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Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Rather than being "unheralded," you might call Nancy Edmonds Hanson "reforumed." The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead hired her at 17, “launching the shyest teenager in all of darkest North Dakota on nearly 50 years of writing adventures.” She covered news and features there and wrote columns for most of the next 10 years. Since then, she's written, edited, advised, marketed and taught all over the place. Her work has turned up in North Dakota Horizons and many other magazines over the years, along with bookstores, where her guide to freelance writing was a long-term best-seller (among the fraction of bookbuyers who want to write); the regional book publishing and distribution business; public television; countless anonymous advertising and public relations venues, and — for nearly 25 years — in the classrooms of Minnesota State University Moorhead's School of Communications and Journalism. She's also a bona fide Photoshop wizard, has a photographer husband and chef daughter and is crazy about cats.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — In Search Of The Phantom Workforce

The governor and the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce are spending $4,000 this month to ask 1,000 businesses what they need to grow and prosper. I wish they’d talked to me first. I know they’re awfully keen to pinch those budgetary pennies. I’d have been happy to tell them for the price of a cup of coffee:

People. North Dakota needs people. Lots of people. Without them, the booming growth curve stalls.

Like their neighbors in Minnesota, North Dakota businesses are feeling the squeeze big time … not for lack of ideas, grit or even sometimes money, but the aching shortage of humans to do actual work. North Dakota Job Service lists 14,400 spots that are wide-open. The director estimates the actual number is significantly larger, since many openings don’t ever make it to the statewide employment listings. Not only that: Economic developers expect the need to not only persist but double in just a few years.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Labor Department confirms the whole nation is hurting for help. For the first time in the history of statistics, it reports more job openings nationwide than there are unemployed workers to fill them.

What a shortsighted time to close the doors to eager immigrants!

Gov. Doug Burgum cites North Dakota’s undersized workforce as its single biggest barrier to economic growth. “We need a new way of finding solutions to this critical challenge,” he’s told the media. He touts the employer survey as a “unique approach” based on “priorities derived from detailed data and evidence-based research.”

Don’t expect any stunning revelations. The survey — take it yourself at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NDWF2018Survey —will undoubtedly turn up the kind of so-called “insights” that have been ridiculously obvious since at least the 1990s. Back then, economic development professionals were already predicting a shortage of the kind of smart, knowledgeable workers who are in short supply today … as well as a drought of workers with lower levels of skills needed to keep the wheels of our daily lives turning.

We desperately need more warm bodies here in the underpopulated heart of America. “Help wanted” pleas ring out from the Bakken to the Minnesota border — and not only in the slightly urban oases out here on the prairie. A good share issue out in the vast lands dismissed just 25 years ago as desolate Buffalo Commons. Census figures celebrate growth in the largest communities, but their explosive growth is offset by the sobering rest of the story — the rest of the state, where the population is draining away or, at best, static. Plenty of ideas have been sparked to bring life back to the withering. What they need now are willing hands to put to work. Ironically, as small towns shrink, their need for solutions grows — right along with the aching demand for living, breathing humans to make them happen.

Bitter but true: There just aren’t enough home-grown humans here to fill the roaring demand. Isn’t it weird, then, that so many on the pro-business, pro-growth side of the aisle are trying so hard to keep willing — no, desperately eager — workers out?

True, we already recognize some partial solutions. We can ramp up vocational and professional training, targeting the industries starving for that talent. Economic developers and educators have been recommending that since at least the early 1990s. Are we there yet?

But in a labor market as tight as today’s — 2.6 percent unemployment in North Dakota, 3 percent in Minnesota — retraining less-skilled workers, at best, pushes the shortage downward, where it’s already acute. Newly trained and promoted employees leave behind the less well-paid slots where we found them. Those empty positions, not as glamorous but equally essential in their way — will need to be filled, too.

We need workers of all skill levels, top to bottom. Service businesses, retail, food service, manufacturing, farming … they need people, too. If we can’t grow enough of our own, transplants are the only alternative.

Growing our own — well, that’s a long-term strategy. The drift of young Dakotans from their rural roots toward brighter lights is a family tradition. Better opportunities and more attractive communities can bring some of them back. Witness the holiday job fairs that economic developers have been sponsoring over the past 20 years: Snag their attention when they come home from the Big City to visit the folks at Christmas. But success comes by the dozens. Employers are hungry for thousands.

What’s the alternative? Transplants. The governor suggests looking beyond our borders. Perhaps North Dakota can seduce talent from other corners of the U.S. Artisan breweries, hip boutiques and downtown lofts may appeal to some for whom we’re competing. Two challenges make their large-scale recruitment a long shot. The rest of America is on the hunt for those same promising imports. And the good life on the prairie, no matter how chill, is never going to fully mask the bitter pill in the booming banquet of semi-urban goodies: Winter.

But, nevertheless, there’s hope in sight. Let’s look to history, for we’ve been in this spot before.

Hopeful humans follow the scent of opportunity from distant, less blessed shores. They’re the very folks whom the current regime is working so ferociously to drive away.

Immigrants are the heroes of our nation’s past. Each emerging labor gap — the factories, the fields, the intercontinental railroads – has been filled by waves of newcomers in search of better lives. Seldom greeted with open arms, often reviled by those who got here first, we’ve persisted to build the world’s greatest economy.

Yes, “we.” You and I are here today thanks to an endless supply of forebears who left home in search of nothing more than an opportunity to work hard and raise their kids in safety. But talk about shooting yourself in the foot! On the one hand, ICE agents round up, detain and deport undocumented workers right out of the fields and off the packing plant floor. They deport longtime productive citizens and strive to deny the DREAMers, prime young adults who were brought here as children. They’re trying to shrink the numbers of legal immigrants. They’re whipping up blind nationalistic fervor that blames outsiders for all of America’s largely imagined ills.

And then our leaders claim to be shocked — shocked! — by the desperate shortage of labor that’s crippling sectors of our economy.

Immigrants now, as ever, are willing to start at the bottom. Historically, they’ve labored in sweatshops, cleaned houses, worked the line in canneries, hoed beets, slaughtered hogs and built the great railroads. When old Americans didn’t want the work, new Americans did — and do.

America has always counted on the people whom the Statue of Liberty beckons to do the hard work of building a successful nation. Those tired, those poor, those huddled masses yearning to breathe free have bent to the task to earn their keep and support their families. Let’s not kid ourselves: Virtually all of us come from that same tradition. All of my own great-grandparents, less one, crossed borders to get here. Most of them did it freely, since passports and border control were rare before World War I.

All of my great-greats came from elsewhere — Norway, Germany and Canada — with one exception. My maternal grandfather boarded a Norwegian freighter alone at 14 and disembarked in Canada, then walked south along the Red River. In today’s heated parlance, Grandpa was an undocumented, unaccompanied minor.

