This is a photo of my best friend (the tiny little blonde thing) and me sitting on her dad’s lap when we were just babies.
This was likely taken in my parents’ little trailer where they first lived on the ranch when they got married.
I think we still have that rocking chair.
I spent my entire childhood with that little blonde girl who lived up the hill along the highway on the place where her dad was raised. We had plenty of adventures and we were lucky to have each other out here growing up in the middle of nowhere. I guarantee having her in my life went a long ways in the ‘happy childhood memories’ department.
We used to plan on how we would grow up, have some adventures and move back to our ranches and be neighbors forever.
Who would have thought that the best laid plans of ten year old girls would wind up coming together twenty years later.
It’s a story that doesn’t get told much out here in Western North Dakota where the focus is on Boomtown and oil and all the trouble and sacrifice and nervousness it creates.
There is that. Some of that.
And then there is the fact that I would never be here, on my family’s 100 year old ranch, living down the road from my childhood best friend who was out helping our dads work cattle last Friday just like the old days, one or two of her four kids in tow, if it wasn’t for an economy that could support us building houses and making lives and carrying on traditions out here on our family farms.
When I graduated from high school in 2001, the porch lights along the gravel roads that connected us to town, were going out one by one.
Now they are turning on by the dozens, fourth and fifth generations getting a chance to be involved in the family business, or, like many of our friends, taking advantage of the opportunity to return home to a place they were raised and raise their own children.
Take this picture for example. This is a photo of my husband and some of his closest friends at our senior prom fourteen years ago (gasp!).
At a time when our hometown and home state were dealing with outmigration and we were told to get out of here, go get an education, move to Minneapolis or Chicago and start a life, make something of yourself, it’s interesting to note that of the six young men in this photo, all six of them have moved back to western North Dakota to raise their families.
Three of them are back on family ranches and one of them is in a beautiful house outside of our hometown raising three boys.
These guys, for all the wild shit they survived in their teenage years, grew up to own successful businesses, build houses and hold and be promoted in professional jobs. One of them is even a teacher and a coach. And between them all they are raising (or will be raising, if you count our little one coming along) fourteen kids out here in Western North Dakota…a place that seemed to once be on the verge of extinction.
Now, when I look around at events happening in town, basketball games, figure skating shows, dances on Main Street, I see about a hundred more stories of hometown kids coming back to make a life in a familiar place that is growing and busting at the seams.
A place they help make better by volunteering to coach 2nd grade football or, like my best friend up the road, help run the gymnastics program. Because their memories of this place motivate them to make sure they’re making good memories for their own children.
A few weekends ago I went up to have supper at my best friend’s beautiful house up the road. She invited some of our other friends to join us, and they all brought their kids and we ate meatballs and gravy and it occurred to me how unique of a situation we’ve found ourselves in…knowing each other’s history, loving each other from the time of fanny packs and biker shorts, and getting the opportunity to raise our own children together.
So that’s what this week’s column is about. Generations having the opportunity to build lives out here.
Who would have thought?
Coming Home: Newfound hope means we’re raising kids with our old classmates
by Jessie Veeder
On top of the hill across from the golf course, my hometown is busy building a brand-new, beautiful high school.
Plans have been in the works for a few years as our student population continues to grow, forcing classes to be held in portable rooms even after a recent elementary school renovation.
Even during these times of lower oil prices.
It’s hard to imagine, but it’s true. The kindergarten class this year registered well into a hundred students, and in a matter of six or so years, we have not only exploded in population from 1,200 residents to closer to 10,000, but we’ve turned from an aging community into a young one.
Last weekend, my best friend — the neighbor girl who used to meet at the top of the hill so we could ride our bikes along the centerline of the highway — called us to come over for supper. A few years ago she and her husband, my classmate, built a beautiful house on her family’s ranch, fulfilling the plans we made when we were kids jumping from hay bale to hay bale to “grow up, get jobs and be neighbors forever.”
So I grabbed a bottle of wine (because someone should be drinking this wine) and headed up the hill to her house where she’s raising four kids, the youngest a son who will be only six months older than our baby on the way.
Lord help us all if this baby is a boy, too.
Anyway, that night we gathered for meatballs and gravy to catch up with a house full of friends. I looked around the kitchen, listened to the guys talk sports and bounce new babies and realized that every single one of those five grown men grew up together. And there were more of them, quite a few more of them, who couldn’t make it to the party.
And while it’s not a surprise (more than half of the classmates who attended our 10-year high school reunion had either moved back home or were making plans to move), it was fun to take a look around and think about the next chapter in our lives as friends in a town they told us no one could come home to.
But look how wrong we can be about predicting the future. One of my husband’s best friends — the one who lived right down the block and was in on more than a few paint ball and principal office shenanigans with him — held his newborn son at the table. That friend was my locker buddy, and his dad was locker buddies with my dad, and it just occurred to me that the baby boy he was bouncing could very likely be locker buddies with our baby, too.
(Would it be more or less trouble if our baby is a girl?)
And there are quite a few stories like this in my hometown these days, not just among our small class of 40 or so, but among other classes here as well. Best friends from childhood raising families alongside one another, taking turns driving kids to football or gymnastics, meeting up to barbecue, to sit and visit with a sort of ease and familiarity that comes with knowing one another when we wore our pants too baggy and drove too fast.
Who would have known? When I left home almost 15 years ago, the porch lights on the farmhouses were going out one by one. This landscape was so much darker without any real hope of new and younger hands to flip the switch back on.
And nothing was going to make it any different except a change in the makeup of this place that would make it so we wouldn’t have to struggle the way our parents did.
Around the supper table that evening there wasn’t a person raised here who didn’t respect and love it in their own way. But just because we’re connected by the land doesn’t necessarily mean that we would naturally remain connected to one another.
Except in this case it is enough, to find this place worthy of returning to and planting new seeds, a new generation raised in a familiar, changing and unpredictable place.