“NEVER FORGET WHERE YOU CAME FROM”

by Steve Clem on June 2, 2011

If you were fortunate enough to know Walt Fiegel, the late football coach/ teacher from Sioux City East High, you’d most likely know two favorites among his many favorite sayings.

“Never forget where you came from,” was one. “Tough times don’t last, tough people do,” was the other. (He had many!)

Well old Walt is looking down smiling right now at the community he called home for 40 years.

As thousands of people in the Siouxland area are dealing with the rising water levels of the Missouri River, those two phrases are living and breathing in the bodies of thousands of volunteers helping people out.

People drove from Omaha, Sioux Falls, Minneapolis, Chicago and beyond to help out their hometown and their friends and family. That’s a whole lot of remembering where you came from going on.

As the people in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota loaded all of their life possessions and memories into semi-trailers, pick up trucks, or whatever vehicle they could find (rumor has it one man was seen riding a Segway down Dakota Dunes Blvd for a box of garbage bags), it was very clear that these were tough people that were going to outlast the tough times.

As I helped my parents load up their entire life into a 53′ semitrailer, I found myself running on adrenaline. Just keep going, there will be time to rest later. And then I had moments where I knew a short break would be worth it to make sure I had more energy built up to keep moving on.

There were moments of sadness, like watching my friend Jill Dodds crying while she struggled to get her parents moved out of their home in the dunes. There weren’t enough hugs or words of encouragement to go around with the group of people shuffling between the two houses.

There were also moments of humor, like during a break, when the topic of conversation turned to my left foot, which I was unwrapping my ace bandage to put ice on it (new rule, don’t play basketball against my oldest mini-me ever again). “Hey man, that’s a pretty ugly foot, you probably need to go get another pedicure.”

There were moments of anger. Like the frustration of knowing we couldn’t load up the Dodds belongings for over 6 hours because the state patrol had shut off access to the neighborhood to all traffic other than the large dumptrucks bringing dirt to build the levee. Yes the levee was the most important piece of the puzzle, but if it ends up failing, God forbid, that is valuable time lost in getting people safely out of the dunes.

There were moments of gratitude to the core, like when I couldn’t keep up with the text messages from total strangers who were trying to come help us out. People who didn’t know us from Adam showed up and worked their asses off. For us. For nothing. Because that’s what you do.

And there were moments of guilt. Like when I left last night at 8:30, knowing that the Dodds house wasn’t completely done. But I was. My body and my brain and my soul couldn’t take one more minute.

After experiencing this extreme range of emotions, I realized that it was a little bit like deja vu all over again. I worked at the crash site for United Flight 232 back in July, 1989. This was the same exact feeling, only 22 years later.

And in both of those instances, I found myself feeling so damn proud of my hometown. And if you are from Sioux City and don’t feel that pride, I feel sorry for you, because it is something that doesn’t just happen anywhere.

If you are going to force me to endure a major tragedy, Lord, please make sure I’m in Sioux City, Iowa when it happens. Because those tough people, they’re the reason why I’ll never forget where I came from.

Oh, and Walt, I did hug my mother before I left town.

* * * *

Steve Clem originally published this piece on the blog A Prisoner in the Tundra.

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