Come rain or shine or rain or wind or heat or hail…

Rain on Leaves

Summer fun, rain or shine
Forum Communications

I’m telling you when it comes to getting the most out of summer, rain or shine, North Dakotans don’t mess around.

As a musician who has been singing at these outdoor events most of my life, I’ve sang “Home on the Range” when the skies were most definitely cloudy all day. And blazing down temperatures of 105 degrees, burning my skin and making a nice sweat puddle down my back and behind my guitar.

Or, like last week, pouring down monsoon-style sideways rain for hours on the Wells County Fairgrounds while the audience sat under a canvas tent in puddles upon puddles of muddy water with the strings of their hoods tied around their chins, nothing but blankets, raincoats and trash bags shielding their soggy bodies as they tapped their toes and swayed along to the music.

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When it rains on a summer day in rural North Dakota, we tend to get a little punchy about cussing it. Most sane people would just go ahead and let 3 inches of relentless, pelting rain ruin their outdoor celebrations, but that type of person likely doesn’t endure 17 months of winter. But we do. And when summer finally does come, it’s a glorious reward for those long winters, and we refuse to waste a moment.

So in North Dakota, we say things like, “Well, we need the rain, it’s been so dry,” and then the show goes on. Or the rodeo. Or the 4-H goat show. Or the parade…

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Even when, in the first 45 minutes of our three-hour trek across the state to stand on that soggy stage, the windshield wiper on the driver’s side of my dad’s pickup flung clean off into the abyss of the monsoon. I guess it was exhausted. And I laughed, maybe a little too hard, because, well, of course that happened.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Jessie Veeder’s Coming Home columns

But Dad wasn’t laughing. I guess he didn’t think standing in a downpour for 20 minutes trying to make the repair so we could make it to Fessenden on time was very funny. Thank you, New Town Napa guy, for saving us so we were able to get back on that rainy road and arrive at 5 o’clock on the dot, right at showtime, running from the rain to plug in, mic check and do what we came there to do. Rain or shine.

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And I loved it. I loved that that die-hard audience of all ages with their jackets zipped up to the top reinforced all my ideas that we are here to live and love and clap along and say “I think it’s going to let up” in all kinds of weather. Rain or shine.

And so I smiled and closed my eyes and sang my love song to the rain, while outside that tent it was clear that no crops were to be planted that day, but we were going to be together regardless, swaying and singing and laughing and soaking wet…

Because we’re North Dakotans, and when it comes to summer fun, we don’t mess around.

A rainbow baby in a pumpkin patch

This morning I’m sitting at my table, hair unwashed and disheveled from a weekend spent on the ranch, wearing sweatpants and the stretched out cami I slept in. The baby is still in her jammies and I can see her out of the corner of my eye, throwing one Cheerio  at a time on the floor and watching it drop.

In one month she’ll be a year. And we’ve hit so many milestones in these short months, I can’t imagine what measuring her life in years is going to bring. She blows kisses and claps her hands. She turns her waterworks and emotions on and off like a champion baby manipulator. She’s standing (for two or three seconds anyway) on her own. Give her a few more weeks and she’ll probably be walking, rendering me completely helpless to get anything done around here. We started daycare once a week, and, because among her adorable tricks, she also bites people, I’m a little nervous about her social skills.

She can reach the top of my table, so nothing is safe.

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She’d rather play with my Tupperware collection than her toys. She shakes her little body to the sound of music and since suffering recently through her first little cold, has discovered that the worst thing in her entire world is her mother wiping her nose.

These are the little things that make up the big picture of parenthood we used to dream and plan about. It’s nothing and everything like I imagined it when we were trying to get here for all those years, a journey that I have not swept under the rug in the name of compassion and understanding for the families who haven’t had their chance at these little milestones…

Coming Home: A simple photo is a moment mom waited for
by Jessie Veeder
10-16-16
Fargo forum
http://www.inforum.com

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There are things I always envisioned doing once I had a child of my own in tow. One of them was sitting my baby on a hay bale at a pumpkin patch and taking a photo.

I wasn’t naïve enough to think that the real-life scenario looked like the pages of the Better Homes and Gardens magazine. I knew it was likely more in line with mini-meltdowns and arguments about not wearing shorts in October and bribes to smile for the camera, but I didn’t care. I was happy to pay my mommy dues if it meant I got to be a member.

Last week I finally got to sit my baby on a hay bale and take that photo. A group of moms in town got together to create our own community pumpkin patch in the park, and I made plans to go, despite the snow covering the ground that morning and the chill in the air that afternoon.

I picked up my little sister and we drove down to the park. I forgot Edie’s mittens and her stroller and cash for admission, so one of the moms supplied the mittens and, after my little sister paid, the two of us took turns shifting the bundled up, rosy-cheeked baby from hip to hip as we walked around in the chill, visiting with friends and watching the neighborhood kids jump in bounce houses, paint pumpkins and run wild like kids do.