Talk to some of the new Americans around us now … and listen closely. You’ll hear gratitude for the land of the free, where they can live in peace, educate their kids and labor as hard as humanly possible to build new, safe, productive lives. As immigrants have always been, they’re willing to start with the kinds of lowly tasks that homegrown incumbents often view with disdain.

The governor’s workforce survey will undoubtedly come up with laser-sharp needs and result in erudite recommendations. Yes, let’s empower today’s underemployed North Dakotans and Minnesotans. Let’s get them the education and training they need. (Sorry to ruin the suspense. That’s guaranteed to be the big takeaway.)

But, at the same time, let’s open our doors wide to ambitious, eager transplants who are actually anxious to join us. Let’s welcome them. Let’s offer them a productive path to citizenship, just as our own families achieved not all that long ago.

They’re longing for a fresh start on the ground floor. The jobs are waiting. Why not let them?

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Losing A Pet Is A Special Kind Of Pain

When you love a cat or dog, two things are resolutely certain. He will fill the empty spaces in your heart with love, and someday he will break it.

If you’re not a pet person, go ahead and stop reading: This is a grief that’s alien to you. If you were raised on a farm, house pets might mean little more to you than furry livestock. If you’re consumed by human suffering, they may seem too trivial for your anguish. If you’re allergic — well, you may sniffle a little, but that’s just pet dander talking.

But if like Russ and me, your pets are an essential piece of the puzzle that makes life beautiful, and you’ve certainly shared the sorrow of laying a dear furry family member to rest. And you’ve grappled with the question — what next?

Do you honor your lost friend (and preclude future pain) by leaving his spot forever empty? Or do you fill the chasm with another fur friend who can never quite measure up to the memory?

And — not insignificantly — do you secretly seize this moment as the easy way out? Do you grieve your loss while silently ticking off the unspoken advantages … no more late-night walks at the end of a leash, no more latrine duty with the litter box?

Cats and dogs spin the circle of life far too fast. From adorable fluffball to slow-moving senior stretched out in the sun, from playful pup to white-muzzled elder who needs a boost to get into the car, they speed through the goofiness of youth to poignant old age in much too close to an instant.

We faced the inevitable when our talkative 9-year-old tabby, Miss Muffett (above), died. We were genuinely shocked. Cats are masters at hiding what hurts. We knew she’d been slowing down and were headed for the vet at the very moment her heart came to a dead stop.

It’s far from the first time we’ve lost a four-legged member of the household — just the first when we didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. Over the years, our three good dogs have lived out long and comfortable lives. All came to us as adult rescues, the last two from Adopt-a-Pet; all repaid us richly in laughter, love, wagging tails and enough loose hair to fill a mattress.

Our feline friends have, more or less, just appeared. The first became our studio cat when the young man who’d gallantly “rescued” him noticed he lived in a no-pets apartment. The second willfully chose us while our newly independent daughter was picking a pair for herself from a friend’s latest litter.

How many cats is too many cats? We’d figured the magic number was two. But when little Miss Muffett caught my eye on a kibble-and-litter run to PetSmart, we negotiated a new normal: Three. Three would be our limit, just this side of “crazy cat lady.”

Which is not to say the urge went away entirely. I “like” every kitty meme on Catbook — I mean, Facebook — watch every video, read every rescue story, share every cartoon. Only days before Muffett passed, I’d spotted a sad-faced black-and-white puss who’d been waiting at the Marshmallow Foundation in Detroit Lakes for nine long months. Now I understand the magic of online dating. One look in his sad golden eyes, and I was in love.

I showed Russ. We read about his trials and his timid disposition on the Marshmallow website. Then we reviewed why three cats were our limit, and …

… and then Cat No. 3 left the land of the living. Now what? Fate had clearly supplied the answer.

Welcome home, Mick.

But introducing a younger male cat to a couple of good old boys is not as simple as shaking hands and scattering a treat or two. Mick was our first experience with adopting a full-grown rescue — a 3- or 4-year-old who’d lived the hard-knocks life before the bedraggled, beat-up fellow was captured by a kind angel and delivered to the rescue group. Our second cat in particular, who claimed the household title of Top Cat when he was small enough to fit in a shirt pocket, had plenty of thoughts to share.

Nor did the extremely timid newcomer turn into a social butterfly when we unzipped the cat carrier and injected him into his new home. We started slowly, booking him into a private room in the basement. Even that small space seemed to overwhelm him after nine months spent in a 2-by-3-foot cage. He dived under the bed and stayed there for the better part of the next six days, venturing out only to nibble kitty crunch and do his business as the resident beasts sniffed suspiciously at the door.

When he’d worked up his courage to tolerate the occasional chin skritch and belly rub, we deemed him ready for his debut and left his door open. He greeted freedom with … nothing, not even a twitch his long, silky black whip of a tail. After lights-out, though, we heard the pitter-pat of the not-so-intrepid explorer padding up the stairs and down the hall, his toenails tentatively tapping along the wooden floor. Finally he stuck his nose into our bedroom and announced himself with the tiniest meow. When the incumbents rumbled out a few hisses and half-hearted yowls, he disappeared in the blink of an eye … but left a greeting of sorts in the upstairs litter box.

He’s been coming closer. We’re fascinated by Mick’s hesitant steps as he stretches out and settles in. When he found his way onto the screened porch, spotting sparrows and squirrels for the first time in nearly a year, it brought tears to my eyes. Then he fell asleep with the breeze in his face and the hot sun on his back.

That evening, we sat as still as mice as he sidled to a spot just inside the living room doorway. Clearly, TV was brand-new to him. He cautiously padded up to the Channel 6 newscast and froze, then reached out gently to touch the screen with one paw … just as our toddler granddaughter had done the first time she glimpsed “Peppa Pig.”

Just two weeks into our common life, Mick is blossoming — cautiously curious, sedately playful and blessed with plenty of shedding fur. He lingers just beyond arm’s reach, though he’s willing to accept a pat or two in passing. Peace with the homeboys? Still under negotiation. As for an unexpected leap to cuddle in a waiting lap, that’s merely a dream … for now.

No, this wary boy with a troubled past will never replace sweet Miss Muffett. Not even close — not yet. But he seems to be a perfect fit for the gap she left behind.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Loving Pigs And Tom Terrific

You’d think grandparenting would be more like riding a bike — you just climb back on, and it all comes back to you.

That’s true of the most essential skills of wrangling tiny humans — appeasing their howls, juggling damp Pampers and stashing the cookies well out of reach. Some real-life lessons you never do forget, like not packing Kix to distract a wiggly toddler in church, or — if your family harbors cats — always covering the sandbox. (Round cereal, when dropped, ricochets under the pews like a handful of hypercharged BBs. The logic behind the latter should be self-evident.)

