Listen

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Listen, Because it’s important
Forum Communications

I’m sitting in the airport in Minneapolis waiting for a flight to take me up and out of this city, back home to resume life as normal.

I came for a conference meant to connect people from all walks of life and give us the tools to start a conversation about acceptance, inclusion and understanding as we work to build our communities together — all of those things that start with a story and hover around an open mind.

It’s interesting to reflect on this in an airport where all of these lives in bodies converge, touch, talk, brush by one another, hold on to the same railing and sit side by side, knees nearly touching, everyone carrying the weight of their own world on their way to the sky.

So close, but we’re strangers.

I like to sit in places like these because I can be anonymous and sort of invisible if I want to be. My life in a small town doesn’t offer me that very often, even though last week I wished I were as I was sitting in road construction traffic for nearly an hour with a screaming baby in the back, giving into my urge to scream too and bang my fists on the steering wheel, as if that were going to change anything about my situation.

Yesterday, as part of one of our workshops, we were tasked to stand in front of a stranger and talk for one minute while the other person just listened under the assumption that we are an amazing person.

It was one of those exercises that make even the most confident person sort of squirm. It was uncomfortable. I was self-conscious. A 60-second pointless ramble to a person I will likely never see again. I just wasn’t convinced.

But something shifted when it was my turn to listen and her turn to speak. I fought my urge to ask questions, to relate, to say “me too,” or “tell me more about that” or ask her how she’s doing now.

We did the exercise three or four more times, sharing different parts of our stories with different strangers, and I left there exhausted but a bit enlightened. When’s the last time I gave someone, a friend or a stranger, the good grace of simply listening, without remark or request?

We want to know about community and how to build it. We want to know peace and how to find it. We want friendship and love and hope and healing. We buy the books and the movies and podcasts and take a plane to a big, unfamiliar city where we can disappear from our real lives for a moment.

But we weren’t meant to hide our stories. Hard or unnerving, collected or entertaining, we can only help ourselves if we spill those stories out into the world like baby Rosie’s wails in my car that day, filling up the space with the certainty of her existence, willing me not to wail back and pound my fists the way I did, but to hear her.

And then scoop her up in my arms.

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The privilege of growing old

Maybe growing old isn’t what I once thought it was
Forum Communications
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When I was a young kid, my grandma Edith would take us to town. I would ride in the back seat on the blue velvety cloth seats of her sedan, my feet dangling above the floor and my eyes reaching just high enough to watch the power lines whiz past the window.

She would run errands. To the drugstore, to the grocery store, to the Chuckwagon Cafe where her brother sat drinking coffee in his seed cap and then to the nursing home to visit her mother.

Great-grandma Gudrun was as close to 100 years old as most people ever get when I was the epitome of a kid, scraped knees and carefree. And when you’re a kid, close to 100 might as well be 100 million.

And there are things I remember about her there — mostly her stark white hair and her cane, the candy she offered and the tiny TV quietly flickering other people’s stories in the built-in shelves among her trinkets…

But I was a kid and all my memories revolve around how I felt and what I saw. Shy and quiet, wanting to escape to visit the birds in the atrium or feed the fish. Hoping she didn’t forget the candy.

It never occurred to me to think about what it meant to her to see her daughter with her great-granddaughters trailing behind. She raised 12 kids, after all. I wonder now if she liked the quiet that came with aging, or did it make her uneasy? I have so many things I want to ask her now that I am not that timid, unaware kid anymore.

8. Great Grandma Gudrun and Great Grandpa Severin Linseth and their 12 children Edith Linseth Veeder is center in the plaid

Last weekend, the arts organization I belong to helped host a Harvest Fest at the area nursing home and assisted living facility, the same place Gramma Gudrun used to live. Her son, the same man who used to drink coffee in the Chuckwagon Cafe, lives there now.