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Jessie Veeder’s daughter, Edie, smiles for a photo at the pumpkin patch. Jessie Veeder / Special to The Forum

And then I set my own baby down on the ground next to a formation of square hay bales, cornstalks and gourds, and we clapped and squealed and coaxed her to smile that smile I’ve been waiting so long to capture.

She didn’t let me down.

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And while that pumpkin patch photo wasn’t a huge milestone for my rosy-cheeked daughter, watching her bobble around in her knit beanie and new winter jacket, trying to take a bite out of the little pumpkins propped beside her, it was a huge milestone for me, who finally gets to be her obnoxious, obsessive, photo-taking mother in the pumpkin patch after so many uncertain Octobers.

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I’m thinking of this now because this month has been designated as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. And I admit in the past, after nine years, six miscarriages and the loss of any hope of carrying a pregnancy to full term, I wasn’t much for being reminded of those heartbreaking moments in my life. I didn’t want a day to feel obligated to shout it from the rooftops.

No. You were more likely to hear me telling my story in the everyday quiet exchanges between strangers, the ones where I found myself answering the question, “Do you have any children?”

It’s that question that sits like a rock at the bottom of many hearts. It’s that question that gives us a reason to dedicate some time to remember, to understand and to find compassion.

And while I can answer it more easily now, while I can say, “Yes, I have a baby daughter,” and then I can whip out my phone and show you the photo of her, while I’m now part of the pumpkin-patch club, I won’t ever forget the other club in which I also belong.

And for the sake of the families who have suffered such loss, the ones counting the years and wondering what she might have been for Halloween, the ones who felt him kick but never heard him cry, the ones quietly hoping for their chance to forget the mittens and the money and the stroller at the pumpkin patch, I don’t ever want to forget.

So I won’t shout it from the rooftops, that’s not my way, but I will send up a quiet prayer that some way, somewhere, I hope they get their picture.

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For the love of music

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In an old small theater in a small western North Dakota town, a retired professional bull rider stood up on the stage behind his guitar, next to his band, and strummed the first few notes that kicked off the culmination of an idea that had been in the works for months.

The lights were flashing, the sound was big, and the recently reupholstered seats were filled with a crowd of people who made plans to attend a party in the name of turning a Saturday night into something bigger.

And that something bigger was to save that old theater standing among a collection of brick buildings on Main Street in Belfield, a town of 1,000 off the off the interstate west of Dickinson.

It’s a big project. Everything needed a facelift, a tinkering, a fresh coat of paint. Work was being done up to the moment guests started arriving, buying drinks, filling up small paper plates with food and finding their seats.

I was there that night to perform and to watch some of the guys from the band I play with debut their new project, a tribute band honoring the late Chris Ledoux, a bull rider musician made famous by a line in a Garth Brooks song.

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And that’s where this story started, with a song that kicked off a show where that singing cowboy left his guitar and microphone to step off the stage and ride a bucking machine under the spotlight in front of a crowd of a couple hundred of his community members and peers while I held my breath hoping that the man could pull it off.

The music kept playing, the crowd cheered, the bucking machine stopped and he jumped back on the stage. The show went on.

He pulled it off.

I let out a sigh of relief and a big cheer, then sat back and looked around, wondering what possesses us to do such things.

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I mean, it would have been easier to skip the bull-riding section of the performance all together and eliminate the risk of embarrassment or injury. If it were me, I probably would have. The show would have been good without that surprise element. But with it, well, it was pretty awesome.

And the musicians in that band also work full-time jobs, some have families, and they dedicated months to prepare for this night, to prepare for a crowd that wasn’t necessarily guaranteed to show up.

The woman who made a dedication to save the theater and the handful of volunteers who scrubbed and scraped the walls, re-upholstered those seats, sent out press releases and made the food for the night probably had other ways to spend their time.

And the crowd who showed up probably had work to do, fields to till, cattle to brand, yards to clean, windows to wash.

But it was Saturday night …

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For the past year I’ve been working with a group of volunteers in my town to put together a council on the arts in our remote area. To raise money for the new organization, we decided to organize a big fundraiser featuring western North Dakota artists and performers. It’s been a labor of love and, with a baby at home, not the most convenient time to take on such a big commitment.

I spend a lot of my time crossing my fingers, hoping that people will show up, that we will get a crowd and that celebrating our artists and performers is something this community might want to invest in, something that they might find valuable.

It could be a total flop, yet we’re still gambling our time and energy on the belief that committing our time and talent to this will help make our community better.

I think of those men last weekend and, you know, it could have been Chris Ledoux or Garth Brooks himself up there, but I doubt it would have had the same effect on me.

Because Garth Brooks has owned stages all over the world, but that night in that small town in western North Dakota, the theater, the stage, the music and that crazy cowboy riding that bucking machine in the spotlight, all of it was all ours.

Jessie Gene MikeP1010595

If you’re in the Watford City area, please join us for the
Long X Arts Council’s Badlands Arts Showcase and Fundraising Gala
Thursday, May 26th
at the new Performing Arts Center in the Watford City High School.

