Meagher's Christmas Letter
Dear Friends and Loved Ones,
What a struggle 1997 has been, but joyful also. As mostof you know, and are probably tired of hearing, we suffered the hardestwinter in our married lives last year. Snow storm after storm, blizzards,chilly weather and ice storms greeted Pembina's bicentennial year.
On New Year's Eve our small town welcomed our 200th yearwith a dance, complete with fireworks. It was typical old fashioned familyparty where all who attended enjoyed.
Then came our North Dakota winter. So much snow and frigidtemps. We were without water and electricity for about four days one weekend.My household was warm because we burn wood. But we had a full house. Twoother couples, one with a baby and the other with two little girls, andan elderly lady stayed with us. Shanna was home from college and Ali washere. Allan was stormed stayed at work and Mike was in Grand Forks at ayouth rally through the church. It was quite an ordeal. Although we enjoyedtoasty warmth, there was only cold food to eat. Rarely, my brother-in-lawwalked over with hot coffee made on his propane stove. One of the neighborswho stayed with us hauled in our wood to dry. We had let our pile go downas this was so late in the spring. We were all fortunate though, and madeit through well bonded in friendship.
Not long after, the terrible news reports continued aboutour flood situation to come. During the blizzard, we had heard (on a smallbattery operated radio) of Breckenridge's dire fate and felt so much empathyfor them. There they were, evacuating in an ice storm-turned blizzard. Tryingto find food and shelter from two crisis situations. Then we mourned withGrand Forks as our friends and family there lost their homes, whether temporarilyor permanently. That put the urgency into our preparations plans.
Shanna came home from college over the weekend of April20th. I had already spent weeks taking items out of the basement. Butas we watched news from the south, she and I frantically hauled dozens anddozens of photo albums up to the top story, along with 100s of video tapes,collector plates.. etc.. took photos off the walls, moved anything, wephysically were able. Up the steep and narrow stairs to a sort of haven. We raised antiques and some furniture on books we thought were expendable.We literally used every ounce of strength we had to protect things we thoughtweren't replaceable. We also sent our van to Lancaster packed with a fewitems, just in case. Then on Sunday eve, while she could still cross intoMinnesota, Shanna went back to school at Thief River.
Monday morning bright and early, the rest of us foundour way out to my sister's mother & father in-law's home. (They arelike our family too. ) The school kids from Pembina were bussed out to sandbag.Several others arrived also. Many faces I've seen, but from where I don'tknow, others I was meeting for the first time. They were there with thatgreat Dakota spirit to "help" out. The atmosphere was cheerful,we were working together to save a home. But about noon we received wordthat 8 miles away, at their son's home, (my sister Janine), the water fromthe Pembina River was moving in behind and the threat seemed more immediate.We planned to go there, bag, and return to finish here, which never happened,due to arising circumstances. We moved the whole crew and worked hard toget the base layers done at Jim and Janine's. Meanwhile, Jim and helperswere moving cows to higher ground. (they eventually ended up on the highway) Because their rural water had been turned off, I was hauling water fromthe sump pump drain pipes to the tanks of both toilets so our young ladiescould utilize the facilities. (the young men were told to find natural facilitatesbehind some building.)
About 3pm a sheriff's deputy arrived with the news wehad to be in to Pembina at 3:30 for a town meeting. This after about anhour earlier hearing our crest prediction had been raised to 59 feet, 5feet above an earlier prediction. That was a crushing blow to our sanity,but mindlessly we kept working.(It felt good to be doing something positivein the sight of all this chaos and we may need her home as a temporary havenif ours was deluged in flood water.) We sent the kids back to school, becausethe highway would soon be under water from overland flooding, and we unloadedtwo trailers of the heaviest bags I've ever set eyes on. If you could seethis house of my sister's / its huge / the distance around is unrealistically tremendous for a short handed bagging crew.