He sat outside on the front porch all afternoon and listened to his nephew, my dad, and his band play music while kids and families loaded up on horse-drawn wagons, squealed at the chickens, goats, bunnies and mini horse in our makeshift petting zoo, won apple pies in game after game of bingo, ate dessert and painted wooden pumpkins inside.

This event was a way of welcoming the community to engage and connect with their elders over stories attached to those apple pies, or the fancy chickens my friend brought to town. To tap their toes to the music under a clear, fall sky and remember where we came from. And maybe, help ease the fear that comes with aging. For them.

And for us.

When I was 8 or 10 visiting my great-grandma, I never imagined what it might be like to be an old woman. But I can imagine it now.

And I can see what a privilege it is and how we need to do better at not only celebrating it, but embracing the slowdown. The sit down. The process.

Because at the end of our lives, we only have the memories, and I understand now that it’s up to us to make sure that our elders never stop making them.
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In dark times, hang on to hope

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Western North Dakota has become many different things to so many different people over the last 10 years of an all out and unprecedented economic boom — a refuge. A last resort. A stop along the way. An experiment. An adventure. And for many, a new home.

Last week, it became a place where a family lost their baby to the sky.

And this isn’t my story to tell except that it’s my community and my heart is breaking. In another time of my life here in my hometown, it would have been more likely that I would have known many of the families whose homes were ravaged by a tornado that whipped through a trailer park on the south side of town in the terrifying and devastating moments before midnight.

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MIKE McCLEARY Bismarck Tribune

But then again, in another time, that trailer park was nothing but a field and I was a young girl with plans to leave a place that didn’t yet hold all of these new dreams, let alone my own.

But here we are now, together in this town, together between new stoplights, new foundations and freshly planted lawns, all of us on wobbly knees, all of us so focused on navigating our place here that maybe we forgot about that sky and how it can freeze our pipes and frost bite our skin only to turn around and soak us in sweat before sending down hail stones and ripping homes from the dirt.

And maybe that’s why the lump swelled up in my throat the way it did when I heard of the devastation that occurred while I was lying safe in my bed with my arms around my own baby. Twenty-eight injuries. One child lost. More than 100 people displaced in a town that has yet to become familiar to many of them.

I didn’t want this to be their experience here. I didn’t want this to be the place where a baby lost his chance at a future, where bodies were injured and belongings scattered in the dirt. I didn’t want this devastation to be a chapter in our unpredictable story.

But if we can’t control the sky, we can control how we connect our hearts to our hands and our hands to our actions. And we can carry on the narrative of compassion and neighborly love and muscle that made us a dot on the map in this wild place to begin with.

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A cat found in the rubble of a mobile home destroyed by Tuesday morning’s tornado hitting Watford City rests in the arms of Andrew Anderson, a missionary helping the Red Cross at the Prairie View RV Park.

And that’s what I see happening here now. Even if there’s no blanket soft enough and no hug tight enough to put that baby back in his mother’s arms, at least there’s a community wondering how they might help those new parents bear the weight of their grief.

Because the roads in and out of this town are full of people talking about how they’ve been helped and hurt, how they’re leaving for good or coming to stay forever.

And regardless of the story, I wish nothing for any of us but to hold on to hope. Because the sky can rumble, it can scream and shake us until we break. But in so many ways I’ve come to know it to shine again and that’s the only promise any of us can make here in this place.​

As shelter closes, Red Cross praises Watford City

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Chris Moore stands beside the American flag he has attached to the box of his pickup truck parked next to his mobile home at the Prairie View RV Park in Watford City on Tuesday afternoon. His home was damaged by the EF2 tornado that struck the park in the early morning hours, but the flag remained upright. MIKE McCLEARY Bismarck Tribune

Neighbor Kelly

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There’s so much more I could say about neighbor Kelly, so many stories that he would tell so much better than me, but I’ve only got 500 newspaper words for this week’s column.  He’s been like my second dad for as long as I can remember and I hope you have a neighbor like this in any weather…no matter where you are.