Doors open to the Art Show at 5:30
Performance starts at 7
More information at http://www.longxarts.com 

Arts Showcase Poster

Sunday Column: My mom’s coffeeshop

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My mom owns a clothing store in town. She has for a few years now. And while I don’t work there, I reap the benefits of popping in to get my hands on what’s new and accompanying her to market in boring places like Las Vegas where there is an entire event center dedicated to only shoes.

It’s a tough job. But I’m happy to do what I can to assist.

Growing up in a house with two sisters and a fashonista mother, clothes and “what we’re going to wear today?” is a regularly addressed topic.

So we’re all right at home weighing in on her business.

But now I’ve gotta tell you, as happy I am about having a 24/7 solution to my wardrobe issues, I’m even more excited about my crazy mother’s new endeavor.

Because it involves the #3 love of my life (behind Edie and my Husband).

Her name is coffee.

And my mom has opened a shop dedicated to it.

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Yup. Right next door to her boutique. So you can find an outfit for your big date and then head next door to grab a latte and talk all about it.

Or a chai tea.

Or a smoothie.

Or a mocha.

Or a cappuccino.

Or a caramel macchiato. That’s a thing too.

Turns out coffee is more complicated than finding the right jean size, but I’m willing to try. Because trying means sampling and all those long drives to and from town has helped me develop a high caffeine tolerance, and for that, I am grateful.

Congratulations crazy Momma.

And if you’re ever in good ‘ol Watford City, stop by Door 204 for a cup!

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Coming Home: Mom’s entrepreneurial drive inspiring
by Jessie Veeder
1-25-16
http://www.inforum.com

My mom turned 60 at the beginning of this month.

We couldn’t celebrate on Saturday because she was in town, working on plans for the building she bought on Main Street that she’s turning into a coffee shop.

So now she’s trying to find him a girlfriend.

Because when my mom believes in something, she doesn’t give up.

Lord help you if you’re the someone or something she believes in. She’ll give you the shirt off her back, a job when there’s no openings or the last brownie in the pile on her kitchen counter.

And so here she is learning about the coffee business when most women her age are thinking about retiring and moving to Florida.

When I ask my mom about this elusive retirement, she says, “Well what would I do? I can’t just hang around here making brownies all day. I don’t have any hobbies.”

So she’s going to hang around Main Street Watford City to make coffee and help keep this small town dressing well. If you added a dance studio and a wine bar in the back, you would have all of my mom’s favorite things in one place.

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And while she might not crochet baby beanies or take photos of wildflowers, the “no hobby” thing isn’t true at all. She just seems to have turned her love for people and shopping into a business. Come to think of it, after witnessing her energy and enthusiasm for new challenges, I wouldn’t be surprised if on her 61st birthday she added that wine bar after all.

As it turns out, the woman’s always had an entrepreneurial and creative mind, one that she’s been honing since opening a day care/dance class business in her backyard when she was in fifth grade.

I doubt that fifth-grade ballerina would have guessed she would grow up to marry a cowboy and wind up raising kids on a ranch 30 miles from the nearest grocery store. I mean, when she moved out here she didn’t even know how to drive on a hill.

But she did it. And while ranching wasn’t in her wheelhouse, she brought her wheelhouse to town teaching aerobics and dance class. And then, when she took a full-time job, she taught those classes in the evenings.

Because at that time, there wasn’t a plethora of jobs to choose from in small-town Watford City, so my mom made her way, eventually landing a career she held for years working from a home office and traveling across the state, until about three years ago when a change in the company inspired her to look for a change in herself.

And the clothing store on Main Street was up for sale, so she took the leap and put her entrepreneurial spirit to use again, finding her way back to her creative place after years of putting it second to the needs of her family.

And so it seems with one idea comes another, and she’s got her momentum now.

And I’m proud of her. Proud that she’s finding success, yes, but more so breaking through the walls of a notion that there’s a time limit on potential or passion or dreams.

It’s something I’ve wondered about in my unconventional career as a musician and writer. I wondered how it might fit in later in my life, especially in my new role as a mother.

But I look at my mom bringing home samples of coffee beans, reading up on latte technique and ordering coffee house furniture as she celebrates a new decade of her life with a new challenge, and she motivates me. Not just to work hard and do what I need to do for my family, but also with her example that, whether you’re 10 or 60, if you fuel the flame, life can continue to inspire you.

 

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Sunday Column: Small town summer…

Summer is in full swing up here in North Dakota. School’s out. Wedding’s have begun. Garden’s are in and a full line up of summer fairs and festivals are marked down on the calendar.

Last weekend during a little tour across the state promoting my album, I got the privilege of being a guest of honor at a small town in the middle of the state. I was hired to do a concert with the band there during their Dairy and Ag days celebration,

and in addition, I was asked to be the Grand Marshall of the parade…

I took my job very seriously…

AND to help judge the Little Miss Farmer/Rancher contest.

