Sunday Column: My sister, the coach…

And now I give you one of the most embarrassing photos of myself on file.

IMG_20141006_0001Here I am. Twelve years old. Fresh into my seventh grade year, first year out of country school. First year in a real sport. Trying my hand at volleyball, but apparently not trying my hand at ironing my wrinkled shorts that are pulled up way beyond my bellybutton, barely able to contain the size Large shirt I was given.

Where are my arms?

I don’t know.

Where are my braces?

Coming next year.

Where was my talent for sending a ball over the net, at least once or twice a game?

Non existent.

But you can’t blame me for trying. Growing up is all about finding out what you like and what you’re good at, and unfortunately, sometimes, they don’t go hand in hand.

For example, I liked wearing leotards…

Why? Wwwwhhhhhyyyyy?

Why? Wwwwhhhhhyyyyy?

But I was no good at dancing.

You know who was?

That little California Raisin doing jazz hands to the left of me.

Yup, Big Sister was made to dance, as you can tell….

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Thirty-some years later and she looks exactly the same…think she even still has those pants… could probably fit into them…

My spandex leotards, as you can see from the photographic evidence provided, didn’t stand a chance on me the first go ’round.

Yeah, the right sister is the dancer.

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Because it turns out me, my long, gangly, noodle arms, lack of coordination or control over those limbs, my fear of floor-burning my entire body and my nonexistent competitive nature didn’t magically combine to create a phenomenal athlete.

But rest assured the athleticism in our family didn’t start and end with those jazz shoes. Because along came Little Sister.

There she is down there on my right, strangling our momma dog in a mischievous love embrace, hair wild, planning her next move…

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And her next move was to get straight A’s, make sure everyone is being nice to everyone else, practice dribbling and shooting the basketball on the only slab of concrete on the entire ranch, make varsity and head to state basketball…then do it all over again during volleyball season.

IMG_20141006_0004Always working, always making plans that one.

Anyway, this year Little Sister, all grown up now, is at the beginning of her first year as a guidance counselor in our hometown’s elementary school and at the end of her first season as a junior high volleyball coach.

So last week Big Sister, Mom and I headed to the school, bought some popcorn at the concessions and went to watch her work and cheer on her team of Wolves.

And then I had a flashback…

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*cringe*

Anyway, it was quite a proud moment for us and one we hadn’t seen on that woman since her days of hitting free throws and playing mean defense in high school.

We watch Big Sister put on dance recitals and my family comes to my concerts, but we haven’t had a chance to be spectators in Little Sister’s work life for years.

And she was good at it. So positive and encouraging. So adorable and official with her clipboard under her arm. I couldn’t help but think, watching those skinny seventh grade girls hit the ball back and forth over the net, that if I were them, I would have loved her as my coach…

We were so proud.

So that’s what I said here in my column this week. I wrote about why it matters in our town now, the town that’s bursting at the seams…why it matters that someone like Little Sister would find her calling here, chose to come back home with a big wide world out there ripe for the picking. The same big wide world that seems to be making their way here too, with their hopes and their plans and their volleyball playing children…

Coming Home: Little sis shaping kids’ future one volleyball game at a time
by Jessie Veeder
10-5 -14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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Coming Home, my weekly columns, appear in newspapers across the state, including the Fargo Forum, Bismarck Tribune, Dickinson Press and Grand Forks Herald.

Sunday Column: 100 years!

IMG_1995The party of the century took place in my hometown this weekend. I sit here this morning at the ranch, my cousins and aunt and uncle visiting from Texas likely milling around the cabin in the barnyard over the hill, getting ready for another day in North Dakota, just one of the many family’s who made the trip back home to celebrate.

It’s fitting then that they would be spending their nights in the very spot that raised my grandfather and then raised my aunt and dad and uncle, right above where the old shack used to sit, right next door to the old red barn, family feet still making tracks in this mud.

Summer Barn

I can’t tell you what it means to me to have them here and I’m sure they can’t explain that the miles and time don’t make a difference, that this is always home.

I am certain that among the thousand plus people who celebrated with us, most would say the same.

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There’s coffee at my desk and I’m nursing a sunburn and tired feet. I have the whole summer ahead of me now, packed with more stages, more cows to chase, more events to plan and more sun to catch, but what I’m thinking now is “phew, we pulled it off.”

And that I’m proud to have been a part of it.

