“Feb 4, 1984, blizzard in southern MN with severe wind to 80 mph caused a wall of white, even though snowfall totals were only a few inches. Severe windchills. Many stranded in vehicles or fish houses, sixteen died.”
“Famous Winter Storms,” The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Lawrence A. Harguth
“The body of Lawrence A. Harguth, 71, of Clara City, Minn., was found early yesterday about 200 yards from his home, a spokesman for the Chippewa County sheriff’s office said. Harguth apparently tried to walk home after his car got stuck on a county road about three miles west of his home. He died of exposure, the spokesman said.”
Minneapolis Tribune, February 6th, 1984.
The Newspaper Got It Wrong
The newspaper got it wrong. Lawrence’s car, not his body, was found about 200 yards from home. His body was found three miles away. The newspaper reported on twenty-one deaths. Were other mistakes made? It seems you never suspect a newspaper of getting it wrong until it comes to you.
can fly wildly, looking for facts that aren’t there … Lawrence put his cigar between his teeth, stood up from the kitchen table, and looked around for something to do. Nothing to do. The red plastic clock above the kitchen sink read 2:35. Normally Helen would have been there cleaning his house. She cleaned his house on the first Saturday of every month. He wanted go into town, but he’d waited too long. They’d surely started without him? Ah, but should he drive into town anyway? He watched the second hand move from the six to the twelve. It moved very slowly. He stood up and gazed out the kitchen window. Nothing but blue, not a cloud in the sky, and warm, -18o, with a beautiful layer of freshly fallen snow sparkling on the ground. Ah, he put on his coat and Pioneer feed cap. He didn’t lock the door.
What He Left Behind
A pile of dirty clothes, a pile of unopened a junk mail, a pile of newspapers, a pile of chicken bones on the living room floor next the easy chair that sat half-way pulled up to the TV, a pile of dirty dishes on both sides of the sink, a pile of junk mail on the table, a bank account and buildings.
He jingled loose change in his pocket which reminded him of his dad, and he felt happy because he was walking, on his way to the car – a happy tune even popped into his head. He sang outloud:
Kiss me once
Then kiss me twice
Then kiss me once again
It’s been a long
What a lovely damned song was buried deep inside Lawrence’s heart, still beating and alive. His shoes crunched in the dry powdery snow. He angrily kicked snow away from the door of the red barn, opened it, and stepped inside the darkness.
He hadn’t had cattle in years, so the delicious smell of alfalfa and manure was muted. He found the car door easily without needing a light. He sat down, exhausted, turned the key, and backed out.
The opening was narrow, just an inch of either side, because the barn had been built for horse wagons. He splashed out into the sunshine. He squinted, pulled the visor down, slid the heat lever to the right, got out of the car to close the barn door, and got back in.
He took a deep breath, and thought if only he’d straightened things out with Bernadette – fifty years before. “I forgive you” would have gone a long way. But he hadn’t been able to utter it. He’d turned away and never looked back. A hard life had followed; an endless trail of bleeding hindsight.
He touched the passenger-side seat with his right hand. The vinyl felt new because it had been rarely sat on. He held the palm down on the seat. Ah, but Lawrence didn’t like feeling sad, he had a moderate character by nature, so he drove out the long driveway not feeling sad.
He thought he might eat a ham and cheese, or an egg salad sandwich once he got into town. And a dessert too, of course – to allay the grief that would come after his card-playing friends went back to their families and wives. Maybe a Bismarck, or a Jelly Roll, or a Bismarck and a Jelly Roll; or all of the above and a Long John. Lawrence had an enormously round belly.
He drove to the end of his driveway and turned right, though he could have turned left – it was the virtually same distance into town either way – but he chose to turn right. It wouldn’t have mattered.
The Strangest Thing He’d Never Seen Coming
After Lawrence turned the corner and just beginning to speed up a blast of wind came up from behind him carrying a trainload of snow on it. He was knocked into the ditch. His head banged against the steering wheel, but not too hard, not hard enough to knock him out. He spun his wheels to make sure he was stuck. He was. He spun them around some more to make sure. He was stuck.
It was the strangest thing he had never seen coming – though he had lived his whole life out there on the flat prairie, and had seen every kind of weather there was. Regardless, Lawrence knew what to do. He would forgo cards, coffee, cigars, and chewing the fat – and walk back home.
The indentation in his cold vinyl recliner and the stink of unflushed urine in the toilet bowl made him wince, but he couldn’t wait in the car. He couldn’t even think of it. He had to go. He leapt out, or rather he pulled himself up with his arms and stood.
