“The news said we can expect up to ten inches.” I dunked a tea bag into a mug of steaming water. “But that was yesterday. Who knows now.”
Mom sipped from her cup. “I’ll check the road reports before I take off in the morning.”
Our home in north Minneapolis was Mom’s first stop on her post-holiday tour. She planned to visit my sister Coco’s family in Wisconsin the next day.
“If you’re snowed in here, that’s how it goes.” I sat down in a dining room chair, a smile creeping out to play. “Remember when we went to Moorhead for piano contests, and that blizzard hit later in the day when we were at West Acres Mall? What year was that again?”
“Boy, let’s see.” Mom bunched her lips to one side and furrowed her brow. “It was you, Olive, Flo, and me. Coco must have already graduated, because she wasn’t with us. Neither was Fred. He was home with Dad, but I don’t recall why.”
“Maybe you had already let him off the hook with piano lessons.” Then a thought sparked. “Hold on.”
I left the room and strode into the bedroom. Lowering to my hands and knees, I peeped under the bed. There it was. I slid out the dusty box—brimming with the past—and toted it back into the dining room, plunking it down on the table.
“Let’s see if I can find the year.” I lifted the lid. “And some more details.”
“Here we go.” Mom chuckled. “Your old diaries.”
The February wind sliced through our coats as we hustled into the mall. 1984 had rushed in with punishing sub-zero temperatures, and the packed snow squeaked like Styrofoam under our feet. My nervousness from the MMTA (Minnesota Music Teachers Association) district piano contests had eased off an hour earlier. In front of the judges, my memory had led my fingers through the motions, but my nerves quashed any passion I could have layered into the song. And so it came out bland but mostly accurate. Oh well. Done for another year. And now was the time for shopping. What more could a thirteen-year-old girl want?
My sisters—nine-year-old Olive and six-year-old Flo—and I milled around to my favorite stores: Lerner, Claire’s Boutique, Stevensons, Vanity, Contempo. As we walked, I tossed a furtive glance at Spencer’s Gifts; I could never go there because Mom thought the place was raunchy—especially the posters and other items in the back of the store. We passed by, and she zipped in to B. Dalton to browse through some books. Later, Flo tugged her sleeve as we neared the Orange Julius. Mom pulled out some cash, and while we slurped the creamy goodness through straws, we looked out the mall’s glass doors at the end of the corridor.
“It’s really coming down.” Mom shook her head, wide-eyed. “I should call Dad and see what he knows about the roads.”
She rummaged through her purse for change and then made a beeline for the pay phones. Olive, Flo, and I listened while she discussed the weather with Dad. Terms like black ice and whiteout peppered her end of the conversation. After some minutes, she hung up, and the pay phone gulped down her coins.
“Dad thinks it might clear up if we wait a little longer before heading home.” But Mom’s mouth was a straight line, her brow furrowed.
As we continued to roam from store to store, a voice boomed out an announcement over the mall’s loudspeakers:
“This is the West Acres Mall Management. We are closing the mall due to dangerous weather conditions. For safety reasons, everyone must remain inside. We will keep our restaurants open to serve you, and for those with diabetes or other medical conditions, Walgreens will help you with insulin or other medications. Thank you.”
We girls tittered with excitement. For a 1980s teenager like me, being locked into a shopping mall was like Brer Rabbit being thrown into a briar patch.
“I guess I won’t be driving home on glare ice after all.” Mom’s face softened. “I’ll call and tell Dad the news.”
In the evening, employees tugged their store grates shut, locking them for the night. But one store rigged up a TV and VCR and played Black Stallion for the captive masses.
Finally, it was time to sleep. We curled up on a small carpeted area on the floor in front of Foxmoor. Our stocking caps stuffed with scarves served as pillows, our coats as blankets.
The thrill of the adventure staved off the chill of the hard floor. But we awakened early the next morning anyway, along with the other confined shoppers who were rousing in storefronts near ours. The voice on the loudspeaker invited us to breakfast at a restaurant which fed us the only sustenance it had left: pancakes and water.
At last, the mall management unlocked the doors, and we were free to leave. The morning air stung our faces as we trudged through the drifted parking lot. Our car’s engine sputtered to life, and the stiff seats under us warmed. But the sight of vehicles stuck in the lot and strewn about in ditches and on roadways jarred us as we rolled out of town.
At home later that evening, we watched the news and learned that after that storm on February 4, 1984, authorities found Fargo’s 19th Avenue full of cars—most of them covered in drifts. Drifts as high as speed limit signs. And just outside West Acres Mall—where we had taken shelter—a number of people had lost their lives.
I closed my diary. The blizzard account from almost thirty-two years earlier was spare of details, but our memories had poured color back into the story, filling the gaps. Then I thought of my brother.
“We never figured out why Fred wasn’t with us.” I reached for my cell phone. “I’ll ask him.”
I keyed in a message, and he texted back:
I had the flu. But remember the Halloween blizzard of ’91? That was crazy…
And like wicked winds swirling the snow, my memories blew me back to 1991 and to that old house on 8th Street in Dinkytown I had rented with Fred while we were both students at the U of M.
I smiled and thumbed a message back: How could I forget?
*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date
*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.