But other things have changed greatly since our daughter flew out of the family nest, and Russ and I are still playing catch-up with weird matters that pass for progress. Go-Gurt, for instance — whose idea was it to package such a slimy pastel snack in a toothpaste tube? Or consider the so-called “educational” chip-equipped toys that giggle and beep and babble in icky-sweet voices … the demonic scourge of the modern toybox, powered by an infinite number of double-A’s.

All that paled, though, when the World’s Leading Grandchild uttered her very first portentous word: “Peppa!”

Until our little Evelyn came along, we’d never heard of Peppa Pig. Perhaps you haven’t, either, if you’re old like us and long past the TV cartoon epoch. But if a grandchild is on the way, trust me: You will, and sooner than you think.

Peppa is a cartoon piglet with a lovely British lilt. She lives in a yellow house on a hill with Mommy Pig (contralto grunt), Daddy Pig (basso grunt) and her little brother George, who grunts and giggles.

Cartoon Peppa resembles a somehow-charming pink potato with a snout. She wears yellow galoshes to splash in muddy puddles. She plays well with friends like Susie Sheep, Danny Dog and Pedro Pony.  Her adventures tend toward picking flowers, playing wiggly worm and hunting for Tiddles the Tortoise, the turtle who likes to climb trees. Tiny, preverbal humans adore her.

Sweet young Peppa was invented in England and imported to America of late by Nick Junior, which replays her rather serene adventures seven days a week. Her oinks have been translated into 40 languages. Now she’s become a global star (and thus, hot licensing property), followed by children on every continent except Antarctica, where penguin mothers can still persuade their hatchlings to play outside.

Peppa entranced our Evi from the moment her parents discovered episodes on YouTube. Her eyes light up when she hears the theme song. She toddles up and touches her pig idol on the TV screen. She clings to a pink plush Peppa when she naps. Her reliable giggles inspire dignified grandparents to grunt. Said grandparents even scoured the Net for Peppa pillows and bedding to induce her to sleep in her big-girl bed. (It worked.)

But still, we’re rather mystified by this youngest generation’s taste. Russ and I cut our TV eyeteeth on Tom Terrific and Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog … then the more worldly Bullwinkle J. Moose and Rocky the Flying Squirrel, along with Boris Badunov, Natasha Fatale and Mr. Peabody. Now, that was good television! The only porkers who made much of an impression were Porky Pig and Piggly Wiggly.

We raised the mother of the World’s Leading Grandchild in the age of Smurfs. She started school with Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles. After she graduated to MTV, we pretty much lost touch with the ever-exploding cartoon universe — from the Powerpuff Girls to that bewildering SpongeBob SquarePants.

So we were rather baffled — and impressed — when our little sprout started chanting, “Peppa! Peppa! Peppa!” Until then, we’d had no luck spoiling her with our misguided choice of toddler bait. The Very Hungry Caterpillar elicits barely an eye roll. She has zero time for Dora the Explorer and, for that matter, dollies in general. Elmo seems to attract her from time to time, but his maniacal giggles get him tossed back into the toybox like a hot potato.

But piggish grunts? They never fail to make this girl laugh out loud.

You won’t be surprised, I know, to learn that Peppa Pig has become a global merchandise behemoth. Some 1,000 licensed Peppa manufacturers now peddle a mind-boggling array of perfect birthday presents for juniors from Paris to Bombay: Plush, huggable Peppas, Georges and all their charming anthropomorphic pals. Collector figurines. Doll houses. Tricycles. Race cars with pigs, elephants and foxes at the wheel. Storybooks. Night lights. Big-girl panties. Finger puppets. Toothbrushes. Shopping carts … well, you get the drift. There’s even a Peppa Pig World theme park with life-sized costumed characters — thankfully, in far-off England.

International business publications peg the Peppa empire at more than $1.2 billion, and it’s growing fast. I should know. We’ve contributed significantly to that growth, and there’s no end in sight.

But, of course, it could be worse. Evelyn could have been a boy … and we’d be up to our eyeballs in Lightning McQueen.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — R.I.P., Herberger’s

As the news of our old friend’s tragic demise sinks in, I’ve been pondering the five stages of how grieving humans work through the death of a loved one. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

We’ve lost a dear part of our region’s family. Herberger’s, rest in peace.

Denial? Oh, yes. Until the axe finally fell, I clung to the lingering hope that a white knight with deep pockets would swoop to the rescue of our troubled Minnesota-born department store. No such luck.

Anger? You bet! When the “going out of business” banner went up on the Center Mall, I was downright furious — frankly, far angrier than I’d expected. This was not only a place I knew by heart; it was populated by helpful, patient people whose names I may not know but whose math skills have guided me through countless coupon-tweaking trips to the cash register.

Not only that. Our Herberger’s didn’t fail. Long the corporate flagship in terms of sales and profits, it was scuttled by latter-day decisions based in mercantile mishaps far further up the food chain. Moorhead shoppers and our neighbors — from Alexandria, Minn., where it all began, to 33 other cities across the northern swath of the Midwest — have loved our Herbie’s with a passion.

So now we mourners find ourselves in stage three — bargaining. The vultures of liquidation have flocked to sell off bits of the carcass at low-low-low prices. We diehards, though, observe that the discounts to date can’t hold a candle to the genuine bargains we’ve come to know, from Community Days and the Rose Sale to coupons stacked up in the Sunday paper and those lovely “Your Rewards” incentives so adored by our corps of credit-card holders.

Last Sunday was the first in decades when I didn’t flip through ad circulars right after reading the comics. It was the unyielding third task of my morning routine, right after pouring the first cup of coffee and fetching the newspaper from the front porch. I’d pull out Herbie’s missive and set its weekly bounty aside in a safe spot.

This week — a first — my jeans don’t crinkle when I sit from the coupons in my back pocket. It’s not that I’ve always planned to shop there in the next seven days. Far from it. My long, steady relationship simply taught me to always be prepared. I suppose that’s why I haven’t yet had the heart to clean my purse, where a handful of expired coupons still amount to a crumpled mouse nest for sunglasses and keys. And I’m sure my driver’s license barely knows what’s hit it — lingering alone in the spot where, for so long, Herbie’s plastic faithfully rode shotgun.

Herberger’s … just another store? I beg to differ. How could you say that of the place where I lost myself among racks and shelves for more than half of my lifetime? The glowing neon rose logo has signaled a comfortable, familiar world expressly designed to suit us –— the Midwest’s modest midmarket shoppers. Not for the big-city crème de la crème, those acres of less-than-flashy but well-made merchandise, from brisk career garb to embroidered, appliqued grandma sweatshirts. Nor did the Minnesota-born department store’s price points aim to entice bottom-of-the-barrel bargain hunters — though they certainly did know us well and understood that scoring a $50-off-$100 deal on already-on-sale trophies was the mercantile maven’s equivalent of bagging a 12-point buck.