Because for two years we’ve been planning the bands and the art show, the kids games and the sidewalk sales, the film festival and the magicians, the clowns and the books and the auction and the big free feed under the tent.

We didn’t plan on rain, but we knew it was inevitable. We didn’t plan for a party in the mud, but we had one and it was great.

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We’re a young establishment, this booming small town in America. Things have changed since the railroad made promises and the first little wooden store took shape on the desolate landscape. Every day time passes and residents make decisions to build, to come, to leave, to stay.

Within those 100 years there have been booms and busts and years spent standing still waiting for and making our own opportunity that might help keep the streets alive with young people and babies again…

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Within those 100 years land has been bought and sold and split and kept. Businesses have changed hands, closed doors or stayed right there in the family.

Kids have learned between the walls of schools and out in the streets, riding bikes to the pool or driving their first cars out to help with a branding at a ranch in the badlands.

I am one of those kids. This weekend I was surrounded by them, tapping their toes to the music on the big stage, dancing and laughing, buying each other a beer, swinging around grandchildren, sitting down with a roast beef sandwich and catching up, just like they’ve done for decades.

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And isn’t it refreshing to know that no matter how things have changed us, no matter how fast the cars can go now, how we can fly across oceans, no matter that we can see each other on computer screens though we’re thousands of miles apart, still after all of these years there’s nothing like celebrating shoulder to shoulder, embrace to embrace, laughter to terrible joke.

There’s nothing that beats a good old fashioned party together.

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Congratulations hometown. Here’s to another 100 years and more!

Coming Home: We call it a century. 100 years. The Centennial
by Jessie Veeder
7-29-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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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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Sunday Column: A new life for an old country school.

This is me, about forth grade I suppose, back when Garth Brooks was king (and so were his wild Brush Popper style western shirts) and I spent my recesses planting a garden with my friends outside the window of the lunchroom of the country school down the road.

This summer they’ll start work to turn Johnson Corners Elementary School into a travel center. A gas station.

A place to buy Cheetos and Red Bull and fuel for the hundreds of trucks and pickups that pass by my old stomping grounds every day.

A sign of the times….times we never thought we’d see when they shut down that little school 15 or so years ago, sending those country kids to town…

This year, in Watford City, they built an addition to that elementary school in town, making room for the 100 + kindergartners that need to learn their letters.

In 2014 we’re making plans to build a new high school.

We couldn’t have known then what we know now about what lay below our scuffed cowboy boots as we kicked the soccer ball around and dangled from the monkey bars.

We couldn’t have known all these years later, after growing up along quiet highways and dusty scoria roads, that the world would pass by that abandoned playground, bringing with it a new life…

Coming Home: Boomtown makes room for travel center in old schoolyard
by Jessie Veeder
2-16-14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

Sunday Column: A string of headlights heading toward Boomtown…

This town we drive to for groceries and work, it buzzes and hums and creaks and groans and crashes and grows and creeps in on the neighbors and the wheat fields and cattle pastures every day.

And it’s filled. Filled to the brim with industry and progress, locals and non-locals, passers-through, brilliant minds and lost souls, people looking for a place and people who’ve found their place long ago.

It consumes us. This oil industry. The way that it kicks up dust. The way it brings wealth and eats up the landscape and changes the horizon. Some say it’s bad. Some say it’s good. Most understand that nothing comes without a price.

Nothing is simply black or white.

I allow myself to ponder it because it’s fascinating and it’s my life.

And the world seems to be pondering it too, grabbing for the stories so that they might be the mind to reveal some sort of hidden truth in the one place in America the economy is booming. The one place in America small towns are bursting at the seams.

The one place in America there is an abundance of hope that if we can all just keep working we might pull ourselves up and be able to take root and stay planted or grow wings and fly the hell out of here.

Me, I’m on the side of the roots.

So I spend my days telling my story and listening for others’. What I see in Boomtown, what I think we look like–mothers and men, children and teachers, fifth generation farm families and oil industry professionals, young men with big plans, good men gone bad, bad men starting over and women on their own, leaders and preachers and helpers and people in need, lonely people, happy people, fed up people, inventive people, people in love, people who’ve lost and people who will. not. give. up. My best friends, my husband, these kids’ future–this is not what the world gets to see in the headlines.