This was right up my ally, such and honor and pretty much the most adorable thing ever.

So of course I had some things to say about it. I could have written a book on all of the characters, from the kids singing their hearts out in the choir before the band

The opening act waiting to go on!

to the little toothless princess candidate dressed in a sequins dress with a hoop that flew up and hid her face when she tried to sit down in the chair in front of us judges.

It was the epitome of what it means to be a small town kid in the summer.

It was the epitome of cute and wholesome.

It was what I had to write about for this week’s column:

Coming Home: Longing to be a kid of summer again
by Jessie Veeder
6-14-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

In small towns up and down the Midwest, summer has officially started. I know this not by the date on the calendar, but because in the next few months I’ll run into kids catching and holding calves at the neighbor’s branding down the road, rolling down the road in a tractor helping with harvest, or showing their steer at the county fair for a little extra cash.

I get to witness these kids of summer because my job as a singer takes me to big towns and small towns across the state to witness them dancing in the street after a day spent eating barbecue beef sandwiches, catching candy in the parade and competing in a tractor pull or Little Miss Potato Queen pageant.

And I have to tell you, I kicked off the season right last Friday when I took a trip to Linton to participate in their Dairy and Ag Days festival. I rolled toward the town in the morning, turning off the interstate to admire the fresh crops popping up neatly around manicured farmsteads, big red barns and, my favorite, the black-and-white dairy cows milling behind rail fences.

After months of planning, Linton looked as polished as ever, and so did its littlest residents who were waiting for my arrival that morning, dozens of young girls from kindergarten to second grade, dressed to the nines lined up in the lobby of the local bank, vying for the title of Little Miss Farmer/Rancher.

And be still my heart, because while each contestant was as adorable as the next, this was no beauty pageant. No. This was a competition where each young and utterly adorable contestant is asked about their experience and knowledge of the farm and ranch they live and work on.

I was asked to be one of the judges, to which I enthusiastically agreed, not understanding how completely impossible it would be to choose a winner among little girls who talked reverently about helping their grandmas feed the horses, being responsible for bottle feeding orphaned calves, the make and model of the tractor used on the farm and the one who joked that, if they’re not careful, the heat lamp used in the baby chick pen might result in fried chicken. Then she laughed and laughed.

And I teared up, not just at the absolute cuteness of it all, but because, really, they still make kids like this. Kids who come to town dressed in bolo ties, fluffy floral dresses, their best jeans or, yes, even a sequined gown, ready to proudly declare that they are learning to break their own horse, they can’t wait to learn to drive the tractor, or — my favorite — the tiny, brown-eyed girl who said her preferred chore was helping her dad fix fences.

When I asked her why she liked to fence so much, she frankly replied, as if the answer should be so obvious to us, “Because I love him!”

First place, I say! First place to all of them!

I’m really not cut out for this judging thing.

But after the decisions were made, I headed out to Main Street, where I had the honor of leading the parade of Dairy Prince and Princesses and Little Miss and Mister Farmer and Rancher contestants, American Legion Club members, 4-H club floats, combines, antique tractors and kids pulling smaller kids in wagons.

In a few hours, I stood up on a flatbed trailer in an empty lotand sang my songs to bleachers full of moms, dads, grammas and grampas watching while the kids tested out their best moves on the concrete dance floor in front of me.

I let the band play a song and got down to join them, compelled to be a part of their circle, grab their hands and spin around to the music. Compelled, after a long day in the sun, to laugh and dance with my new friends, in the middle of a small-town street, in the middle of America, where we make our own fun after the work is done.

Compelled to believe with them that anything is possible, just for a moment, compelled to become a kid of summer again.

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And look at that, a whole spread in the Emmons County Record. A day like this is a reminder of why I keep doing what I’m doing.

Thanks Linton, ND!

Sunday Column: Small Town Celebrations

IMG_7502Summers in small town America are full of celebrations. There are street dances, rodeos, parades, reunion picnics in the park, golf scrambles, back porch parties, bon fires and fiddling jamborees.

Because there is much to celebrate in the summer, being able to stand outside without getting frost bite is one of them, but the most important is community. That’s the point of it all.

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This year on this side of North Dakota many small towns are throwing a celebration of celebrations in recognition of 100 years of pulling together and living and growing, struggling and thriving together.

The Centennial.

The big one.

My hometown of Watford City is one of those communities and this week is the week we put up the tent, pull in the stages, set up the bouncy houses for the kids, buy our friends drinks and take a few days to recognize and appreciate how far we’ve come.

The forecast looks good and I can’t wait see people enjoying the party we’ve been planning for over two years. A party that’s 100 years in the making…

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As a musician in this area, I’ve had and will have the privilege of entertaining at a few of these celebrations throughout the summer. It’s one of my favorite things about what I do, coming in as a guest in these communities, in these small towns along back highways, standing before them telling my story while I get to witness theirs.