What sealed the deal that made Herberger’s a family favorite? For our Moorhead store, some posit Minnesota’s lack of sales tax on clothes and shoes as the secret of its wide appeal. I think they’re wrong. It was the escalators! Fargo-Moorhead had been sadly without those moving stairs since Woolworth’s closed. Starved for that emblem of sophisticated retail, I always loved soaring gracefully above the fragrant cosmetics aisle to the kids’ realm overhead.

It really did feel like family: In fact, you can track its DNA all over our home. Come with me now to tour Hanson’s Museum of Herbergerhood. From vintage baby clothes boxed away in the basement to the contents of our own overstuffed closets, Russ and I exist in the afterglow of Herbie’s Greatest Hits — the troll nightie treasured by our 2-year-old three decades ago; my well-aged career pantsuits with shoulder pads broad as the sidewalk; his drawer-full of sober unmentionables lit up by the polka-dot socks that never fail to get a giggle from our granddaughter.

So many memories! There’s the dressing room where I burst into tears on my daughter’s off-to-college provisioning: “I won’t g-g-g-get to s-s-see you wear that!” Across the store in the middle-aged department, I paced in frustration as a mother of the bride-to-be dead-set against pastel polyester. Housewares? More wedding gifts than I can possibly count on all my fingers and toes.

So where will mourners like me buy our next generation of bath towels? Where will we find reasonable shirts and ties for husbands browbeaten to dress up? Where can we count on finding sensible women’s undies or frying pans or fresh bedspreads? How can we exist without the Clinique counter? And who else still handles housecoats?

Life will certainly go on. Our dedicated horde of Herberger’s fans will eventually drift to other venues. Perhaps I can cobble together some weird combination of Macy’s, Chico’s and Fleet Farm. Eventually, and with reluctance, I, too, will loosen my grip on the lifelong lure of personal, face-to-face shopping and yield to the sirens of the effortless Internet.

The final stages of grief lie dead ahead — depression and acceptance. If it’s any comfort, remember we’re not the first to go through this. Grandma bemoaned the loss of her small-town Main Street merchants … while better roads and faster cars were speeding her away to shop in city emporiums. Mom’s heart broke when her local downtown languished … as she enjoyed every minute spent prowling the upstart shopping centers.

Go ahead. Blame the demise of department stores on whatever you personally loathe most — rapacious big-box discount stores, or Amazon and online shoppers, or overbuilding, or even stagnant middle-class incomes. In the end, all of these irresistible forces — and we ourselves, unwitting architects of the retail apocalypse — are guilty of sealing our hallowed Herberger’s fate.

Turn, turn, turn. To everything, there is a season. Dear Herberger’s, rest in peace.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Too Late To Close The Drapes

Privacy was a big deal when I was growing up in small-town North Dakota — mostly because there wasn’t any. From party lines to rural postmasters who made a mental note of your bills and letters, confidentiality was as rare as neighbors who didn’t gossip.

My mother adhered to just one strategy: When you turn on the lights at night, always pull the shades.

Ah, simpler times! Those were the days of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” when the specter of spying seemed the realm of sneaking Russians. We felt sure that Boris and Natasha had no interest in everyday Americans. We know now how that turned out.

In the meantime, though, advertising graduated from clever cartoons and unshakeable jingles to psycho-science. By the 1970s, ever-eager advertising geniuses already realized peddlers of Coke, Kleenex and coffee could target customers far more effectively than by merely plunking their ads amidst episodes of “Bonanza” or “Beverly Hillbillies.” By divining consumers’ deepest dreams, fears and quirky notions, that faceless mass audience could be sliced and diced into far more precise profiles. That’s the moment when diving into your personal data emerged as a high art. To this day, it’s the life force of scientific selling.

Today America claims to be shocked — shocked! — that Facebook has been keeping track of the personal minutiae that we toss with little thought into its pixelated maw. Worse, the social media steamroller has been tabulating that data all along and selling it — gasp! — to companies that seek to turn our tendencies into an overpower urge to buy stuff we don’t need and ideas we didn’t think up ourselves. We are revolted by disclosure of the private facts we’ve freely flung into the web-o-sphere. It’s so bad that very old men in Congress who can’t recall their locker combinations are shown on TV grilling that young punk who runs the Facebook about the nefarious tricks of his trade: “Now, Mr. Zuckerberg, about these cookies … are they oatmeal or chocolate chip?”

Welcome to the world of advertising. The ways and the means are nothing new. All that’s different now is the scale on which it’s being practiced.

Of course, I, too, understand the creepy feeling when my secrets are being plucked from the ether. But like all the footprints you and I have left in our life’s journeys, the watchers have been tracking them all along. We seldom notice.

Compared to the low-tech lizards who’ve scoured public records and commercial transactions across the decades, 2018’s insidious technical wizards crunch big data like tyrannosaurs. Our discomfort stems from that speed and ferocity. Its black and heartless soul belongs to the shady warlocks of the web.

Yet their evil powers are really nothing new. We can draw a straight line from the birth of psychographics — market researchers who learned to probe consumers’ lifestyles and appetites in a sunnier, simpler time — to the dark arts now practiced by Cambridge Analytica and, indeed, state-sponsored cyber warriors.

Facebook is far from alone in basing its business on the time-tested TV advertising model: Create tempting programs to draw an avid audience, then sell their eyeballs to the highest bidder. Note, too, that the political manipulation that alarms us most is rooted not in the ethics of this long-accepted corporate approach … but in unauthorized misuse of what’s been gleaned.

Quite a few of my serious, thoughtful friends say they’re swearing off Facebook to protect their privacy. Too little, way too late. Unless you change your name, abjure all commercial contact and retreat to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, you’re on the radar — and have been in the crosshairs since Grandpa and Grandma were tadpoles.

Last month, Facebook promised to reveal whether users’ personal data had been hacked. I waited with bated breath. Here’s what I learned:

“Based on our investigation, you don’t appear to have logged into ‘This Is Your Digital Life’ with Facebook before we removed it from our platform in 2015. However, a friend of yours did log in. As a result, the following information was likely shared: Your public profile, Page likes, birthday and current city. A small number of people who logged into ‘This Is Your Digital Life’ also shared their own News Feed, timeline, posts and messages, which may have included posts and messages from you. They may also have shared your hometown.”

I was almost disappointed. No big deal.

My public profile is … public. My birthday and current city hold zero surprise. My Facebook “page likes” can reveal no arcane trove of jealously kept revelations (except, perhaps, that I really, really like cats). My politics? Look at my T-shirts and my bumper stickers — you can’t miss where I stand.

There’s not one single thing there that’s worth freaking out over. It’s already available in a hundred other places. If I ran into you in the produce department of Hornbacher’s — or, for that matter, Robert Mercer himself, the evil billionaire behind the move to misuse our most covert mysteries — I’d happily share all of that in a minute. And probably much, much more. If you were slow on your feet, in fact, I might talk your ear off before you could get away.

