What A Party

I finally got around to finishing a piece I’ve been working on about my experience living through the storm that ravaged the Yankton area Dec. 11. In this case, I’m happy to report that the circumstances made it a great time.


What a party. What a party.
When we all assembled at the Argo Hotel in Crofton, Neb., that Friday night to celebrate the 40th birthday of our friend, Eric, there were murmurs of what the morning could bring.
However, the prevailing wisdom was of an optimistic nature — the kind of delusional hope necessary to survive the winters of the northern Great Plains. We were all in agreement that there would be an inch of snow at most and some high winds. After last winter, it hardly sounded like a threat, and the majority of us weren’t going to let it interfere with our plans to spend the night in the historic hotel.
With the specter of the weather tucked away in the backs of our minds, we proceeded to celebrate in earnest.
We ate our choice of steak, shrimp or chicken. We beat back promises to ourselves to watch what we eat this holiday season as we poured generous helpings of homemade ranch dressing on our salads.
Just out of our eye sight, former Crofton band teacher Kim Sawatzke banged out renditions of popular tunes like Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy” and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”
An assortment of jovial spirits made their way into our hands and then into our mouths as we sought to infuse the evening with a bit of levity.
Midnight came to pass and excursions outside of the hotel proved to be pleasant and mild journeys for this time of year.
However, when the speakeasy in the basement of the hotel closed at 1:30 a.m., a new reality greeted us as we peered out the upstairs windows.
That quiet black lamb had become a roaring white lion.
Rather than being discouraged by the threatening developments, some of us took it as an invitation to carry on with the festivities.
It wasn’t until the morning hours that the magnitude of our situation became clear. Our self-assurances that we would be able to navigate the drifts and low visibility were trampled by the piling snow. Yankton — so close on any normal day — was now a world away. We were trapped in a sea of snow, and the Argo Hotel would have to serve as our vessel to ride out the storm.
Fortunately, our ark was rich with supplies.
French toast, chili and chicken Kiev were among the culinary delights we were treated to by hotel owner Sandra (Bogner) McDonald as she guided the ship through the rough waters.
The howl of the wind became a constant companion, whether we sat in the dining area or retreated to our rooms. But this was our home now, and we felt safe knowing the hundreds of storms it had endured in the past.
The grand staircase. The bevy of decorative lights welcoming the holiday season. The fully-stocked bar. Home sweet home.
Unused to residing in such historic grandeur, some of us resorted to referencing the only other such hotel with which we were familiar: The Overlook Hotel of “The Shining.” By this time, we were all familiar with the ghost lore of the Argo. In fact, we had our own stories of moving curtains and chairs. However, there were no cries reported from children or women who had died long ago — a popular story that haunts the hotel. In our experience, this was no Overlook. There were no blood-filled elevators, ghostly twin girls — or Jacks, for that matter.
And things were certainly never dull.
We passed the time with conversation, with games, with occasional notions of venturing home through the storm.
By Sunday morning, the sun had emerged. We were relieved to no longer hear the cruel wind’s screams outside the hotel. As fast as we could, we dug our vehicles from the storm’s rubble and bid the Argo and its owner farewell. It had served as our home away from home, but in the end, there is no place like your real home.
What a party it was — one we’ll never forget, as Eric wisely predicted.
And whenever I think back to it in the days that have followed, I think Tara’s words as we sat down for dinner that Saturday night summarize it best: “This whole thing feels like a dream …”

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