Anyway, we arrived in town just after the meeting let outto see teary eyed faces, panicked neighbors rushing away. We asked someonewhat the word is. They told us, "We've had it, get out.." (andthat was mild compared to the actual words we heard) Allan's company hadthat same afternoon told its employees that anyone able to evacuate to Minnesotaso they could get to work, would have covered motel rooms. (the companywas in the middle of major hands on work.. and needed every hand.) Thatleft us with six hours. We had to drive up into Canada and east back intoMinnesota before the US Customs entry port there closed. (about 50 minutetrip) In realizing at that point that Pembina would be lost, we needed notonly to pack clothes for evacuation, but move as much more to safety aswe had time for. Through physical and mental exhaustion., we forced as muchpossible to our upstairs half story rooms, finally placing the oak hallbench at the top of the stairs helter skelter over the railing. It was nearlyimpossible to pry it loose from there later. The upstairs had not an inchuncovered with beloved memory type keepsakes and antiques. We'd even unloadedour safe into a laundry basket. The humorous memory I have of those fewhours was, the four of us standing in a sandbag-like line passing my chinacup and saucers, one to another to safety, high on built in book shelves.(Under normal circumstances I would never allow my 15 year old gangly sonto touch them. He can't eat a meal without dropping something.) We leftour home in the biggest disarray its ever been in. The basement was on themain floor, the main floor upstairs, the closets stripped etc.. We tearfullysaid goodbye to Allan's Mom and sisters, stopping to find out where they'dbe and headed out of our beloved hometown, knowing when we returned it wouldbe a ghost town of sorts. We realized life as we had known it would be over,the school would be gone, the bus plant closed, many of our neighbors andfriends would be locating elsewhere. We grudgingly accepted the fate ofour 200 year old village. We prayed a miracle would happen, but had in allhonesty said goodbye to our home as we loved it.
We found ourselves in Greenbush, Minnesota at a fly bynight type of motel for six days. While there our time was spent praying,reading newspapers, watching newscasts, washing clothes and praying, praying, praying. One of the articles I read stated the view of one of Pembina'scitizens, that God is still in charge. That reminded us to hope and TRUSTGod to answer our pleas.
The first day we were there, my sister called from myhouse, to say they had a little room in a semi that had come to clean outAllan's sisters' houses. So I asked if they could take my new bedroom set.I asked her at that time to take the laundry basket (articles from my safe)with all the precious keepsake jewelry, marriage licensees, anything thatabsolutely couldn't be lost was in that basket, to her home. She misunderstoodme and sent it on the semi to who knew where. I woke up one night abouta week later realizing I had no idea where it was or if I'd ever see itagain. God Bless the good people of Dakota, I got everything back. Theonly damage I had was a scratch in my bed. A deep one, but so minor in thewhole story.
After Greenbush we went to Thief River for the remainderof the three weeks. The final week was at a motel with a nice pool. Thehardest thing was trying to find small ways to entertain a cooped up 15year old boy with pent up energy. I finally bought him a cheap basketballand he spent some time shooting hoops at a nearby playground. After abouta week and a half the Kennedy Bridge at Grand Forks was opened, and I tookAli over to meet a friend. They went on the Minot, to compete in the StateMusic contest, where they starred in everything. My outing was to washclothes and visit with a wonderful lady who owned the laundromat. She wasso welcoming and kind to all the flood refugees. My muscles were still reelingfrom the sandbagging days of the earlier . Even though I was now livingthe vagabonding lifestyle, I felt luckier than 90% of Red River Valleyresidents, as we had been able to save so many memory type of things becausewe had done some preparations. Allan spent the entire three weeks workingovertime and driving back and forth 90 miles and would fall asleep in exhaustionwhen he returned. He was so torn between the need to be in Pembina helpingsave the city and the responsibility of his job. Our forced abandonmentof our home was the harsh reality.
On April 26th, what turned out to be the crest day forPembina, Allan and I were lucky enough to take a helicopter ride over thePembina area. We waited around the Hallock airport most of the day untilAllan's company OK'd us using the helicopter they'd rented in case they'dhave to fly their employees in to the plant. (Had the river gone to thepredicted crest, the plant would have had 18" of water, so they'd beendoing their own diking and sandbagging.) Anyway, Al took the video cameraand I took 2 photo makers. Neither of us actually viewed much, we were sobusy shooting memories, We were emotionally sickened when we returned toour refuge and watched the video and saw Pembina as an island in the midstof a 25 mile wide ocean of water. It was painful to witness the devastationof South Pembina. We saw deer taking refuge on slim pieces of high ground,or maybe roads, what were they eating? Small towns never threatened beforewere in danger from flood waters. Rural homes and farm lands being destroyed.Many of the people never spoken about in the media lost homes and had theirland made into a kind of badlands like field from water erosion. (Our videoand picture album-scrapbook verify the Flood of 97 is the 500 year floodin our area). Later that evening we went up again in an airplane, but itwas raining and turbulent. The Red River crested at Pembina at nearly 55feet, a record, but 4 feet lower than that ghastly prediction of 59. Therewas little consideration of water spreading overland, we believe. That over-predictionnearly cost Pembina its livelihood because we were evacuated by panickedleaders. Thank goodness for our mayor and sorted citizens who stubbornlyinsisted an fighting.