Privacy concerns are very real, but there are far greater worries that data gleaned from silly Facebook quizzes (what’s your pirate name? who were you in a previous life?). Russ’s and my credit card information, for example, has been caught up in several cataclysmic data breaches — Equifax, Target, Adobe. Meanwhile, countless government agencies and financial institutions maintain computerized records of every move we make. Are they secure? Wanna bet? Data hacking is a booming industry all around the world.

I can’t get too excited over social media’s revelations about my opinions — I wear them on my sleeve — or my most recent web search for a better kitty litter deodorizer. Fighting that fight is like flapping your arms at saplings while missing the very scary forest that engulfs you.

Let’s admit it: By and large, our secrets … aren’t. But when we turn on the lights at night, I still do like to close the drapes.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Keep An Eye On Your Pants

We’re not really the adventure-travel type. That’s why, when planning our spring break trip to Puerto Vallarta, Russ and I snubbed the jungle canopy zip-line option, the deep-sea dolphin swim and even the VIP nightclub crawl (“Party like a professional!”). Instead, we went with the all-inclusive family resort with five fabulous restaurants. We’re boring that way.

But given how slowly we move these days, we weren’t altogether surprised when adventure nipped our heels in a most unexpected way … when a thief in the night stole my husband’s pants.

Let me explain. He wasn’t wearing them at the time. Instead, we were both sound asleep just a few feet away.

The day had begun with a 3 a.m. slip-and-slide to Hector Airport in snowy slush. All that stood between us and Paradise was 14 hours or so in purgatory, soaring 1,500 miles south in what could best be termed “livestock class.” Fueled by Delta’s 4-ounce plastic glass of pop and a packet containing exactly 11 smoked almonds, squeezed into accommodations that made a dental chair seem comfy, I dreamed of azure skies, a surf-kissed beach and buffets abounding in seafood and fresh fruit.

We’d won this glorious trip in Moorhead Rotary’s annual travel raffle. From the moment we stepped into the lobby of the splendid Riu Palace Pacifico, we knew it was a true prize: Stained-glass ceiling, 8-foot crystal chandelier, elegant Old World trappings, the kind of lush tropical courtyard that would make my poor Minnesota houseplants weep … and look! The buffet was dead ahead!

Soon we were strolling back to our room, sated on fresh shrimp and mango, more than ready for a good night’s sleep. I stepped out on the charming balcony for a last moonlit salute to Bahia de Banderas. Then we both sank into an exhausted coma.

Next morning, I returned to the balcony with my coffee, watching the M-shaped wings of frigatebirds float gracefully high above. With a shock, I realized that rhythmic roar wasn’t the north wind, but the pounding of the Pacific surf. It was a perfect moment.

A fellow guest startled me as he strolled along the walkway that encircled the hotel just beyond the edge of our balcony: “Hola, buenos dias.”

And no bugs! There wasn’t even a screen over the sliding door … which, come to think of it, had been slightly open when I got up ….

And then Russ awoke and said, “Where are my pants?”

“Where did you leave them?”

“Right there” — and he pointed to the chair in front of that door.

There are only so many places you can misplace a pair of pants. We searched all of them. Searched again. We even looked in the little safe inside the closet. Who’d put their pants in the safe? Not Russ for sure! We checked anyway.

Slowly, reality dawned. The trusting Minnesota genius who’d slipped outside for a bedtime glimpse of the sea hadn’t managed to properly lock the door. While we both snored, an unseen guest had tested the slider, found it unsecured and stretched inside just far enough to grab one of the only two swipe-worthy prizes within reach.

All I can say is, thank goodness he didn’t take my knitting!

But he did slip away with Russ’s nice tan slacks, belt and — worse — the wallet in its pocket.

A dilemma most dire! The worst part was reporting the theft to the hotel security chief … who asked, “Why didn’t you put them in the safe?” He listened, stony-faced, to my excuse (“that’s not where we keep them in Minnesota”), then asked for a description. A moment later, one of his minions brought out said pants, nicely folded. They’d retrieved them just after dawn while patrolling that pretty courtyard. I’ll bet they wondered what we’d been up to.

Naturally, the wallet was missing. The thief didn’t get too much — only small bills intended for tipping, a Minnesota drivers license for a 6-foot 3-inch redhead … and the same two credit cards I was carrying in my purse. I quickly learned our thief hadn’t missed a beat, testing them in the wee hours, but without success. Visa’s fraud-sniffing protocols had somehow spotted him instantly and slammed the door on both accounts …

… leaving us 1,500 miles from home with no operable plastic and only the few small bills in my own pocket.

Bank of America’s representative was highly efficient. In just a few minutes, she’d closed the account and forwarded replacement cards, which were in our mailbox back in Moorhead by the time we got home. In the meantime? Get a job, perhaps?

The second Visa card was issued by our credit union, Affinity Plus. The emergency rep was not only helpful but sympathetic. Would we like her to send emergency cards to our hotel? Yes, please! But our hopes were dashed when she called back a little later. The processing company would happily approve stop-gap assistance, she said … if I could authenticate myself by sharing our joint savings account number.

Suspiciously, I did not know it by heart.

By now, the sun had set on another day. As the moon rose over the bay, I texted our travel agent — “help!” — and resolved to place a direct call to our local Affinity folks — by now, closed for the day — the next morning.

And then the cavalry arrived. Tod Ganje and Jill Baldwin from Travel Inc. both responded before bedtime. Possibly texting in their pajamas, they debriefed us, consoled us and promised to help. Our biggest concern (since hotel, meals and travel were already covered) was how to check our suitcase for the flight home without that everpresent plastic. By the time we awoke after a sound sleep, Tod had prepaid the baggage charge and entered it on our flight documents. Perfect.

Meanwhile, as we were drinking our first cups of (delicious) coffee, Affinity’s Roz Johnson sprang into action. I asked her for that elusive savings account number; instead, she called the card processor herself. They could send the emergency cards, she and her counterpart agreed, but that wouldn’t help, since they’d never get across the border by the time we had to head home.

So our heroine came up with a better plan. Roz sent me down to the hotel’s ATM. I called her when I got there. She alerted her contact, who unfroze the purloined account just long enough for me to withdrew enough pesos to get us by. I called Roz back, and her minion once again closed it.

And all was well.

It was a wonderful trip! We can’t wait to go back. Meanwhile, let us meditate on the lessons our adventure has taught us.

First: If you travel with two credit cards, split them up. Next time, I’ll carry just one, and Russ the other. If history ever repeats itself, we’ll still possess one piece of functional plastic.

Two: Booking travel and banking online may work just fine in the best of times. But when the cards are down (so to speak), I’ll take the help of a smart, caring human professionals like Roz, Tod and Jill every single time.