I get to see them all out there, together, eating pulled pork or roast beef on a bun, commenting on the tough decision they had to make on which homemade bar to choose,  sipping lemonade and talking about grandkids, or the weather, or the big football play in 1979 or that time they snuck out of school to drink whiskey and go fishing at the river…

There’s something nostalgic about a small town celebration in the middle of summer, in the middle of an old main street. And it’s not that they’re all the same or that they’re a simple undertaking. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s in the unique details that come together to showcase a place and what’s important to the people who’ve made it.

It’s in the town’s cowboy marching band or the 4-H kids serving coffee and lemonade and that wave of relief you feel sipping from styrofoam cups knowing that they still make kids like this out here.

It’s in the Cattle Women serving up beef on a bun and their famous potato salad. It’s in the hometown gymnastics club tumbling down the sidewalk and worrisome but proud moms with arms full of candy and frisbees their children picked up at the parade.

And it’s the parade, the Heritage Club’s team of horses and the man who drives that fine looking team every year.

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It’s the way the grass is cut just right in the park before the celebration by the man who has taken his job seriously for twenty years. It’s the “boy this place looks nice” and “What a beautiful day” echoing off the thoughtfully planted trees.

It’s the kids running around coated in bug spray and dirt chasing each other up and down the street without a care because someone’s watching them…we all know who their parents are…

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Last week Pops and I loaded up our guitars and headed to the southern border of North and South Dakota to help the two states celebrate 125 years of being states…I wrote about it in this week’s column, I wrote about the smell of the fresh cut clover wafting through the open doors of the Armory, I wrote about the high school choir singing the South Dakota song, the crowd sitting around tables carefully covered in colorful cloths, fanning the humidity off of their skin while the kids played Red Light/Green Light out back on the lawn and the sun went down and a storm brewed in the thunderheads on the horizon…

I wrote about it all here…

Coming Home: Time is relative in summer
by Jessie Veeder
6-22-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

And this week Watford City will celebrate our booming town with a festival featuring all the small town trimmings, complete with parade, street dance, craft show, magicians, reunions, clowns and free supper under a big tent. I’ll put on my sunscreen and practical shoes and run around making sure everything is going just right, hoping that the wind stays down…talking about the weather…

Talking about time and how summers here just don’t last long enough…

You can find my columns weekly in the Fargo Forum (Sundays), Dickinson Pressand the Grand Forks Herald. All columns are reposted on this blog.


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Dancing.

Sometimes my job as a writer brings me to stories I am not looking for, but grateful to have found.

I visited a small town yesterday in the center of my state. In the middle of a freshly planted corn fields and along the railroad tracks cattle grazed, a construction crew pounded nails into a new roof on a sleepy Main Street building and a group of community members gathered in a small diner, opened especially for my visit to learn about their town.

We sat around a rectangle table on diner chairs in the back of the restaurant. The room was full of local men and women who were there to talk about dairy farming and population decreases, rural living and 4-H programs, the weather and how kids these days don’t understand that chickens don’t have nuggets.

I wrote down their names and got snippets of their stories: the retired school teacher, the cook, the woman from Wisconsin, the fifth generation dairy farmer.

I thanked them for their time as they dispersed after our visit to the t-ball game down the road, to check the cattle, to cook dinner or lead a 4-H group.

But as I was rushing toward the door, checking my watch and calculating what time I would land in bed if I left now and stopped quickly at the grocery store in the big town along the way, I heard a voice say, “And one more thing…”

I turned around to find that voice attached to a man in a clean pressed shirt and suspenders, holding his white feed store hat with green trim in front of him as he spoke. It was the man who sat across from me during our interview. The man with kind eyes and the daughter who was a dairy farmer.

He had something more to tell me.

And this is what it was:

My first train ride out of here was when I was nineteen. Boy was that a ride! You hear how the train moves along the tracks, squeaking and bumping along? That’s how it was on the inside, riding along like that for days.
In those days the train came through here often to pick up passengers.
It took me to the service.
The Korean War.

I anticipated his next thought and he caught me off guard when I noticed a bit of a sparkle in his eyes. He gripped his cap a little tighter. I leaned in.

He smiled big and broad and looked young as he told me…

I was lucky. They sent me to Germany and, well, my family is German. It was my second language. So boy did I have a time! I think I wore out my first pair of boots dancing.
I was a cook see, and in the evenings I would go out and, well, the girls, they asked
you to dance. They did! 

I was a little nervous at first, being there with all their men sitting along the bar. I asked them if they were sure, if there would be trouble, but they said go ahead and dance.
They wanted to sit and drink, see. 
The girls wanted to dance!  And I was young and fit and I would dance.

I was lost there in that memory with him. I wanted to be those girls, I wanted him to show me his dance steps. I wanted to know him when his eyes were young.

Young, but not any more full of life than they were at that moment.

Oh, I just I loved it. I would dance all night. 