Between tragic car wrecks and the dramatic stories that beg to be told of the nameless men who’ve arrived in the wild, wild west in search of their cut of black gold there are people, people like us, building lives and drinking beer, meeting up for a movie, holding open doors, buying steak for dinner and loving each other.

Coming Home: Living in a town of labels, assumptions
by Jessie Veeder
11-10-13
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

Download my song “Boomtown” on iTunes
or listen at
www.jessieveedermusic.com 

Watch: Jessie Veeder’s Boomtown

Together.

Yesterday Little Man hung out with me while I worked around the house. Here’s a fuzzy phone photo of him trying to lift Big Brown Dog.

Big Brown Dog is his favorite. Little Man likes to walk behind him so the dog’s tail whacks him in the face. He thinks this is funny and he laughs hysterically while saying “owie owie owie” and then I get confused, but as long as he’s laughing right?

It was a good day of trying to guess what the kid will eat, bundling him up in his snowsuit for a trip to feed the horses, unbundling him from his snowsuit, reading books, licking peanut butter off of bread, throwing the ball up the stairs, pulling on the pug’s ears, looking for his socks, laughing hysterically, watching Mickey Mouse, herding the dogs into each bedroom ten times, shutting the door on them and then letting them out again before eating macaroni and passing out on the couch.

And that was all before noon.

I can’t believe the little guy is already past two years old and knows what I’m talking about most of the time, even if he choses not to say much.

Because of all of the things that make this place a home I love—the oak groves and the sunrises and the horses and the open space and familiarity of it all–the biggest gift has been that we have our family here.

Ten years ago I would have never thought it possible. Ten years ago if you would have told me that my Big Little Sister and her little family would be living in a new house in our little home town, I would not have believed you. If you would have told me she’d be followed by Little Sister, now a young new teacher, I would have been certain you were lying. Mostly because I always thought little sister would be a lawyer, you know, with all those negotiating skills she’s been practicing since birth.

Anyway, Husband and I have always known that someday we wanted to build ourselves a home and life on the ranch, but that was as far as the plan stretched for a while having left a place alongside others who were leaving too.

If we were to make a life here, we would have had to make a pretty good life somewhere else first to help us get started.I thought our chances were pretty slim for making it work, especially in the beginning stages of our careers and life together.

Wedding Tree

But things have changed out here as the country knows and as I have explained. Each day this place changes. Each day it shifts and grows as new technology has us drilling frantically for the oil 10,000 feet below the surface.

And each day someone who left has decided to come home, to ranches, to farms, to the city streets they remember but maybe don’t recognize anymore.

Each day hundreds across the country call us, look us up, pack up their cars and head this way for a chance at making it their own.

I don’t blame them. It’s a good place to be, albeit, it’s a little hard to keep up with all the buzz. That little town I remember is stretching out across the prairie more and more every day, a bittersweet realization for those who like the familiar.

I admit, I am one of those. I know where my favorite oak tree grows and I want to protect it. I miss the old drive-in and the taste of the burgers there, the Chuckwagon on Main Street and the quiet safety of the pink road where I used to ride my bike, all things changed a bit in the face of a booming industry.

But you know what I don’t miss. I don’t miss my family. Because yesterday I got to hang out with Little Man and watch him train my dogs. Last weekend Little Sister showed up at the ranch in time to help us unload our pickup from a trip to the lumber yard and then we had drinks and ate leftovers and laughed hysterically as I made plans for where we would help her build her house across the coulee so she could be reached with a tin-can phone just like the old days.

Today I’ll visit Momma at her store to see if any of the pretty things we picked out in Vegas have arrived, this weekend I will babysit my nieces and tomorrow night I will play music with Pops and the men I’ve been playing music with since I was a little girl on Main Street of Boomtown to familiar faces and hopefully, a whole lot of new faces in town looking for work, a fresh start, a place to kick back, and maybe, a place to call home.

I think that’s what everyone’s looking for. I hang on to that in times I’m feeling overwhelmed by change that’s moving down our road sometimes and unprecedented speeds.

Because we made a decision years ago that home is here, although I don’t know if I ever had a choice they way the mud stuck to my boots and never let go.

And I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but today, my family is holding to that same decision.

Today we’re all together out here, along these crazy roads and under this unpredictable sky making supper plans and helping each other build houses and checking in and stopping by and teaching Little Man important things like how to high-five and train the dogs and laughing and getting on each other’s nerves, drinking coffee and just living.



