Letter: Memories from the last day of the 2009 flood fight

Jay Nelson
Jay Nelson

This week's declaration of a flood emergency by Fargo's mayor, and the comparison of this year's flood conditions to those of 2009, brought back a flood of memories and emotion. And a sense of pride that together we can accomplish anything. This is what I wrote on the last day of the flood fight in 2009:

The Stripe

One of the most emotional weeks of my life was the week we fought the Flood of 2009. Working with home owners to save their homes and memories is serious business. We’d worked three straight days sandbagging, building dikes to keep back a river that intended to inundate our city. Three straight days of hiking 1 mile into a neighborhood closed off and secured by the National Guard, to sling sandbags for 10 hours. Hot coffee, Sloppy Joes and as much Aleve as I could handle kept me going. We built the dikes and were done. Now we waited for the river height to peak and start receding. A moment to relax but to stay alert.

And then, the morning of the fourth day. Bad news. The National Weather Service increased the river height projection, and for good measure, issued a blizzard warning. The call went out…we had to increase the dike height by 1’ in one day, requiring an additional 1,000,000 sandbags to be laid. In. One. Day. So, we hiked into the neighborhoods, again, physically worn out, then manned a spot in line, and in the middle of a mild blizzard handed sandbags down the line. It was always easy to tell who had been sandbagging, as the bag came from the person next to you at chest height, and over time the damp sandbags left a dirty horizontal streak on your chest. Whatever you were wearing was ruined.

At the end of the fourth day, about 10:00, achy and tired, I headed to Duffy’s for a Jameson or three to ease my pain. Too tired to change clothes, I wore my ruined sweatshirt with the horizontal sand streak on the front into the watering hole. I was a bit embarrassed about my attire and lack of cleanliness. I slipped into my usual chair and ordered my drink.

Only then did I look around the horseshoe shaped bar. As I looked toward the other patrons I noticed a common trait. Everyone had a horizontal sand stripe on his or her outerwear. Every single person. I’m not a joiner, I’m more of a lone wolf…but that day I was proud to be a part of a group.

It was at that moment that I thought about how lucky I was to live in Fargo; a town that pulls together, a town that works together for the greater good. We saved Fargo that day and had the stripe to prove it.

Every Spring I clean out my closet. In the back of the closet is a sweatshirt with a sand streak on the chest. I should throw it out. But I don’t, just in case.