Coming Home: On the ranch, being a good neighbor means so much

Out here on the ranch there are millions of tasks that require the proper attire. When I was growing up I don’t think I ever saw our neighbor out of his Carhart bibs during the winter months. He would come in for a visit and sit at the kitchen table for an hour or so looking prepared to get up and go at any moment. Which he is — prepared, reliable and fearless. We know, because we’ve tested him.

Neighbor Kelly was the go-to guy to call when Dad wasn’t home for emergencies like a loose horse, broken appliances and keys locked in cars when you’re late for a meeting. Just a mile away, Kelly is quick on response time, too, there in a flash with a coat hanger and a plan. And depending on the season, his Carhartts and wool cap.

Oh, Kelly’s collected hundreds of rescues like this throughout the years because when you live in the middle of nowhere, being a good neighbor means wearing a dozen different hats.

So Kelly is a locksmith, yes, but he also earned his exterminator badge that time he tackled the suspected pack rat problem by camping out on the living room floor with Dad, pellet guns pointed at the cabinet under the sink waiting for the signal.

And when Mom found herself a snapping turtle in the garage, Kelly was there to assist in a plan to wrangle it back to the dam.

Kittens stuck behind the refrigerator? Call Kelly — he’s more agile and can fit back there.

Seating for hundreds needs to be built for your daughter’s wedding in your cow pasture? Kelly’s got a hammer and a case of beer.

Cows need to be moved? Kelly’ll be there early with a horse and maybe his bullwhip just for kicks ’cause he might get a chance to climb that big butte and snap it like the Man from Snowy River.

Because Kelly’s the guy who’s entertaining like that. He’s the sweetest harmony in the band, the best dressed and the only one who can yodel.

He’s the guy you call if you want an epic sledding party because he’s got an unmatched dedication to fun that sends him out there for hours with a shovel clearing a fast course, complete with a jump at the bottom and a campfire at the top and a new snowboard waiting to send him to the emergency room.

Most notably though, he’s the Lefty to the Poncho that is my father. When Dad called us in the middle of the night, unknowingly staring death in the face, we called the ambulance and then we called Kelly.

And when they airlifted Dad to Bismarck for an emergency surgery during an ice storm, Kelly drove the three hours on those roads behind us to sit with us in the waiting room. Recently, when Dad was in the hospital in Minneapolis, Kelly made that trip too, and a trip almost every day now down the road a mile to see his friend as he recovers.

And I can’t imagine this place without Kelly up the road.

I’m just hoping it warms up so he can take those Carhartts off soon.

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It takes a village to raise a mom

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It takes a village to raise a mom 

Sunday Column, Forum Communications

This morning I drove Edie to town to daycare so I could get some work done. My husband has been gone hunting in Montana over the past few weekends and into this week, and so I’ve been on my own a bit more, managing a schedule of deadlines, performances, doctors appointments and fun, calling on my mom and dad, sister, mother in law and daycare provider to fill in the blanks of caretaking along the way so that my husband can have time to do the things that make him feel like himself, obliging, of course, because he does the same for me.

I’m sitting in my mom’s coffee shop to work, the occasional shrill of the latte machine cutting through the background hum of conversation and music coming from the speakers. If you sit in a place like this long enough you get a good glimpse of the characters that make up a community, or at least the characters who prefer to get through their day with a proper dose of caffeine and conversation.

When I was a kid my grandma would take my little sister and I into town to run errands. After a stop at the pharmacy and post office we would inevitably wind up at the Chuck Wagon Café on the corner for a hamburger or ice cream. If Dixie, my favorite waitress was working, she would serve us chocolate ice cream with chocolate syrup and chocolate M&Ms, a sweet indulgence and a simple gesture that seemed to stick with me throughout my life the same way I’ve kept the memory of a teenage neighbor giving me words of wisdom about an unruly horse at a 4-H show when I was eleven.