With that he pulled his cap down over his gray hair.  I thanked him for the story and he thanked me for the time.  He held the door open for me and walked me to my car parked next to those railroad tracks, the steel lines disappearing in the distance a constant memory of the young man who took the train out of North Dakota and came home with boots worn from dancing.

 

The long way home.


Sometimes in the middle of an ordinary weekday, one filled with spilled coffee, peanut butter toast on the run, meetings, missed phone calls and long-lost plans for supper, the world gives you a chance to throw it all out the window and just get lost.

Yesterday afternoon on my way out the office, heavy-overstuffed briefcase on my shoulder, water cup in my left hand, my list under my arm and a trail of papers flailing behind me,  I dialed Husband to remind him it was voting day and asked him if he wanted me to meet him at home so we could make the trek together.

Husband works a good thirty-plus miles away from the ranch. I work another good thirty miles away too…in the other direction.  And when you live in the middle of winding gravel roads, you do not vote in the town that you travel 30 miles to work in each day. No, you take the gravel to a smaller town sitting nice and neat  alongside the county road and cast your vote in a quaint community building as your neighbors from over the hill, across the creek and down the road filter in and ask you about your family, how the house is coming and what you think of the weather.

I thought about taking the fifteen mile detour to cast my vote on my own, but the idea of a little car ride with my husband and the opportunity to actually show up in public together sounded like a nice one. He agreed.

And so we met at home, dropped our piles of work at the door, and husband drove me north on the scoria road, past the substation, and our friends mailbox where the gravel turns to pavement,  right on the county road and into Keene, ND where we would greet the ladies who have been working the polls all day and follow their instructions to fill in the circles dark and complete, and for goodness sakes, don’t vote in more than one party column or you’ve gotta do it again.

I took their directions and my packet and followed Husband into the little gym where we played volleyball this winter and where I attended craft club last week. I waited for my neighbor to cast her vote and I took her place at the round table against the wall.

I read the directions thoroughly, wondered if Husband, who was at the table on the other side of the room, was canceling out my votes, finished my civic duty, closed the folder and fed my sheets through the fancy machine.

Husband followed close behind. I waited while he cracked a few jokes, said goodbye to the neighbors and then followed him to the door and back out into a beautiful summer evening in the hub of our little township: Keene, ND-Population 266?

We contemplated heading back home to grill some brats and finish up the laundry. We talked about how the lawn needed to be mowed and that fence that needed a good inspection. We thought we could maybe get some work done on the new house before it got too late.

We said we probably should go home…we really should…

But it was such a nice evening, the sun was shining through the fluffy clouds, the grass was green and fresh from the recent rain, the farmers were out and it smelled so sweet. We rolled down the windows and pointed our car north toward the lake where we heard the restaurant at the marina had just been renovated and is open for business. What’s another 30 miles when the lake is calling and you heard they might have walleye on the menu?

What’s another thirty miles along new green fields, under big prairie skies, next to a handsome man with lots of things to tell you with the windows open and your favorite songs in the speakers?

It’s nothing.

It’s everything.

And the food was good, the water was crystal clear and the sun was hitting the horizon with a promise of a show as colorful as the rainbow that had just appeared in the clouds to south.

Husband pulled out of the parking lot and back onto the county road. He headed toward that rainbow, toward the ranch and our chores…but then, without a word between us, he ignored the turn that would take us there and chose the long way home instead.

I didn’t object. I didn’t ask why. I didn’t say a thing unless it was to ask him to stop so I could take a photo of the clouds reflecting off the glass-like pond in a rancher’s pasture.

The country church reaching up toward the sky.

A family of ducks swimming in reeds.

The sun sinking below the horizon.

We drove this way for hours, tourists exploring the landscape we knew so well, seeing it again with eyes wider.

Hearts more open.

I was exploring our homeland and my husband was my guide, a man who just wanted a little more time to move through the world he loves…

patient with the clicking of the camera and my need to let the cooling air blow through the crack of the window in the passenger seat…

humored by my theory on coming back after my death as a duck…

happy to hear his tires hum along familiar roads…

content to sit next to me and hum along with the songs we love.

And relieved to forget about the things we should do…


and just live in the moments, under the sky, moving quietly and slowly along the landscape that made us…

And then we sang Red River Valley…

Sometimes in the middle of a life in the middle of America, you are handed a couple of days, or moments, where you are graciously reminded of what is so good and wholesome about a community that exists on the end of a two lane highway with no stoplight, no Walmart, no mall and no place else you’d rather be on a Friday afternoon.

And so I had a weekend filled with small town, mid-west, rural, main street, wholesomeness that began with the execution of an event I helped to plan on Main Street Watford City, ND–my hometown’s Best of the West Ribfest–where I manned the entertainment stage while community members milled around the vendor booths, ate lunch on picnic tables outside Main Street stores, breathed in the scents of barbecues warming and turning their rib suppers and enjoyed games, music and other entertainment on the big stage…

entertainment that included watching me attempt to help call bingo by turning on the bingo blower machine thingy and launching the numbered balls all over the damn street.

Lord, I just wasn’t meant for some things.