The snow blew flat and level, and stung his eyes so hard he had to turn away. He looked down at his feet; couldn’t see them. His hat flew off his head and tumbled out of sight before he could grab it. He put on his light gloves and walked down the gravel road fifty feet while holding his hands out in front. His hands felt cold, so he put one in his jacket pocket. He stumbled and fell. He stood up, brushed himself off. He exchanged one hand for the other. He felt for the driveway with his feet. How had he passed it? Or hadn’t he gone far enough? He felt cold already. He had to head back to his car. He turned and the wind blew him. He felt for the car, with both his hands and his feet, and with his ears and heart. He gritted his teeth and shouted, but the car didn’t come like a dog or a horse. He turned back into the wind. Was he dreaming? He opened his mouth and let hard pellets stung the back of his throat. He had to turn away. He wanted nothing more now than to sit in his car and wait it out, though he hadn’t prepared for an emergency by, for instance, storing sealed packages of crackers and peanut butter and an old moth-eaten blanket in the trunk.
He took his car keys out of his pocket and held them, as if that would help.
He turned back toward the driveway again. “It’s got to simple,” he thought.
But the wind was like a rope tied around his waist, pulling him backward. He struggled, counting steps. Eighty, ninety, one hundred. He swept the left side of the road with his left leg. He turned and swept the other side of the road with his left leg. He put his head between his legs so he could breathe and think.
The wind, he estimated, was blowing between fifty and sixty miles an hour.
Then, like a miracle, he was standing on his driveway.
He had despaired deep in his heart, and then he had been saved. Like a boy he ran up to his house. No limp! He saw baby red potatoes boiling in their jackets in a pot of water with steam rising out of the little hole in the cover! He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a twist of red licorice, which he kept hidden from himself for moments – nothing like this – and he ripped an inch off the end and began to chew vigorously! He saw TV light flickering off his warm living room walls! He felt so happy he let the wind blow into his right ear without cupping his hand over it! He didn’t think, he ran! When his right foot plunged into the snow off the side of the driveway he got right back up without bothering to dust himself off. “Damn long driveway!” he laughed.
But the house didn’t come, and didn’t come, and didn’t come. And he began to wonder if he was on the road, not the driveway.
Lawrence fell down, got up, struggled through a deep snow drift, felt corn stalks poking his ankles. Shit. (He never swore that I ever heard.) He was in a god damned corn field. His house was surrounded by god damned corn fields. Which one was he in? If there was a show on TV about a farmer who got lost on his own land Lawrence would have changed the channel in disgust!
Yet He Knew What To Do
He picked out two corn rows and walked between them, not veering off. He would come to a headland, on the far end of the field or back on the road, in time. If he hurried … he might come to the road and have to choose which way to go, but at least he’d be back on the road.
He walked. The snow got deep and he lost the corn rows. The snow was shallow and he found them. He trudged. He felt no fear, no time for fear, nothing like fear, though his fingers were numbing, and his arms and legs were stiffening, and his chest was tightening.
His legs kept working, doing what they could for them. The trunk of his body, too, though unprotected – his vital organs were beginning to freeze up – still stoked the fire. In fact, Lawrence had never felt more alive. “If I should survive …” surged in his heart. “I want to live!”
But the words he shouted were silent and reverberated in his throat, while snow came up to his waist, and he lifted one leg up and put the other leg down, up, down, slow going, but he had to, had to go on, because.
A Voice in the Blizzard
“Lawrence, are you there?”
“Helen? Is that you?”
Could his sister really have driven into the driveway – all the way from California where she was on vacation – at the exact same moment he had driven out?
“Lawrence, over here. I have something for you.”
It was his mother! She stood not ten feet from him. “Mom, is that really you?”
But his mother was dead. She had died eight years ago. She held a present in her hands. His foot plunged into the snow off the side and he fell.
It’s Time to Be Home
“It’s time to be home !” he reprimanded himself as he got to his feet. He limped on, snow stung the right side of his face. He held his breath. Had the wind changed direction, or had he changed direction? He breathed and tried to think. He heard his heart beat as if it were thinking too. He squinted, he turned, but couldn’t take a step further without knowing … something to go on. He turned … couldn’t … and turned again. Just couldn’t risk a reckless decision.
Then he walked. Had to. In a direction his legs had apparently chosen. “Old legs,” he said. He knew they would give out soon. Anyway, he felt them pumping underneath him while the wind buffeted him from side to side like a loose sheet of tin, or a shingle hanging onto a barn roof for its dear life.
He thought back involuntarily to the spring of 1938, when he his dad were out planting corn, each of them riding on a corn planter hitched behind two horses, when a dust storm blew up, and his father had signaled for Lawrence to follow him home. The dust came in waves so thick sometimes the back of Lawrence’s dad disappeared, then another dust wave came up so thick, and didn’t let up, that Lawrence lost his dad. Oh God. He had to trust the horses or he was a goner. He came to the grove where the wind was quiet, and his dad wasn’t there, so Lawrence whipped his head around, and his father wasn’t behind, then two horse faces emerged from the dust, then his dad’s face, all covered in dust, except for his white teeth which were smiling.
Lawrence whisked the memory aside. This was no time for memories! He didn’t have two horses ahead of him, leading him, and his dad was dead. He had died fourteen years ago. He kicked the memory in the stomach. He hoped the vision would get up and defend itself, and tell him what to do … but it didn’t get up. He kicked the memory again! He kicked it harder! It didn’t get up.