And there are dozens others—my third grade teacher who would let me write plays for our class to perform for the school during lesson time, our hired man who drove an El Camino and saved our puppy when he got his head stuck in the Christmas tree stand and caught my sister and I a grass snake to keep as a pet one summer, the older neighbor boy who taught us girls how to play football by running plays on his knees and letting us tackle him, my aunt uncle who would have me at their ranch for a few weeks in the summer to eat popsicles and help my cousins groom and show their sheep and steers and pitcher of KoolAid that was always waiting for us in the plastic pitcher on the kitchen counter in the house.

These are the moments embedded in that old saying “It takes a village to raise a child.” I’ve been thinking about it lately as I’ve been relying on my extended family and friends more than ever to help me balance mom life and work life and making sure the laundry is done once in a while. And a parent could start to feel guilty about leaning on others in the hectic times, especially someone like me who is under confident about asking for help and thinks she can handle it all on her own.

Except the older Edie gets, and as my big belly grows along with our plans, I have slowly come to realize that not only can we not do this parenting thing alone; I don’t know if we were meant to.

Because that little village of 4-H leaders, grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, nice waitresses, neighbors, baby sitters and teenagers I looked up to are characters woven into the story of my life who not only taught me lessons, but sweetened my life experience beyond the borders of our barnyard

And you know, now that I think of it, the influence of that village didn’t stop when I found myself all grown up, it’s just that I think I took them for granted until now when I feel I need them the most. Because it turns out it takes a village to raise a mom too, and I am thankful for mine.

How old stories help us hold on

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Coming Home: How old stories help us hold on

One of the best parts about sharing stories every week is that sometimes it compels others to share their stories, too, reminding me how closely strangers can be connected.

For the past few months I’ve been traveling on behalf of my new book, telling stories about crocus picking, old pickup driving and growing up on the back of my old mare.

Inevitably then, after the show, I get to hear a few of your own memories, the ones sparked by my recollection of sliding down the gumbo hill in the pouring rain in my pajamas, because—aw, you have a gumbo story of your own? One that started out with a pretty pink jacket bought to impress his family and ended with you and that pink jacket planted in the sticky mud after a too-close-for-comfort call with a rattlesnake den.

Yes, your boyfriend might have saved you from a nasty bite, but you never got over the ruined jacket.

I’ve never really thought about it before, but this is how I acquired a reverence for storytelling. It was all those afternoon coffee breaks I’d sit in as a kid, the ones where the neighbors would take their hats off after branding or a day spent fixing a stubborn part on the tractor again, and the recount of the things that went wrong during the day would spark a story about another time, a few years back, when a new spring opened up on the flat over the winter and he was loping along across that stretch and the ground just disappeared beneath that horse …

And that would remind my neighbor of a time they ran the outfitting business, and they were taking some guests on a ride through a narrow trail of the badlands and down slid their best horse with a dude on his back. It’s a story we all might have heard before, the ground becoming a little steeper with each re-telling, all the could-have-beens recounted over and over as they rehashed their gratitude that it all turned out OK in the end.

Good grief.

Thank God.

Can you imagine?

Last week I got a letter in the mail from a woman who used to help out a family friend who ran trail rides in the badlands for years. This is the ranch where our old Stormy spent years working as a trail horse, and after reading about how we recently lost him to the years, this woman felt compelled to write me to share with me her own memories of that spotted gelding. Included among her recollections was a photo of Stormy in his younger days, taking that cowboy through the sagebrush badlands. I put my hand to my mouth, surprised by the tears that caught in my throat as I folded up that letter, remembering that Stormy was someone else’s coffee-break story once.

Reminded, in a world that spins too quickly, stories are the only way we can really hold on.

Keep telling them.

