Early in January, though, a storm came through that closed most of the state. Two major interstates were closed for two days, while I was holed up in the rambling parsonage, with two TV stations, a handfull of videos, a pizza and a few other staples. Outside they were advising, no, commanding no travel, and the big news was of a woman who started home from her nursing home job early in the morning and got disoriented in the storm. She tried to relay her location to rescuers via her cell phone, but she had no idea where she was. Meanwhile, rescuers could not even go out in the white-out to try to find her.
That was the biggest, but not the only, storm of the season. Confirmation classes had to be cancelled more than once due to blowing and drifting snow, and at least once I got a call on Sunday morning that I should not try to come to the country church, because the road had drifted shut.
And then the winter of '97 gave way to the spring of '97. This was the spring that the Red River rose high above its banks, the year that Fargo was threatened, the year that Grand Forks, and even more, East Grand Forks were under water. In my own community, though far from the Red River, church was cancelled one Sunday for both blizzard and flood warnings. It seemed apocalyptic.
All spring a couple I did not know worshipped in my town church. I introduced myself the first Sunday: visitors were rare here. They said, "We're refugees from Grand Forks." They didn't know if they had a church, or a home any more. They were told to leave, and were staying with relatives in a nearby town, waiting for word.
The roads that spring were full of ruts, full of holes, full of cracks. Many of the roads, as well, were covered with water. Some water was so high that the roads were closed. On other roads the water was deep enough to look ominous, but you could drive through if you were careful. I was always looking for another route. But no matter what, I couldn't always avoid the water. And no matter what anyone tells you, water is not always your friend.
One Monday morning I traveled up to Nearby Big Town, where I often went for breakfast. I bought a newspaper and sat down with my coffee. There were many articles and editorials about the Red River, the dangers and the tragedies. One article was by a man who returned to his hometown of East Grand Forks, to cover the flooding.
I had never been to East Grand Forks. I didn't know anyone from East Grand Forks. I was far removed from all that was going on. But I will always remember the article by the man who returned to his home and found it was covered with water. The last line read: My town is gone.
And I didn't know why, but I was crying.