Anyway, husband, along with seventeen other businesses, vendors and crazy grillers, participated in the rib cooking contest. And at 5:30, after the judging was done, Bingo was mercifully over, my big sister’s dancers showed us their Michael Jackson Thriller moves, the kids were all settled in for the rest of the evening on those crazy, sweaty, inflatable jumper things, and Lonesome Willy and I sang for our supper, it was time to eat already.

I had a great view from the stage and watched as people emerged from their businesses, ready for the weekend, and began filling the street, up and down, waiting for the smokey, spicy, barbecue tastes of the grilled ribs. The street flooded with neighbors, tourists, new comers, children and pets.


And from my post it became apparent that this was the most people I’ve ever seen on Main Street Watford City at one time. I was proud of our town as I rested my blistered feet that were shoved in my fancy boots for the day and listened to some of the best local musicians around pick a banjo, a dobro, an acoustic guitar, and sing songs about their North Dakota home.

And the music filled the street, the ribs sold out, I announced the world’s longest chicken dance, signed an autograph for a couple of confused guys who thought I was a famous D.J. and then wondered who the hell’s name was on the back of their shirt as they walked away, the big band showed up, the full moon rose, I found myself a beer and watched my community laugh, relax, dance, shake hands, meet one another and enjoy themselves in the middle of the street, in the middle of America, in the middle of an oil boom, in the middle of a season that passes all too quickly around here.

It was necessary. It was appreciated. It was hometown as hometown needs to be…

I loaded up in husband’s pickup and he drove me home, pulled off my red boots, poked at my blisters and then I got up to do it all over again the next day. Because as wholesome as Friday night was, I got another dose as I put on a dress and headed back to town to sing at a wedding at our hometown church and then pointed my car north to meet the guys out at a farmstead near Hazen, ND.

Because we were scheduled to play a community barn dance and, so, when you’re at a barn dance you need the proper footwear. I did a quick outfit change, squeezed on my fancy boots again and followed the highway out of oil country, down a gravel road and into a perfectly mowed, perfectly beautiful, perfectly placed farmyard on the edge of Lake Sakakawea.

And in the middle of the yard stood a white and green barn that reached up the prairie sky and was spilling out people and children laughing and chatting and singing in cowboy hats and boots. The smell of burgers on the grill greeted me as lugged my guitar towards the band milling around outside, waiting for 8:00 to get behind their guitars, behind their microphones and behind their music.

We climbed the steps to the hay loft where the festivities took place and instantly I was transported to another place, another time, where the world still had barn dances, where the table cloths were still checkered red and white, where people danced the two step and sang along with old time country music, where they still wore cowboy boots.

I was on a movie set, you know, like the one where Sandra Bullock wears a beat up hat and jeans and takes photos and drives around a classic old pickup. The one where the small town band sounds straight out of Nashville. The one where she falls in love at the end after Harry Connick Jr. swings her around the wood floor of the barn as the lead singer taps his foot to Peaceful Easy Feeling and the crowd sings along.

Seriously.

But I wasn’t Sandra Bullock. Sandra Bullock was that beautiful blond in the black hat dancing with her boyfriend. No, I was the band.

And the guys playing next to me, some of the best musicians around, picked all the right songs and played all the right beats. Their grins spread wide as the family crowd requested songs the guys knew and then danced and cheered when they played them. The lead part drifted out through the hay loft window behind me and on over the prairie and to the lake as I sang harmony to my dad’s chorus and then a song I wrote and then Red River Valley and oh my, there they were, singing along.

So we all sang together. That family, that community. We sang Red River Valley and then Home on the Range and stomped our feet and clapped our hands as our voices joined together…

“May the circle, be unbroken, by and by Lord by and by…there’s a better home awaiting in the sky Lord in the sky…”

We sang it again…

and again…

and so did they, the crowd, our hosts for the evening. They sang with us too as they bounced their sleepy children, swung around their grandma, slapped their cousin and uncles on the shoulders, and just genuinely enjoyed themselves.

Genuinely.

I headed home into the dark sky, the guys with the band trailer pushing through the early hours of the morning in front of me, with a renewed hope that the world maybe hasn’t changed much.

That maybe in the hustle and bustle of progress, politics, and technology even the fancy cell phones that can tell you what road your on when you’re on it still can’t tell you where you really might be headed…

to a place where people still wear cowboy boots, where time has been preserved in the wood floors of a nearly hundred year old barn, where the only agenda is to laugh and dance with one another for goodness sake…

where the music really matters and so do the friendships.

A place on the end of a paved street with no stoplight, a place on the edge of a wheat field under the moon under the roof of a green and white barn that the GPS would never find…

but that we should never forget still exists…

Small town reunion

Here I am. Graduating from high school.

Do I look happy? Maybe just a little.

That was 10 years ago.

WHAT! Aren’t I still 17? What happened?

Yup, today I celebrate my 10 year class reunion.