Daddies on their way to work

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Coming Home: Daddies on their way to work
by Jessie Veeder
3-19-17
http://www.inforum.com

I unloaded my daughter and her backpack, and we left the car with the mechanic and sat down on the chairs in the lobby. It smelled like a combination of tire rubber and grease. The sun had warmed the snow enough to make it stick to the rubber soles of the muck boots everyone wears around here, leaving squeaky, muddy footprints to and from the door that dings when it opens…

We live in oil country. It’s been this way since my husband and I moved back to our home turf nearly six years ago. We used to call it a boom. The Wild Wild West. Men arriving from all corners of the country looking for high-paying jobs, some young and single and up for anything, others with families they left in Oklahoma or Arkansas, going back to visit every other two weeks, living in close quarters with other men in trailers, hotel rooms or apartments and sending money back home.

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Watford City, 2014

Add the heavy traffic flow, long lines at the post office and extravagant news stories about crime, safety and how you couldn’t find a woman in the mix with a magnifying glass, and that was the narrative out here.
It’s funny how fast a story can morph into history in a place like this.Funny what a half hour in a Jiffy Lube with a toddler can show you about your community.
I’m married to a man who works in an industry that sends him out into the elements every day to help fuel the world. Along with raising cattle on our ranch, this is his job.
He wears fire retardant jeans, a button-up shirt, a hooded jacket and a ball cap every day, the ultimate uniform of a majority of the working men in this part of the country.
In Edie’s eyes, in Jiffy Lube that day, every man that came through the door for an oil change that day was a daddy. And she was thrilled about it.
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So she hollered “Hi!!” loudly and repeatedly to each of them.Certain that none of them wanted to spend their wait having a conversation with a toddler, I tried to distract her with crackers and a story.”How old is she?” the man across the room asked.”Oh, she’s one,” I replied, reminded then that they’re likely also husbands.”Hhiii!” Edie waved.
“I remember that stage,” he said as Edie dropped down from her seat and did a little twirl on that dirty floor, and soon we were talking about his teenage daughter and her short-lived trombone career, his tech-savvy sons and the wife that moved his family here from the south to be with him.
Because when they talk about their families, history taught me to ask if they’re here together.”Yeah, they’re here,” he said. They’d been here for four years or so. They have a nice place in a new development south of town.”We like it here,” he said. “It feels like home.”
They called his name.
“Have a great day,” I said.”Byyeee,” said Edie.
As he went out, another young guy in the uniform came in. I got up to keep Edie from running down the hall and into the shop.
“How old is she?” He asked.
“I have a 1-year-old boy.”And the same narrative followed.
Our kids will likely be in the same grade, but probably not the same classroom, because there are so many young kids here now. More than a hundred in the current kindergarten class. I’m 33 years old, and I’m older than average in our once aging town, a statistic I was recently made aware of.
And now that I’m thinking of it, it’s pretty clear you no longer need a microscope to find the women here anymore.

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Photo in my mom’s coffeeshop on Main Street. On Saturday, the PTO organized a “Princess” event in honor of the opening of Beauty and the Beast. Countless mommas and princesses attended. It was overwhelming and still surprises a woman like me who grew up in this town when it was 1,200 people with no movie theater. 

It seems we’re invested now, building the new swim team, organizing an arts council, building a new hospital, working alongside all those men they talk about, setting up businesses and young professional organizations. Building a community that will help raise our families.

Taking our toddlers to make friends in Jiffy Lube in a town that went boom and then settled itself quietly, like the dust kicked up behind pickups driven by daddies on their way to work
Main Street, Watford City

Watford City, 2016. Photo by Chad Ziemendorf 

 

Where everybody knows your name (or the name of someone you might be related to)

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For those of you who grew up or continue to grow up in a small town…

Coming Home: In a state that’s a big small town, there’s always a seat at the table
6-12-16
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communication
http://www.inforum.com

The white noise of conversation and laughter filled the bar like the scent of the burgers frying on the grill in the back. The three of us stepped inside from the sunny early evening, our eyes adjusting to the dim light, scanning the room for an open table to grab a drink and a bite to eat.