And, finally … always pack a second pair of pants.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Last Call

We finally did it — we cut the cord. After a lifetime of landline telephony, we pulled the anchor and sailed away from Ma Bell.

No wonder, then, why I’m feeling just a bit adrift.

We’d been thinking about doing it for a long, long time … every winter when new directories are dropped off on our front step, and we deposit them straight into the recycling bin; every time I dial a number retrieved from my ancient Rolodex, only to find it’s no longer in service; and (for years now) every time that dadblasted ringy dingy blares forth at the most inopportune moment, only to bring on the umpteenth idiot robocall or another hapless taker of surveys.

Though we left the official Ma Bell a long time ago, we’ve still maintained that connection to the civilized world via our cellphone company’s home service. We needed it in case of emergencies, we thought. We needed it so our older relatives can reach us (though we’re now the oldest ones left). We needed to keep the line open for the Publishers Clearinghouse Giveaway, who we somehow assumed would place an old-style call with the good news.

In other words, we dragged our feet. Though both Russ and I rarely lay down our Androids from sun-up to sleepytime, the thought of disconnecting the “real” telephone seemed so … final. Was landlineless life worth living?

So I asked a small question on Facebook: Was this a good idea? Turns out, my virtual friends are passionate about this issue and were just waiting for someone to ask them. One hundred forty-four replied! Exactly three of them told me, “Don’t do it,” two citing the possibility of cell towers going down and a third mentioning faxes. As a survivor of Michael Damron’s notorious assault on Fargo-Moorhead phone lines in 1995, the tower thing doesn’t scare me much. As for faxes, I haven’t needed to send one for a decade; a modern-day Damron could sabotage that service, and most of us would never notice.

The most common reaction on Facebook: “OMG, you mean you still have a landline? LOL.”

It seems that Russ and I were blithely unaware that we’d fallen in among the last of our kind — antique specimens still hardwired to humanity. So we joined the modern world ourselves. I’m beginning to relax.

What kept us wired, I think, was a combination of inertia and sweet memories. There was a time when installing your first telephone in your first apartment was an unmistakable sign of adulthood — a confirmation that you were so grown up that Northwestern Bell trusted you to forward a monthly check. For the first few decades of adult life, I couldn’t wait to get the new directory; the first thing I did was look up my own name. Yep, there I am! I’m somebody!

Until now, I’ve never lived in a home without its own telephone. Oh, sure, we shared a party line when I was a child and more easily impressed — three shorts. Like all the neighbor kids, we mastered the subtle art of picking up the neighbors’ calls, then giggling silently until our mothers caught us. It was rude and unethical, she’d lecture us, to eavesdrop. I never caught her practicing the stealthy art herself, though I still have my suspicions.

Our family moved often, as we followed her teaching gigs in the fall, then returned to the farm in summer. Getting the telephone hooked up was the universal signal that we’d, so to speak, arrived. Our state-of-the-art connection to the outside world was always black, always equipped with a rotary dial that chipped Mother’s fire-engine-red manicure, always mounted in its place of honor on the wall in whatever kitchen we inhabited. Though anything but mobile, it did come with a twisted spiral cord long enough to pull into the coat closet by the back door for highly sensitive teen-age conversations.

The phone’s thoughtfully designed receiver was sturdy and fit the hand just right, with the listening part snugged against your ear and the talking end nicely resting near your mouth. Conversation was crystal clear (or as clear as teens ever managed). Calls never ended abruptly except when my parents said, “Enough is enough.” It didn’t require any ritual of recharging. No one I knew ever dropped it, not even once, in the toilet.

But progress shuffled it aside. After 20 years of ever more demanding cellphones, I’ve become trained to not jump when melodic tones blare out of my back pocket. I’ve come to depend on the built-in phone directory that tells me whose call is coming in and relieves me of any responsibility to try to remember digits.

Texting has finally bewitched me, after years of the haughty conviction it was for the birds. Pecking at the “6” button thrice to achieve an O was way more trouble than it was worth, back in the era of flip phones … especially for someone who needs more than 140 characters just to say “hello.” Now, of course, that’s been replaced by a not-so-smartphone that arrogantly attempts to guess every word I’m trying to type, coming up with some of the most hallucinatory blurts since Timothy Leary’s heyday.

Today, in fact, I’m as inclined to avoid flexing my vocal cords as any text-crazed Millennial.

But maybe that’s because of all we have left behind. Remember when you could hear every word of both sides of a telephone conversation? When you and your caller could step on the end of each other’s sentences or interject without the sound gapping out? When you could carry on conversations while fixing supper, with the receiver safely ensconced between your shoulder and your cheek?

And do you recall being able to reel off your number without even trying whenever someone asked — instead of pulling out your screen to be sure? Oddly, though I still must double-check to be sure I haven’t mangled those cellphone digits, I can reel off the long-outlived cadence of my first Fargo phone number without a moment’s hesitation.

And that, at last, sums up what all this progress has cost us. Before robocalls, before phishing, before endless sneaky, slanted “surveys” — telephones deserved to be answered.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — No Magic Bullets

Of course, it’s about the guns. Let’s get past that right now. The 19-year-old who slaughtered 14 teens and three teachers at a Florida school so much like Fargo South or Moorhead High was able to buy a military-grade weapon undeterred … though a federal law from a saner era, the 1968 Gun Control Act, still prohibits him from buying a handgun.

That act was passed 50 years ago, when Congress and the public acknowledged that handguns were linked to most crimes. It was easy enough for them to accede to the public’s demand for an age limit on the weapon of choice for criminals and killers.

Long guns — rifles and shotguns — were for hunters, sport shooters and farmers picking off varmints. High-school boys drove to school with guns racked in their pickup trucks’ back window. In the classroom, teachers had almost forgotten the bad old days of fueling kids’ nightmares with mandatory drills for atom bomb attacks.

School massacres hadn’t been invented yet. Even then, we had no answers.

Today, everyone who’s ever raised a child — or been one herself — is dizzy with questions. According to the Washington Post, 150,000 American students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. Two of them were right down the road in Red Lake and Cold Spring, Minn, too close for even a smidge of comfort.

Of course, it’s about guns. A majority of the post-Columbine massacres have been committed by young men with AR-15 semiautomatic rifles. They’re the most popular weapon in the United State. Their fans characterize them as a benign choice for hunters and sportsmen. Manufacturer Colt describes its best-seller with a greater jolt of testosterone … “the closest commercial AR-15 you will find to the military M4.” After more than a decade of active marketing to gun aficionados, some 4 million AR-15s are on the ground today. They’re not going anywhere.

But the easy availability of fearsome weapons like the AR-15 is only one part of the problem. You can spot the other holding that gun with rage in his heart and his finger on the trigger. Mental illness — at least, trauma and resentment and anger that causes young men to kill — is a part of the equation, too.

