Growing up North Dakotan

This Sunday I will be in Fargo participating in a panel discussion for the Why Radio Show.

The subject?

Growing up North Dakotan.

I will take a seat next to individuals who have a handle on their identities, who may have wandered, explored their world and asked the questions that need to be asked. And one of those questions is “What does it really mean to be North Dakotan?”

As a woman whose heart has been planted solid here, but whose feet and mind have wandered with music and education and the winding road, I have been asked this question in many forms. It’s like asking what it means to you to hold your last name, or wear your grandmother’s ring, or to lay down next to the man you love every night.

How do you answer it?

Not everyone can speak about it. Not everyone can explain.

Not everyone needs to.

I was talking to my good friend  on the phone yesterday afternoon. As I stood right in the middle of our home state she was in Oregon, a place on the map she picked with her husband. She had been there for nearly three months after years of college and graduate school they were looking for adventure, new opportunities, valuable experience before they settled into their lives. She is loving the ocean and the coffee shops and the eclectic culture. She loves the rain and the flowers and the new scenery and the people.

But you know what she said to me between breaths about her plans and her new apartment and the photography show she is putting together?

She is missing something.

“I miss that prairie. I want to lay in my grass and smell my lilacs and plant my garden and breathe in that sky. I miss my home.”


Her home.

Who are these people who hold the scent of the dirt, the push of the wind, the endless winters, the wheat fields, the small town in such regard?

Who tends their grandmother’s garden, brings in the baby calves into the basement in the dead of a blizzard? Who works the teller line and serves your morning coffee? Who has owned the Implement Dealership for years?

And who roams all over the world for years on end, traveling over seas to live and work in foreign languages, who are leaders of cities and  major corporations? Who serves in the military,  climbs mountains and rafts raging rivers only to find themselves pulled back again, to be haunted by the memories of sunsets and 4th of July Celebrations no matter how how far they have traveled or how long they’ve been gone.

Who is North Dakota?

We are rural route roads, beat-up mailboxes and dusty school bus seats. We are rides in the combine, summer sausage sandwiches, a thermos of coffee washed down with warm lemonade and  faces black with dirt after a hot August day.

Two miles to a gravel road on the edge of town and we are freedom, our father’s truck, twelve years old behind the steering wheel.

We are first loves and last loves and forever loves found on those backroads at night, on front porches, in the backseats of cars and under a blanket shared in the stands at a football game.

We are the stars that light up the endless sky at night, family farms, four generations of the same recipe on Christmas Eve.

The barnyard light.

We are white wood prairie churches, our mother’s voice quietly singing the hymns, jello with suspended vegetables and mayonnaise casseroles waiting for us in the basement when the service is through.

We are wet clay caked to cowboy boots, the black soil of the valley, the stoplight in town.

High heels and business suits, running shoes and hoping things will stay the same…knowing that they need to change.

Number crunchers, songs that must be sung, books that must be written.

Snake bitten.

We scream for sun and pray for rain and push the river from our doors. We’ve been here before.

Chokecherry jam, misquote bites, country fairs, one station on the radio, too young for our first beer, FFA and 4-H steers. Too young to leave here.

We are race car tracks and power lines, hockey rinks and barbed fence wire.

Drilling rigs and endless fields of wheat…September heat.

We are bicycle tires in the middle of Main Street, fireworks in May, popsicles and swimming pools and a stop at the Tastee Freeze please. Rodeos and American Legion, football heroes, lead singers in the band, the ferris wheel in town.

Pow wows, three legged races, familiar faces, dances in the street.

Fishing in the creek.

We are “Pete’s kid,” “Edie’s granddaughter,” and  “Your mother wants you home right away!”

We are pushed to go and pulled to stay, we are leaving this place as soon as we’re grown.

And we are the sky we can’t explain, predictably unpredictable, colorful and full of rage and gentle hope that it’s all ok.

We’re the wind, relentless.

The snow, endless.

Sharp and hard and steadfast and certain like the winter and the change in weather.

We are the dirt under our nails, our wind tangled hair, the cattails and bluebells and big white tail deer.

We are all of these things that make up a home, but home is not ours to take.

It is in us and we have been claimed.

Join me for:

“Growing Up North Dakotan”

A panel discussion featuring Joshua Boschee, Kathryn Joyce, Jessie Veeder Scofield, and others. Moderated by WHY? host Jack Russell Weinstein

Prairie Public Television Studio
5-7 pm
207 5th Street North
Fargo, ND
Facebook Event 

The event is free. Come be a part of the audience, ask questions, make comments, and engage philosophically with this most important issue.

If you can’t be in Fargo, please share with me here how North Dakota has claimed you.