Me and 54 of my classmates from ranches, small town neighborhoods, farms, the outskirts of town and tiny communities along the way graduated from WCHS at 17, 18 and 19 years old and made our way into adulthood somehow.

I just finished going through old photos and memorabilia to bring with me to the event this evening and was struck by how long ten years actually is (and how bad I was at managing my hair back then…).

To be honest, I am known for my poor, if not selective memory. I am also known for having a camera attached to my hip at all times. So I am thankful to my 12, 15, 17 year old self for having the foresight in the time of film cameras to dish out the cash to get these priceless photos developed, you know, the good old fashioned way.

Because it reminds me, as I imagine I’ll be reminded tonight, what it really meant to me to have grown up as a student of a small town. I thumb through photos and it is like thumbing through family albums. Because these kids making goofy faces at me from the pages of my scrapbook were by my side, for better or worse, during the years of my life when I was trying desperately to figure out who the hell I was. And for a girl from the sticks, a girl who wore wranglers and boots and took the dirt road on the small yellow bus to a country school until I was 11 years old, it was of vital importance that there were a few souls who could help save me as I opened the glass doors to the big school and prepared myself for a world completely foreign to me.

Me and my country school pal

Oh, yes, there were issues. There were fights, there were misunderstandings and tears in the halls of WCHS–that’s a given. That’s what happens when you are working your way into and out of best friendships, relationships, difficult tests and the fact that you weren’t cut out for the basketball team.

I wasn't cut out for the basketball team...

But you know what else I found in the halls of that high school besides teachers who inspired me and continue to cheer me on to this day?

Friends.

Friends who helped me remember the combination to my locker, who welcomed me into their homes after school while I waited for musical or volleyball practice to begin, who practiced with me for hours as we perfected the art of goat tying, barrel racing and cowboy chasing at high school rodeos across the state. Friends who sat next to me in the back of the pickup on the way home and got me laughing even though I may have bobbled my tie or face-planted from a tumble off my horse.

Friends who helped fix my hair for prom and came to listen to me play my guitar at my first real concert.

Although many of us may not ever be in the same room together again like this (in a matching velvet trend) I can’t forget that it was those girls who taught me about friendship, what it is and how truly amazing and heartbreaking it can be.

And the boys? The boys  have no doubt turned out be some of the best men. Because they just don’t make them like that anywhere else–good North Dakotan boys who grew up in baseball caps, tinkering with the engines of their father’s trucks, fishing on the banks for Cherry Creek and Lake Sakakawea, hugging their football teammates after a sorry loss, helping their neighbors brand cattle and always searching for the next big adventure on the back of a horse, a 4-wheeler or anything they can drive too fast.

I love one of those boys and love him more everyday.

And that a man who first met me when I looked like this…

married me anyway is a gift my small town high school gave me that I will never be able to repay.

And it makes this reunion for me more reflective, more special I think.

A Junior Prom version of husband and I...

Because in a small town you don’t have a large pool of friends and boyfriends to pick from, so it is my theory that you love stronger, hold them closer and lean on each other and often, as a result,  a bond forms between two opposite people who may have not connected otherwise.

All grown up with my very blond, very athletic, very clean and organized, very lovely, very opposite high school best friend...

And between the blacktop and dirt roads that didn’t stretch far enough for teenagers with windows open and plans stretched out wide, sometimes the rumors hurt, you felt confined and wished away the time it would take to get you to the date when you could leave this place…a place where you knew all your friends’ parents’ names and they knew what time you were to be home at night.

High School Musical, "Bye Bye Birdie"

Yes, as students of a small town we grew up in a circumstance that gave us every reason to set our eyes wide on the open highway ahead of us. But as we drove the gravel roads at night with a CD of Red Hot Chili Peppers blaring through our speakers, or built a bon fire in the middle of a field or on the edge of the big lake, when we celebrated birthday after birthday with the same neighborhood kids who drank Kool-Aid with us and gave us our first My Little Pony when we turned six, when we could sit on the roof of our boyfriend’s house in town and count the stars in the quiet of the hour before curfew, when we had our first kiss in the back our best friend’s old, beat-up car, we didn’t realize how free we really were.

And when we pushed the limits, when we drove too fast, drank too much, yelled too loud or loved too quickly, when we got our hearts broken, missed the winning point, forgot the lyrics to the song, or failed the test, we thought, indeed, the world would come to an end at 14 or 16 years old. We didn’t have all our muscles yet and didn’t understand, we didn’t appreciate that the world we lived in protected us enough to allow for these kinds of mistakes.

We didn’t appreciate that our world just picked us up, shook their heads and said things like “she’s a good kid, this will be a good lesson for her…”  and then went on loving us anyway.

And now as I prepare to reunite with old friends at 27, 28 and 29 years old, I can’t help but think that’s what most of us want right now: our best friend living next door, a place where our children, born or unborn, can see the stars, casual conversation between friends on Main Street, an open road and a home that welcomes us, no matter how far we’ve traveled away, with open arms.