I’m in Grand Forks for happy times. A garden party at All Seasons on Sunday, May 1, to talk about how the planting of reading seeds helps the kids of Ethiopia grow hope and vision and dreams. A gathering of 400 Rotarians, where I get a chance to say, “Hey–thanks for a hand with the hoe!” At least twelve of the Ethiopia Reads libraries exist because of Rotary International.
Here’s an exciting thing…the 4th-5th grade kids I met today knew that monarch caterpillars can only eat milkweed, and the teachers told me they had monarch butterfly encounters way back in kindergarten. Wowee.
So why do I walk and drive around this town and feel so sad?
Well, it’s a hard time of year in Grand Forks. The Red River flood that wiped out one great Lincoln Park neighborhood happened back in 1997. I spoke to kids today who weren’t even born until 2001. But, as I wrote in RIVER FRIENDLY RIVER WILD, memories live in places. Something happens inside my cells every time I come back to this place where my children went to school and where I got my master’s degree in English and taught university writing classes–and became a children’s book author–but also where I learned the lessons of loss.
As we looked around the greenhouses today, the air was spiced with the greenness of growing things, and I felt the thrilldom of thinking about what it will be like to show pictures and speak in such a joyous place about newness and opportunity and unusual openings and hope. But the person who owns those greenhouses grew up in Walhalla, the little town where we fled when the knock came at 4 a.m. on the door of the house where we had taken refuge (a house I was also inside today). I am most connected to All Seasons by a sensation of sadness.
When I wrote my book about going through flood, I changed little bits here and there. The Christmas things that plopped out of a soggy box weren’t exactly like the Christmas things in River Friendly River Wild. Our cat had a somewhat different story than the one I spun for the cat in the book. But my feelings about losing the Lincoln Park neighborhood are captured precisely through the words I wrote.
We struggle to find the words to wrap around our sensations and our experiences…and we read and listen to each other’s words and feel the feelings that another person has felt. Stories give us powerful ways to hang on and let go and move on and believe in better times ahead.