Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A True Story, and A Parable

The winter of '97 (1997, that is) was the stuff of legends, even before January. Winter came early, and even before the Great January Storm, there had been plenty of snow and a couple of mildly exciting storms to talk about.

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.


Hot Cup Lutheran said...

hard to wrap our minds around this stuff... yet living in "tornado alley" i've seen more devastation than i care to remember... somehow in those big things we suddenly realize all the little things we take for granted each and every day...

Diane said...

thanks hot cup.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to comprehend, until it happens to you.

FranIAm said...

This post is quite moving. It says - to me anyway - well, it shows rather, the interconnectedness of all life.

It is a web and a delicate web at that. On this Earth Day, I could even go on a bit about how we have impacted that web to cause the snow, the floods.

The land, the people, the church, the water, the life.

You write with reverence and awe Diane. Thank you.

Grandmère Mimi said...

I understand why you cried, Diane.

Presbyterian Gal said...

So much can be gone in just moments. You don't realize how fragile things, including towns are, till they're gone. And I don't think it's so much the loss of the stuff. I think it's the loss of the gift of daily ordinairy-ness that is so tragic. Like HCL said, the little things we take for granted.

Jiff said...

Life is so fragile. I get that.
Thanks for such beautiful writing.

Diane said...

Mimi, I think you DO understand.

steve said...

I was in my final year of graduate school in Grand Forks in 1997. I recall the power being shut down by an ice storm a few days before the flood hit. I remember going out to "tri-bay hanger" after the flood hit, trying to help out mental health services by making sure that some people with dementia didn't wander away or get too confused. I remember calling my parents on the phone lines provided for us to let them know we were OK.

Your post brought back memories. Thank you, Diane.

GreenishLady said...

You cried because it is such a sad thing to think of someone finding their home is gone - but that a town is gone is just so much more - the community that surrounded that home displaced maybe forever. That is so sad, anyone could cry to contamplate that.

Ivy said...

Diane, I think it's called having a tender heart. Thank you for posting this. I read a post yesterday that dovetails nicely with this. It's at