19 thoughts on “Growing up North Dakotan

  1. Great post…I grew up in Minnesota, right alongside Fargo, North Dakota. We spent the summers exploring the lakes and the winters walking in the tire tracks and using piles of snow along the boulevards as walkways to school. We walked to school starting in nursery school because the school was in the church basement just one block away. We had school pride and Minnesota pride running through our veins – still do. Though having ventured away several times I’ve settled on prairie not too far away, further north in Canada. We share the weather and floods, and thankfully am a short drive away from my parents home – same house for 43 years now. My mom’s health has put her in a nursing home and everywhere she turns there is a friend. One nurse was our youth leader at church, others worked with mom at the flower shop — others grew up with us. North Dakota- Minnesota, beautiful places to live and to grow up. I love where I am now, but if I could afford a 2nd home it would be back home.
    Thank you for this wonderful post…

  2. Oh wow. This one needs to be framed. You nailed it perfectly. Thank you Jessie for being the words and the voice for so many who can’t get it said right and proper.

  3. Beautiful Jessie! And well-said!
    Even on our first date (we took my nephew to Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, FL) my husband talked about North Dakota, his home, in a way which I knew meant he would return. Six years later, we did. I can’t honestly say that I have the same affection for ND as you natives…it’s not my home, it’s not in my blood…but I do have a deep appreciation and admiration for the state and even more, the people. After all, my husband and children do have North Dakotan blood running through their veins. Some of the words you used (relentless, steadfast) certainly describe the North Dakotans I know. And tough… which goes along with being relentless – a “let’s make this happen” kind of tough- and steadfast – a “we’ll ride this out” kind of tough. It goes with the territory, I guess. There aren’t the quick, easy, instant conveniences, entertainments and distractions.
    I came to a realization of how much the wide sky and open prairie had affected me (or in your words, “claimed” me) when I returned to Florida after living here for 8 months. Although I was delighted to be in old familiar places, I felt almost claustrophobic. I tried to explain the feeling of living with so much “space” to friends and family and the best I could do is compare it to being at the beach turned away from the rows of hotels or condos, toward the ocean. Just the sense of openness and freedom. It’s a feeling I would sometimes get when I played outfield positions in softball. Now, I have that when I walk out my door.

    • I love your perspective on the people here, and I love that you have grown to appreciate it and the fact that those you love have ND in their blood 🙂 Truth is it sounds like you are becoming more North Dakotan by the day, especially after sharing your claustrophobia experience. I had that when I lived in the mountains briefly. Pretty soon you’ll get the accent too 🙂

      Regardless, we are glad to have your Florida sunshine here in this great state!

  4. What “Growing up in ND” has meant and still means many things…my first 7yrs, I was raised on a farm where my dad was a dairy farmer. The closest town was 5miles away. I badly wished I was a city kid but now that I’m much older and have kiddos of my own, that part taught me to appreciated nature, my friends were cows whom yes, I named(No Bessie). I remember the outdoor movies, going a quarter mile up the hill for an egg when we were out, party lines, penny candy, ect. After we moved off the farm and life wasn’t always pleasant after my parents divorced and dad remarried, I wondered why I was stuck in this state. After HS and some college, I went to FL to live w/ my mom and I was a little naive. Being from North Dakota I was use to little crime where in another state, you didn’t go out after dark at all. Then my brother was expecting a child so I flew to HI. I took care of my niece and worked at the Honolulu Airport. I’m thankful for my time away and have many places I’d like to visit b4 my time is up but being a North Dakotan means so many things, the simple things, little traffic, but most of all, the genuine authenticity of those who do see it as I care for their fellow neighbors, friends ect. I have a friend from China who worked at Medora..she tells evryone to come here. Walk w/ grace. Nicole