Let’s take a deep breath here. Yes, we need to talk about sensible regulation to keep lethal weapons out of reach of the young, the mentally ill and dangerous individuals of every age. We need to eliminate the tools to turn them into automatic rapid-fire killing machines. We need thorough background checks and interstate registration. We might even take a look at the loathsome federal law passed in 2005 that prohibits shooting victims from suing gun manufacturers. Lawmakers do, after all, have the leeway to institute reasonable reforms. Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms can indeed be regulated to prevent harm — much as libel and slander laws restrain our First Amendment freedom of speech.

But to make our children safer — safer every day, not just in those pitch-black moments when an armed and mortally damaged young man sprays their classrooms with bullets — we need to examine a separate and even more difficult issue. We need to seriously address mental wellness in children and teens.

I understand why mental health experts righteously bristle when that comes up. Children and adolescents who struggle with mental illness are far, far more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of carnage. Depression, anxiety and other psychiatric diagnoses hammer them with risks that are truly horrifying, from various kinds of self-harm to suicide. One out of eight North Dakota students reported seriously considering suicide in the state’s most recent assessment of behavioral health. Nearly one in 10 said they’ve made an attempt in the past year.

But the pain of these potential victims may apply just as aptly to the gun-toting would-be killers. According to data gathered by the Secret Service, 98 percent of armed attackers experienced or perceived a major loss before they acted. Almost 80 percent had a history of suicide attempts. Seven out of 10 felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked or injured by others prior to the incident. In 80 percent of cases the agency studied, the attacker acted alone.

We can’t afford to discount a connection between these damaged young people and school violence. Isolation and rejection, perhaps both caused and compounded by other mental conditions, sometimes seem to congeal into rage.

It could happen here. Educators and mental health counselors recognize the problems all too many kids bring to school that get in the way of confidence and learning. They’re already working to help them heal. Most local teachers have received training to help them recognize how trauma of all kinds affects children and their behavior. Now specialists called “student wellness facilitators” also add an extra level of expertise on the schoolground, thanks to an initiative developed by the foundation known as Imagine Thriving. Counselors refer troubled students who may need help to them; the facilitators connect the kids and their families with local resources for counseling and support, including financial aid. It seems to be making a difference, but the problem is massive: Since these wellness programs began in 2014, some 1,700 young people, elementary through senior high, have been referred or sought help themselves.

Neither gun reform nor mental wellness training, by itself, is the magical silver bullet America is demanding so loudly. Revising laws on access to guns is an uphill climb, given the cult-like following and virtually unlimited resources of the NRA. Allocating adequate resource for mental wellness is every bit as steep. No corporate sponsors and big-bucks PACs are lining up so far to counter the easily purchased influence fueling the status quo.

Will our children remember their school days as a fearful time of active-shooter drills and lock-downs? Will they see teachers armed with Glocks?

We urgently need deliberate, serious study of gun violence and measures that can control it. We need reasonable debate and compromise. We need action. Otherwise, we are left to defend the children who are our future with little more than unreliable half-measures, bullet-proof backpacks … and the desperate hope that our own ZIP code won’t be the next number that comes up.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Ask … And Shall It Be Given?

Are you reading this on Thursday, Feb. 8? Then you’re perched at the pinnacle of year-round efforts to persuade you to step up with support for North Dakota charities’ good works. For 24 magical hours, three Fargo-based funders — the Impact, Dakota Medical and Alex Stern Family Foundations — are together matching every donation of $10 or more made to participating nonprofit organizations. Most arrive online via www.givingheartsday.org.

They represent a galaxy of compelling causes: education, health care, the arts, religion, advocacy, human and animal welfare — you name it, there’s a good chance you’ll find it on this year’s list. After all, 401 separate nonprofit organizations and funds appear there — a tenfold increase from just 38 back in Year One.

Twenty-two times as many people made contributions last year as at the start. With matching funds, the financial impact on nonprofits was 15 times the first campaign’s — nearly $10.7 million. That brought the 10-year total to more than $41 million. Today’s results are expected to easily float it across the $50 million mark … with campaign planners hoping to double the number of donors who pull out the plastic (or checkbooks) to pitch in.

Sponsors of Giving Hearts Day have worked long and hard to generate the juggernaut that it’s become. Collaborating with the charities themselves, they’ve created a newsworthy mood that’s light-hearted, fun and sometimes just a little goofy, like last year’s Mr. Matchy-Matchy in his heart-spangled suit. Under this year’s banner of #countme, they’ve built a positive showcase for North Dakota nonprofits to highlight their good works … and, of course, a channel for persuading generous folks to open up their wallets.

Underneath the happy anticipation of this year’s campaign, though, is a dark undercurrent that seems quite new — a backlash from good people who are feeling exhausted and a bit annoyed at the blizzard of do-good options.

With competition for those charitable dollars at an all-time high, the charities hoping to boost their totals have been coached in best-practice “friend-raising” techniques. They’ve been inundating Facebook and email with persuasive appeals and filling known donors’ mailboxes with postcards, letters and sophisticated marketing materials. Some have bought ads in the media. Others have turned to the telephone to remind friends to pick them today.

Plain and simple, humans don’t much like to be asked for money. The more often and insistently they’re asked, the likelier they are to speak up. This year, the chorus is louder than I’ve ever noticed in the past. Particularly on social media, more people — more thoughtful, charitable, warm-hearted people — seem to be tiring of the blizzard of charitable appeals.

It worries me. The objections I’ve been hearing aren’t coming from Scrooge McDuck and his caustic flock of cynical penny-pinchers. Instead, they’re coming from the same kind folks who tirelessly volunteer for public-spirited causes, from feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless to supporting all kinds of positive community projects in every corner of the state. They’re the ones who stand tall when charities call them, who deeply care about countless civic-minded crusades.

“Nine items of marketing in my mail today for Giving Hearts Day,” one woman reported last week on Facebook. “It makes me not want to give when I see the fancy marketing and ‘Pick me! Pick me!’ materials dropping in my mailbox. If they have money for all this fancy stuff, they do not need my donation.”

Another estimates she receives about 10 fund-raising appeals every week (not all, of course, tagged to Giving Hearts Day). “That’s about 500 pieces of unwanted mail a year — a waste of money and environmentally bad. I resent it.”

Some complaints, like hers, center on wasting paper and postage on printed appeals that mostly go unread. Other commenters feel fleeting fury at the flurry of “asks” in email, Facebook posts and pop-up ads. Since they’re so much less expensive than ink and paper, they’re proliferating even faster — like fruit flies. My own email inbox is larded with dozens every single day. But “delete” is even better than single-sort recycling; I ignore every one of them.

