Dear Halloween Blizzard 1991,
It’s the winter of 2021, I’m still 30 years away from you, but the decades between us can’t dilute your incredible power. I was 10 when you came. I’m almost 41 now, older than my mother was in 1991.
I mention you every year when the first snowstorm hits Minnesota. I say to my three children that you are one of the most incredible natural experiences of my life.
Here’s what I told them:
“It was Halloween night. My sister and I were out trick-or-treating. Our father stayed in the car and slowly followed us through the evening and into the night. We were new to America at the time, having only been in America for four years. We are refugees, we are poor. We have no money for fancy superhero costumes or traditional goblins and ghouls of our peers. We wear ordinary clothes. On our faces we wear cheap plastic masks. My sister may be a clown. I’m a brown bear with a red bow on the side. My breath fogs up my bear mask as we run from house to house. Between the raging eyes, I I looked at the streetlights to show the way. In their orange glow, I saw white snowflakes flying.
“The ticking of my heart became a clock I knew we were racing against as the flakes collected and made the pavement slippery under our sneaker-clad feet. Still, in the spirit of Halloween, I and I My sister still ran from neighbor to neighbor. With the plastic bags in our hands heavier and heavier, the wind was blowing, and a biting chill swept through us, leaving us shivering. We fought the cold for as long as possible. The struggle. When our hands were numb, we ran to our father and the warm car.
“That night, before climbing into the bed and quilt, I stood by the window and looked out. All I saw was a thick layer of snow on the ground. The pumpkins on the porches of neighbors and friends were buried under the white. I prayed for more lots of snow.
“I want snow to go down to all the filthy places in our city. I want snow to wipe everything I know so I can reimagine everything. I want schools to be cancelled. Workplaces closed so mom and dad You don’t have to get up early. I want everything to stop – just for a while.
“I fell asleep dreaming of a world covered in white softness, a world without sound, where a family could play in the beauty of the newly falling snow.
“The next morning, I got what I wanted. I woke up. I looked outside. I screamed with excitement. The snow was halfway up our window. I woke my sister up. We ran in Kitchen. Mom and Dad at the front door and then at the back door trying to open them. They couldn’t. We were locked in the snow. The snow was almost as high as me!
“My dad said, ‘If you can get ready soon, if mom and I can open one of the doors, you can go out with me.’
“I put on a few layers of pants. I put on a few shirts. I grabbed my jacket. I zipped it up. I grabbed my gloves and I was ready. I was like a footballer waiting to play. My feet can’t stand still.
“My parents couldn’t open the front door, but Dad had an idea for the back door. He opened the kitchen window. He pushed the screen. He climbed up and over the windowsill. From outside the house, he dug the door open with an old shovel.
“Dad asked me to follow him. He took steps in the snow—big, big steps—raised his legs as high as he could over the drifting snow. We couldn’t see steps or ledges, bushes or cars. Everything was covered. The wind was blowing and the snowdrifts were higher than me. Sometimes, I sank in the snow all the way to my chest.
“The only sound I made was the sound of exclamation: open lips, laughter and awe overflowing across the quiet expanse of everything. Our entire block was empty. The trees sagged under the weight of the snow. In the street on the sidewalk, on the neighbor’s lawn, it doesn’t matter where we go.
“The world has changed around us. On Halloween night, I went to bed thinking I was going to wake up in the liquid range of a snowball. I couldn’t imagine what was in front of my eyes: the snow was blowing, climbing on the roof. There’s more snow on the ground than I’ve ever seen in my life, it’s just amazing.”
Every time I tell this story, my kids open their mouths in awe. Their eyes got bigger. Their little fisted hands under their chins hoped aloud, “I want it to be like that again, Mom.”
Through my story, they lived with me after you, Blizzard in 1991.
In the eyes of my kids, they had no idea that in 24 hours, 28 inches of snow fell on these cities. They did not know that at least three men died from heart attacks shoveling in the snow. Little did they know, on the other side of the city, some people had their fingers bitten off by the hungry snow blades on the snow plows, some people reconnected, and some people lost their fingers forever. Little did they know, the Twin Cities cost about $700,000 to clear snow from the roads so the 1,700 schools and businesses around the town could operate. They only knew what I knew at the time.
All they know is that on a dark night on Halloween, a Hmong girl made a wish and woke up in the morning, her wish came true. They only know that the reality of the wish is often beyond the wisher’s imagination and knowledge.
Blizzard in 1991, you surpassed everything I knew. You taught me that anything is possible in the hands of nature. When I am old and thinking of you, I will still feel that I am still young in this world.