  5. For me, growing up North Dakotan did not require me to have grown up in North Dakota. My mother, grandmother and Uncle did that for me. I, on the other hand, grew up in Minneapolis. Because of them, I was able to spend every summer of my childhood living in North Dakota, becoming a North Dakotan, and spending the other 10 months of the year dreaming of being back in North Dakota. My love affair with North Dakota did not waiver once I became a teenager, nor did it falter when I lost my grandmother at age 14. I did not stop coming to North Dakota when my uncle decided to give up farming for a custom combining business that brought him to Dickinson – some 50 miles away from where I really did my growing up. North Dakota is who I am. So much so, that at 29 years old, I still spend three weeks a summer out in North Dakota – the most vacation time I can take (no Caribbean, European, or Hawaiian vacations for me!) My two sisters, their 5 children, my mom and I still go out to North Dakota every year to live the life of a North Dakotan. We may be visitors, but we are still North Dakotan’s. This I am sure of. For several good reasons. The countdown to our departure to North Dakota begins around 230 days. Every day there is an update to the duration of our wait. No one can understand why on earth! I would want to spend my entire vacation in North Dakota. Even with a solid explanation, they still shake their heads and mumble something about Mexico, Puerto Rico, or the like (I am a travel agent no less!). I buy shampoo that have hints of coconut smells so I can be reminded on a daily basis of the Mott swimming pool. The only thing I can think of when trying on a potential shirt at the mall is ‘Will this look good on me in North Dakota?’ My future children (and horse’s) names will all pay homage to the great state of North Dakota. The activities during our stay are the exact same every year – and never lose their excitement (…Spending time at the farm…Riding Horses in the Little Missouri State Park…Having lunch in Chimney Park…Hiking Medicine Hole…Rodeos…Shopping at Runnings…Shopping at the John Deere Tractor Supply store…the list of super awesome things is really endless!!!) There are so many things that growing up North Dakotan means to me, but the most important of all would be this – To read about combine rides, chokecherry jelly, and summer sausage sandwiches and have to choke back the tears it brings to your eyes. To remember being known as “Esther’s granddaughters” or later the “Big City girls” when there still were people to know us. To lay in the grass and smell the prairie sage and watch the most beautiful display of cloud formations you’ve ever seen in the world and wish that there was no where else you ever had to be – ever. To read post after post and stare at a computer screen in utter disbelief after reading the thoughts and feelings of someone you have never known, never met, and feel as if they were plucked right from your own brain – talk about a place that makes people feel the same no matter where they grew up, what they experienced, or where they have gone since. To find that someone else has a red road (or pink or salmon). A place on this earth that holds the strongest emotions of love and awe and gratitude. The place you want to be more than anywhere else in this world. No other place I’ve been has come close to North Dakota (in 9 countries, 45 states and close to a million cities ;). There is no place that is as special. Growing up North Dakotan is who we are, and we are so lucky to get all the wonderful things that go along with it.

    p.s. The countdown is 28 days, 16 hours, and 8 minutes 🙂

    • Minnekota, this made my day! What a great story that illustrates perfectly that family pride and connectedness that this landscape, small town pride and wide open skies gives us. I hope you enjoy every minute of your vacation to your beloved state. The countdown is indeed on! Thanks so much for sharing and celebrating your relationship with your home away from home.

  6. You said it perfectly … it’s HOME!

    The smell of the just tilled soil, the lilacs in bloom and the air after a spring rain.

    The sounds of children laughing, the 8 second whistle at a rodeo, the roar of a thunderstorm rolling in, even the wind that blows everyday!

    The taste of chockcherry jam, ruhbarb pie and all the wonders of your mom’s/grandma’s homemade cooking!

    The touch of the grass on your barefeet, the sun baking down on you after a long hard winter, and the touch of that first snowflake hitting your cheek.

    The changing of the seasons – waiting and waiting for spring to arrive and being just as excited (and ready) for fall to come – It’s the wide open spaces, the fresh air…

    It’s the joy of generations at family reunions, 4th of July parades and the feeling of being family in a small town.

    It’s getting your kids up for school every morning – having chores to do, it’s having supper every night with my family, attending school and church activities and having friends who really become your family.

    That’s what North Dakota is to me… it’s HOME!
    Thank you for reminding us of all the wonders we have here in ND!

  7. Your posts are so inspiring, Jessie! I love it. Wonderful job!

    To me, North Dakota is a place where you can drive down the road and get the “one-finger wave” from a neighbor, spend an hour or two at a neighbor’s place when you stopped for five minutes to borrow a tool or something and end up having a couple cups of coffee, cookies, and a good visit. It’s about having something happen to a family member and having nearly all of your neighbors call and offer their help. It’s about getting on your horse in the early morning, breathing in the crisp, cool air, and turning to your dad and say, “Isn’t this the greatest?” It’s about traveling to Medora and finding a friend on every corner willing to smile and say hi. It’s about getting stranded on the road (car breakdown) and knowing someone in nearly any community across North Dakota who would be willing to drop everything and come and help you.

    North Dakota is – and always will be – my home. And I am so proud to say that!

  8. Aaahhh, so many memories came rushing back from what you wrote. My personal favorite? Blankets at football games – that made me laugh out loud. I think North Dakota has an innocence about her and that is what I truly miss. I am so very proud to be a “NortDakodan” and will cherish bringing back my sons to be farm boys, if only for a few weeks every summer. Frankly, being a farm kid from Western North Dakota is pretty bad ass. There aren’t many of us out here.

  9. You said it better than best; I loved this post. This might be an all time favorite!

    You had me at “chokecherry jam and too young for your first beer”

    wonderful wonderful wonderful!


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