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When my quick scan revealed there wasn’t an empty table in the place, I figured we would just turn around, head out the door and find a restaurant without a wait.

But we were there with Merrill, a radio personality, musician and host of the event that evening, and it appeared that he saw the room a bit differently than we did. Like, there may not have been an empty table, but there certainly were empty chairs. And as Dad and I started heading for the door, we noticed Merrill talking and shaking hands with a couple at a table with three empty seats.

“They said we could join them,” he declared as he waved us over and started adjusting chairs. And then he informed the waitress of his plan.

“Well, if it’s OK with them,” she said, a little concerned.

Which I thought was weird. Because Merrill, being the friendly, recognizable personality he is, well, I just figured he knew this couple. It’s North Dakota after all.

We’re like one big small town, a statement that doesn’t make sense at all unless, well, you live in North Dakota.

By my not-scientific-at-all-estimation, if you’ve lived in this state for longer than 10 years, the chance of running into someone you know at a restaurant in any given community from east to west is a good 60 percent.

And if you don’t know anybody in that restaurant, strike up a conversation and the likelihood of the two of you finding a friend or relative in common is like 90 percent.

Which was the case with this couple, who had never seen Merrill before in their lives but were friendly enough to let three strangers infringe on their date. We didn’t have to go too far past our initial introductions to find places and people in common.

Small talk revealed that they were both retired and living in Bowman. (My old boss is from Bowman. Do you know the family? Yes. Yes.)

And the woman, who had seen me perform in Hettinger a few years back, had ties to the Killdeer area. (Oh, we’re just north of there. Yes, we know so and so. Relatives of ours.)

And from there we fell into an easy banter of stories that somehow always seems to have me recounting the tale of the raccoon that snuck into Mom and Dad’s house through the screen door every evening to rearrange the rocks on the decorative bird bath and the more recent revelation about another raccoon that climbs up on my deck every night to poop on my rug.

Then over burgers and fries we learned that they like to go to the car show in Medora every year, which revealed that he’s spent his life tinkering and repairing old cars. Which reminded me of my brother-in-law, who had just recently given up on an old Volkswagen Bus that was just never going to run right. Which reminded him of a story about the time he bought an old VW Beatle that once broke down and left him stranded on such a windy North Dakota day that he just opened both doors to that little car and let the wind push him home.

Which reminded Merrill about the road trip he took with his friends, all crammed in a VW Bug to Mexico and back years ago.

“I had a girlfriend when we started the trip. She wasn’t my girlfriend when we got home,” he said. “Never talked to any of them again actually.”

And our laughter and conversation became part of the buzz of strangers and friends telling stories in the dim light of a bar on Saturday evening in small town North Dakota.

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Everybody’s Baby…

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“How’s everybody’s baby doing?”

That’s what the Mayor of my hometown asked me at a community meeting last night.

Only in a small town would the Mayor (who is also a family friend) be so genuinely interested in the newest member of the community.

He was about the twentieth person to inquire about our little one that night. Business owners, column readers, classmates, old teachers, cops, waitresses, bankers, and so on and so on asked about her, because that’s what it’s like when you live in a small town.

Your baby is everyone’s baby.

I’m sure my friend who had a baby a few weeks after me had the same experience that evening.

Her baby is everyone’s baby too.

And while every mom documents her kids’ to an extent, I couldn’t help but be reminded last night just how reported Edie’s little life story actually is.

Because I’m a writer. A blogger.

And a newspaper columnist.

Which is not something I think about weekly, because I don’t want to induce a sorry case of writer’s block, but the words I write go out to half a dozen newspapers all across the state every week. Take that and add it to the support I get from you loyal readers on this trusty blog, and, well, Edie’s story has a substantial fan base that dates back to a time we didn’t think we’d ever meet her.