With so many supplicants, even a modest amount of contact from each can seem overwhelming. Yet nonprofits truly depend on these campaigns. Despite all the headlines about grants and corporate gifts, a cool 80 percent of funds that keep nonprofits running come from you and me — individual donors who can be touched by their values and their missions … or cajoled ’til we finally yield.

It’s easy to dismiss these persistent emotional appeals as a waste of money. But if they weren’t generating donations well in excess of what they cost, you can be guaranteed certain they would not keep coming.

Part of the Impact Foundation’s program, in fact, is to teach nonprofits how to do a better job of all of this. Their core gospel is tough but unavoidable: Those who do not ask, do not get.

Yet members of the backlash emphasize that too many, asking too often, leads to the same result.

There’s no magical answer. The source of the targeted would-be donors’ discontent — too-frequent pleas that some contend can be equated to nagging — is, at its heart, glaringly simple: An excess of good causes seeking support among a limited supply of potential benefactors inclined and able to contribute.

Giving Hearts Day relies on a smart game plan to tackle the syndrome. It scores its points by multiplying the impact of every gift, even small ones. It coaches charities in composing their most compelling stories. And the volunteers and staff who are making this greatest occasion of philanthropy happen strive, oh so hard, to define giving not just the right thing to do … but the best way to feel good about yourself and your role in a much larger mission.

This is the last time I’ll say it (promise!): If you’re reading this on Feb. 8, 2018, there’s still time to join the fun.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Changing The Course

Does it seem that we’ve been fighting floods forever? Pretty close. Residents along the Red River have been wrangling Mother Nature every 10 or 15 years since settlement began. Inevitably, Mother seems to have the upper hand.

In between flood emergencies, we generally turn on each other. Fargo-Moorhead and its neighbors have been sharing vastly divergent opinions of the F-M Diversion Project for fully 10 years. Sometimes it seems as if the bickering will never end … can never be fully resolved. No local issue has ever drawn in more head-butting stakeholders — town and country, businesses and homeowners, two cities, two counties, two states and the Feds — or attempted to temper more sizzling degrees of personal and civic self-interest.

Yet the record does show it can be done. Victory has been achieved before … and by nearly the same cast of impassioned characters.

Sixty years ago, draglines finally attacked the course of the tangled river and straightened out at least a few of its legendary kinks. In 1959, Fargo-Moorhead tackled the issue of containing the Red’s epic rampage in a victory that holds some lessons — and some hope.

The Red has been soaking Fargo-Moorhead’s feet ever since the cities’ sketchy, sweaty birth in 1871. By 1882, they were fighting the first of the floods that arrived like clockwork through World War I. After taking a break in the Dirty Thirties, the sluggish river returned with a vengeance in 1943. St. John’s Hospital (now Prairie St. John’s) stood on the bank of an oxbow that reached to Fargo’s Fourth Street; it had to be evacuated.

The river’s path was different then. South of Main Avenue, it took a lazy westward loop from its current course to the edge of Island Park, then back to Second Street. A generous finger of Minnesota pointed straight to the brand-new F-M Community Theater on Fourth Street South.

To no one’s surprise, epic floodwaters returned in 1950 and again in 1952. Streets ran deep on both sides of the river, reaching 5 feet on Broadway. Water stood hip-high on the main floor of Dommer’s Boathouse near Fourth Avenue Southwest in Moorhead, the beloved spot where fun seekers had been renting boats and canoes for decades to enjoy the river’s calmer moments. Hundreds of homes and business were swamped. Utilities were damaged and destroyed. The cost to both cities was enormous.

The soggy cities dreamed of a solution. Though their physical footprint was a fraction of today’s (Fargo with 38,256 people and Moorhead, 14,870) and embraced a far shorter stretch of river, temporary dikes didn’t do the trick. Yet no one could see the way to salvation. Ideas were tossed out, like scrapping St. John’s Hospital (which had had to be evacuated) and rebuilding on higher ground. Then they were systematically shot down — impossible, impractical, unaffordable.

At last, frustrated city fathers spotted a glimmer of light in Washington, where in 1950, the Disaster Relief Act empowered the Federal Emergency Management Agency — FEMA — to help deal with flooding. The two cities, which been fighting alone, spotted an ally. As the clean-up began in 1952, Mayor Murray Baldwin and the City Commission appointed a committee to work with the Army Corps of Engineers. It submitted its plan just a year later. The goal: to straighten out the critical snarl in the river that inundated downtown and speed the water on its way north.

And the outcry was instantly ferocious. Almost six dozen occupied homes would have to be demolished on both sides of the river, along with businesses and facilities dating back to the steamboat days.

Moorhead feared the more easterly channel, bounded by an enormous permanent levee on the Fargo side, would back up water onto its dependably higher, drier ground. City leaders fretted that downstream landowners would sue them if the amended flow of floodwaters caused damage to their farms. The beloved boathouse and swimming hole would have to go. Even the proto-environmentalists of the day had their say, decrying the removal of 200 trees from the riverbank.

But flood-control proponents persisted through six years of often-heated squabbling. The break finally came in 1959, when the recalcitrant North Dakota Legislature passed a measure specifically permitting Moorhead to sue the city of Fargo for any damages that might ensue.

By July, Fargo Mayor Herschel Lashkowitz would preside over the draglines that dug a new, straighter channel about a quarter-mile east of what had been Minnesota’s western border. They worked through the summer. At the end of October, the river’s flow was permanently diverted into its new pathway, and the blip of age-old former riverbed went dry.

Grandparents among us today still remember the sight: a mucky, barren depression punctuated by the old dam. Crowds gathered to see what they could see — submerged skeletons, perhaps? Submerged treasure? A stolen safe had been long rumored to be ditched down below. Police investigated, just in case. But to thrill-seekers’ disappointment, they spotted nothing but a rusty bicycle and a few corroded oil drums.

Meanwhile, the Corps also dealt with less controversial obstacles north of the Veterans Administration. One of three small adjacent oxbows was eliminated outright with crosswise excavation. The other two were fitted with weir dams that permit normal flow from day to day but divert high water to a straighter, broader path.

But besting Mother Nature by epic engineering wasn’t the end of the story then, as it hasn’t yet been today. By straightening the rerouted the Red River — the historic border between two states — 22.5 acres of what was still legally Minnesota was marooned on the wrong side. Not until the U.S. Congress approved an interstate compact in 1962 did the boundary shift east to the new riverbank.

Clay County’s loss was the city of Fargo’s gain. Remember that … and thank the North Star State next time your children sled on the Dike East or you park your car in the big lot east of the Stage at Island Park.

Sixty years ago, we won one. Two cities, two states and the federal government succeeded in not only taming a fraction of Mother Nature’s power, but untangling their competing interests long enough to redraw the map. Odds are, we can do it again.

(Thanks to archivist Mark Peihl of the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County and author Terry Shoptaugh, author of Red River Floods, for the research on which this is based.)