We found out later that one ND representative was responsiblefor giving the order to save Pembina and allow people to come back in andwork. The Nat. Guard relayed the workers back and forth over Interstate-29which was under water for miles. Our mayor never gave up, and several citizensstayed in the upper floor of the school and worked long hours. Allan's brotherSteve, even came back to help in the fight from Montana. We will neverrealize the names of many of those unknown faces we are so grateful to.Unfortunately, the section of town that is known as South Pembina, normallyprotected by a secondary dike was lost early in the battle. 14 trailersand 4 houses, a historical church and log cabin were inundated with theforceful waters. This section lies between the Pembina and Red Rivers andis the point of confluence.
After minutes, hours, days and weeks of worry and prayerwe were rewarded with the news that we could return home to DRY houses.What a joyous celebration.. until we stepped foot into the house. I laughedand I cried all at the same time. I took pictures too. My new carpet wascovered in mud. There were paper towels, bottles of water, books and toolseverything you can think of strewn all over the house. It was like a tornadohad blown through one door and round and round the house. All my littlekeepsakes had to be put to rest in their natural homes, while all the photoalbums and videos needed to be returned to chronological order. Carpet cleaned.Clothes and bedding washed. Stools and goods removed from sofas and bookshelves.TVs, chairs, vacuum cleaners, shop n vacs removed from dining room tables..Books returned to some semblance of regularity on their shelves.. ETC..All before we were to receive very welcome company from Washington State.But guess what? I praise God for that mess I was able to return to, becauseit was nothing compared to what I had envisioned had the water inundatedmy beloved homefront. We were blessed with a miracle from God and Pembinawas saved. As soon as I returned I put up the two flags I had sewn whichstate "HAPPY BIRTHDAY PEMBINA 1797-1997"
We can only hope and pray the predictions for this winter'ssnowfall are false, because we all have a cherished hope in our hearts thatthe Flood of 97 really WAS the big one. Anyway after all those boring memoriesI'm sure you've already put this book down.
A lot of time was spent catching up and preparing for theJuly 4th festivities which included an all school reunion, dance and fireworks.Although we froze during a bout of N.Dakota chill and suffered 40 degreeclimate during the dance, it was a wonderful time to share with friendsand family in thanksgiving that we still have a town to celebrate 200 yearsover.
August found Pembina continuing the 200th birthday celebrationwith the Pembina Red River Rodeo weekend. The third weekend of the monthwas super hot for the festivities, but very successful. The town and tonsof guests also enjoyed the third street dance of the year. My brother-in-lawJim was the man with the idea to establish the rodeo in 1996, and now thatPembina has tried this event on for size and it fits, I think we will welcomeit yearly.
November reminded us we live in North Dakota with severalblustery days, near frigid temps and snowfalls. Our area has reviewed lastwinter's fury with us hurling storms at us already. We are reminded thatspring is forthcoming and fear that another impending flood will occur.I was asked last summer many times,' Why do you people live in North Dakota?'My reply was, "Because we always have something to look forward to!" I think, as of late, the residents of the Red River Valley, are gettingweary of looking ahead.
I have spent most of my free time throughout the yearworking on videos and photo albums, I put together one each, to have forhistorical value, my version of the Flood of 97 in our local area. (Wehave given away over 50 of those videos)
Mike, who will be 16 in January, spent the summer workingat the golf course. The Flood destroyed the greens out there, so therehas been a lot of work needed to reclaim the course. He rarely had a chanceto actually golf though and missed one of his favorite sports.
With a very full year finally drawing to a close, we arethankful for all of you and your continued prayers through this long year.We rejoice we still have a home and invite you to come visit us in it.
Shanna, Alissa & Michael
Shanna, Alissa & Michael