Yes, every week I get emails from people rooting for us, cheering us on, sending love and prayers and positive energy and sharing their own stories of what it was like to be parents to a baby as wiggly and wild.

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Those thousands of people read about her birth, her first smile, her large shoe collection and her big farts…

(Oh, she’s just going to hate me when she’s a teenager…)

And while I know this baby is loved by me and my husband and all this family that surrounds us, I can’t tell you how overwhelming it is to realize that she is loved by so many others.

Maybe it was the energy in the room at a party dedicated to celebrating how far this community has come in the last year, despite the boom and in the face of a current and unforeseen oil slowdown. Maybe it was the fact that I was out doing my job again knowing that my baby was snuggled up at the ranch with my husband while I drank wine and chatted with familiar and new faces, but the mayor’s comment hit me in the heart last night, and got me thinking.

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To be everybody’s baby. I wonder when she’ll realize it? Growing up in a small rural community you sort of take it for granted that there are caring eyes pointed at you at all times. You feel secure in knowing that the stands are full of your supporters at a football game, or a spelling bee, or your first choir concert. And if your parents are late in picking you up after a 4-H meeting (not that that’s ever happened to me dad…) in a small town you get to not worry, because it will be ok. There will be someone there to wait with you, because in a way you’re their kid too.

Edie has so much love and support here for many reasons, being the 5th generation community member and a child of a columnist are a few, and I am so happy that this is true for her. That she’s everyone’s baby.

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But last night we reflected on how our town was getting bigger. We just completed and opened a new multi-million dollar high school. And despite the oil slowdown, families are still moving here with their young children. And as the elementary school classes grow and new babies are born to this now young community, I can only hope that the love and support we feel as new parents to one of the youngest members is not exclusive to us.

This isn’t a new concept. It’s the traditional “It takes a village” mentality. But just because it takes a village, doesn’t mean everyone always gets one.

I hope we’re doing a good job out here. I think that’s what everyone in that room was hoping for last night. I know it’s one of the biggest concerns we had as a community watching our town boom from twelve hundred people to somewhere closer to ten thousand in the last five years. We didn’t want to let go of our small town spirit. We wanted to fight for the ability to not lose one another in a crowd.

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The kids in this community today are different than we were growing up. Many weren’t born here to parents who were born here. In fact, it seems it’s more common to be the new kid in town these days than to have roots here.

More languages are spoken, more perspectives are given, there are more miles driven to see the grandparents and more new names to learn. But I hope none of that makes a difference when it comes to missing the bus or forgetting your practice clothes for basketball or having to keep the library open just a few minutes longer because your mom was stuck at a meeting and couldn’t get to you in time.

As a new parent to a new kid in town, I can only hope that, regardless of how big this boomtown gets, each kid gets the chance to take for granted that she or he is every body’s baby.

And I would venture to guess that everyone in that room, the Mayor included, feels the same way.

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Sunday Column: The “what if’s” in Boomtown

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My husband and I moved back to the ranch more than five years ago. If you’ve been following along here, you’ve likely seen how much has changed, and how much hasn’t, at the ranch, in our family and in our community.

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We moved back for a few reasons. Number one was because it is where we wanted to settle down and raise a family, but the number two reason made it possible–the economy was booming due to the oil and gas industry and seemingly overnight there were more jobs and more opportunity than our small town could keep a tally on.
The results have been unprecedented growth for our small town that was once only 1,200 people and now boasts a population that is seemingly uncountable due to fluctuations and many people living in temporary housing situations. My guess is we’re likely close to 8,000 people today.

