dad.
“Look at that!” she pointed into the tree where I stood. “Do you know what that’s called?” She was so pretty, standing there in a blue skirt with her golden yellow hair. I wasn’t sure someone so pretty could know what that scary bug was.
“No,” I squeaked out, still uncertain if I was afraid.
“It’s called a cecropia. See the moons on its wings?”
I looked at my dad. He nodded. “This is our friend Joyce.”
“Hi,” I mumbled, knowing if should have shaken her hand and introduced myself. All I wanted to do was go inside and look in the encyclopedia and see if she was right. “What letter does it start with?”
“C,” she said.
Joyce Hazeltine stayed at our house in Rapid City a few times during her first campaign for Secretary of State. When we moved to Pierre a year later, my mom went to work for her in her Secretary of the Senate office. Since school was so close to the capitol, I would go sit in the senate gallery after school and watch the proceedings. One day I even drew a picture of some of the things I heard Joyce say, like “hog house,” and “smoke out,” illustrating the terms with pig-looking legislators with big cigarettes in their mouths. I showed her and the next day my drawing circulated on the floor of the senate. Joyce pointed up to me in the senate gallery each time a senator burst out in laughter.
She and her husband had a café in downtown Pierre: The Liberty Café. Her daughter was a skate guard at the roller rink. She won the Secretary of State election and didn’t mind if I hung out in the lobby of her office, doing my homework while I waited for my mom or dad to get off work. I seriously thought the Hazeltines were the coolest family on the planet.
It’s been a long time since I saw Joyce, but now I do see cecropia moths a lot with my job. Every time I do, I think back to that day when that really pretty lady told me about the big bug in my backyard. Was it the one thing that got me interested in working in this field? It might have been.
Rest in peace, Joyce. I learned so much from you – starting with the letter “c.”