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A birth, an ice storm and a flood of memories

Our firstborn was two weeks old during Blizzard Hannah and a month old during the historic Flood of 1997.

A baby wearing blue and white looks up at the camera taking a picture of him.
Brendan Gregoire, pictured here at about 6-months-old, was born March 18, 1997, two weeks before an April ice storm cut power to his home for eight days and a month before the flood of 1997 when 14 guests stayed at his home near Larimore, North Dakota, after being evacuated from Grand Forks, North Dakota.
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March and April 1997 are etched in my memory for good — and bad — reasons.

The good, an event that our family has celebrated on March 18 every year since, was the birth of our firstborn, Brendan.

The second event is one that I definitely remember, but don’t celebrate.

Two weeks after my husband, Brian, and I brought Brendan home from the hospital and were questioning whether we ever again were going to get a moment’s rest during the day and a full night’s sleep at night, the weather added another twist to our already turned-upside-down schedule.

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A large drift is seen March 4, 1997, following a snowstorm. The winter of 1996-97 featured numerous blizzards, including one in April, which preceded an historic flood that spring. Nick Carlson / The Forum

A ferocious ice storm/snow storm/blizzard, which the Grand Forks Herald dubbed “Hannah,” hit eastern North Dakota, snapping hundreds of power lines, including the ones that brought power to our farmstead and to my mom’s, who lived a couple of miles down the road from us. Brian and I decided the best course of action was to move our little family to my mom’s house, where he could hook up to a 1960s-era generator that was powered by a tractor PTO.

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Ann Bailey Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald

Having power at my mom’s house was essential, because the nearly 100 inches of snow that fell during the winter of 1996-1997 had melted and turned to water which had to be kept at a manageable level by running three sump pumps in her basement.

Meanwhile, the daytime temperatures in early April 1997 were at or below freezing, so we needed a warm place for our new little guy to stay.

My mom had a diesel 4440 John Deere tractor that could run all day and night, so we hooked it up to her generator, which was plugged into the power pole at her farm. Fortunately, the generator started with no problem.

Brian hooked up a similar generator to the 3010 John Deere at our house and plugged it into our power pole at our house. He ran the tractor, which was a gas model, every few hours so we could run the furnace long enough to keep our house’s pipes from freezing and the electrical pump which drew water from the well for our horses.

Besides helping me take care of Brendan, Brian spent the next seven days keeping the tractors at both farms full of fuel and making sure that the generators continued to operate efficiently. I spent most of my time taking care of Brendan and making trips to our farm to make sure the horses were fed and had enough water.

By the time the power came on eight days later, I was feeling pretty disheartened and envious of my friends in Grand Forks whose power came back on several days earlier.

That envy, however, turned to empathy two weeks later. The Red River rose to 54 feet, and, on April 19, 1997, the dikes broke in Grand Forks, unleashing the water into the city.

After the city declared a mandatory evacuation, we opened our house to extended family members, friends, friends of family members and the family members of friends — and a few pets. Fourteen people, and several cats and dogs, came to stay at our house after the dikes broke.

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Following a historic April blizzard in 1997, the city of Grand Forks flooded and was evacuated.
File photo

Our guests slept in beds, on couches, and on the floor. Brian and I, with the help of some of our visitors, cooked meals. We collectively watched news coverage of the flood and fire that destroyed and damaged buildings in downtown Grand Forks.

Some visitors stayed for a day or two, others for several days or weeks.

It was a hectic time for Brian and me, since we barely had time to get settled back in our house after the power outage. But we knew that our inconvenience was nothing compared to the devastation that had happened to people’s homes. Our farmstead, 30 miles from the floodwaters, offered our visitors a respite for at least a little while.

The experience also was a good lesson in flexibility and the importance of hospitality. I learned that it means more to people to be welcoming than it does to have our home pass the white glove test.

I also learned that babies are adaptable and will keep thriving even if the first month of their lives didn’t follow the perfect schedule their parents had envisioned for them.

The best parental lesson that Brian and I learned from our experience is that love and compassion are much more significant than inflexible plans when interacting with others and when raising a child. That’s definitely a memory to cherish and a lesson that will be lifelong

Ann Bailey lives on a farmstead near Larimore, North Dakota, that has been in her family since 1911. You can reach her at 218-779-8093 or abailey@agweek.com.

Related Topics: RURAL LIFEWINTER STORM1997 FLOOD
Opinion by Ann Bailey
Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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