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Our small town that never had a stop light, now has many. We have a sort of suburban sprawl happening with new apartment buildings and housing units going up. We have Main Street bars and a sushi restaurant. We have little strip malls. A big grocery store. A nice daycare, a brand new high school and multi-million dollar community and event center going up, with two indoor ice slabs and a couple pools. We’re working on a new hospital and clinic.
Everything that once was is now updated, expanded and improved upon, including our roads.
When oil prices were at $100 a barrel we worked on playing catch up because the entire country was moving in.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.16.56 PMAnd now we’re planning for the future in a time we knew could come, a slow down due to lower oil prices.  We’re in a sort of eerie place where we can catch up, not realizing how we’ve gotten used to such a fast pace until there’s a shift.
In the new year I think we all wish we could see into the future, knowing that all we can do is believe in and trust in today. And today it seems like despite what looks sort of grim, my community is showing it’s a little beacon of light and hope on this cold prairie.
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by Jessie Veeder
1-17-16
Forum Communications

It’s been more than five years since my husband and I unloaded our hand-me-down furniture into the little brown ranch house in the barnyard where my dad grew up, fulfilling our dream of moving home, because unlike the economy the two of us grew up in during the ’80s and ’90s, there were jobs.

Everyone talks about how the oil boom seemed to happen overnight, but when you’re living among it, that sense of immediacy is only partially true.

It’s hard to explain the feeling of “what-if” that sits alongside “could it be true?” in your mind as you wonder about the alleged oil well that promises to pop up on the hill behind the house.

It seems like it could never happen, until one day you wake up and there it is.

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That’s how it’s been for the past five years around here in western North Dakota. Not believing and then believing — that there would be a stoplight in town, a four-lane highway to Williston, a fast-food restaurant, a brand new high school, dozens of new apartment buildings and so on and so on until you find yourself used to the stoplights, sushi and Southern accents surrounding you.

The “if you build it they will come” mentality wasn’t as much the case here in this once 1,200-person town. No, it was more of the “they have come so let’s do what we can to make it work better.”

And so we made time for the extra traffic, the long lines and construction detours, and have come to expect events and restaurants filled to capacity with people of all ages, races and backgrounds, our new little melting pot on the western edge of the state.

We knew it would slow down eventually, that the four new hotels that were built wouldn’t be filled to the brim every week with working residents, and instead we would have to find a way to fill them with guests.

We knew that we wouldn’t always have to make reservations for supper.

We knew that oil wouldn’t stay at $100 a barrel, and that we might get a chance to take a breath someday and catch up, even though the thought was both terrifying and relieving.

Because we knew what it was like to have our quiet and slow life interrupted, but maybe we didn’t realize how quickly we could get used to a new normal, a fast pace of planning hectic moment to hectic moment.

But that hectic moment has slowed for a bit now and, as oil prices have slid, adjustments have been made.

Is the boom over?

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That’s a question every news source and coffee conversation wants answered.

I’m not sure if anyone knows. Just like nobody seemed to know exactly what was coming five years ago. I read a different dramatic report, opinion and prediction every day.

But here’s what I know to be true for us: Oil prices have changed, but the sense of “what-if” coupled with “could it be true?” has not.

We have never settled into a sense of security in such fast-paced growth. Instead, we have remained committed to keep steady in our own plan to figure out how to stay here at the family’s ranch for the long run.

And I’ll tell you, it’s been much easier with better jobs and more opportunity at our fingertips. But along with that, for whatever challenges we continue to face, what our community has become in the wake of the boom has made this an easier and exciting place to live in many ways.

And for that we have been grateful.

I think that realization might be the case for most people who, after coming here for the work, have decided to make this place their permanent home now. Because of the jobs, yes, but also because, like us, they see a future here.

And it’s because of those people it seems our new population is remaining more steady than predicted. Yes, people are losing jobs and families are moving away, but businesses are also still hiring and new residents still seem to see the value in a community that has moved from building to keep up with the present into building for a future we want for our families.

For more information on Watford City and McKenzie County, and for other perspectives on Boomtown Living visit: 
www.mckenziecounty.net
www.voicesofwatford.com
www.oilgoesboom.com
www.boomtowndiaries.com 
www.beautifulbakken.com 

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