And for those out here working and thinking you would give anything to have yourfamily close by, I tell you, I don’t take this for granted.

Not for a moment.

Under a Badlands Sky…


One of my favorite autumn rituals has become my now annual trip down the road to visit the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park just outside the ever-expanding limits of my home town.

These days, more than ever, I believe this park to be a blessing and a gift, a reminder among the chaos of a bustling industry to slow down and remember the best things in life.

The sky…

The grass…

The quiet, wild things.

I like to visit those rugged buttes to be reminded that I am one of those quiet, wild things and last week I took my Little Sister along on a little hike so that she could remember that too.

See, Little Sister has just recently come into some major responsibilities after graduating from college last winter. And with her new teaching degree in health and physical education, she has found herself in a small school outside of our hometown writing lesson plans, leading jumping jack sessions, chasing around adorable kindergarteners and helping seniors prepare for college while working on getting a master’s degree in counseling and guidance.

I’m tired just thinking about it, but so proud of this woman who, in my mind, should still be 8 years old and following me up the creek to the forts we built behind the house.

I still find it a little disheartening that when we grow up that seems to be the first thing we give up…walks to nowhere.

And building forts.

But that’s what the ranch does for us, and places like this park. It provides us with a reason to walk to nowhere, to climb to the top of a hill and look down,

to notice how that jet leaves a white streak in the sky and to wonder where it’s going…

while we find we’re happy to be right where we are.

Happy to point out the small deer crossing the road or a chipmunk below our feet instead of worrying about deadlines and messy kitchens to clean.

Happy to notice how the sun shines through the changing autumn leaves on the river bottom instead of how the end tables need dusting and the windows need a wipe.

Happy to trip on a rock as we make our way down from the buttes, happy for a near-miss incident that we can laugh at together, thankful we made it in one piece.

Thankful that we’re not sweeping right now.

Or doing paperwork.

Or making dinner.

Thankful that someone set aside a place for us to go to get away from all of the things that seem to matter so little when it comes to a choice between watching the leaves change or watching a television screen.

Thankful that we can walk to the river and talk about the time Little Sister broke the tire swing as it flung her out over the coulee and dropped her in the creek. Thankful she survived the fall, though she was certain she was dying.

Thankful she has nearly forgiven my reaction of hysterical laughter.

Thankful that years later, though those jets could take us anywhere, we still chose to be out under this beautiful and familiar sky…

Together.

Boomtown

Good morning all. I just wanted to pop in for a quick hello and to let you know that after completing my call out to winter last night and shouting it to the world, all hell has indeed broke loose this A.M.

It is snowing.

Hard.

So winter has indeed arrived as I type this sitting at a computer in my hometown after  braving the thirty miles of ice with my neighbor trailing behind me creeping at 45 mph on the slick roads.  It has begun, our battle with the winter.

Ahh, yes, I like to talk about the weather here, it’s in my nature, it’s non-controversial and I think it’s something that we all have in common. But besides that this morning I would also like to share a little piece of what’s happening out here in my hometown. Our Little Boomtown.

The impacts of the oil industry and activity in Western North Dakota has recently made headlines throughout the country. If you’re not from around here, you’ve undoubtedly caught wind of it. If you’re a former resident it’s captivated you. If you live among it you know it has the power to consume you.  Regardless, we can all agree that it is indeed a story, this town of 1,200 expanding  to over 6,000 + residents and growing. It is indeed a spectacle to see the oil semis and service trucks roll on the ribbons of highway that used to carry only school children and quiet rural commuters on their way to work at the banks and stores in town. Now, because of what we have discovered below the surface 10,000 feet, something we have known was there for 60 years and we can now get to, we have something amazing to offer here on the edge of the badlands to those who are up for a challenge,  adventure, willing to work hard and sacrifice a life they knew.

Jobs.

Jobs and opportunity and challenges in what I have come to refer to as the “Wild Wild West.”

And love it our hate it it’s happening. We can have that discussion later. But all I know is that in a time in our country where people have lost their homes, their jobs and pieces of their lives that provided them comfort and security, it is out here on the prairie that people are looking for their hope.

And hope is the reason I am back here with husband. Hope that we can keep the family ranch in the family, hope that we can have a family of our own one day, hope that we can have a good life with good friends and the freedom for a little bit of adventure.

So as we count the out-of-state license plates or the headlights that pass us on our way out-of-town, as I answer the phone calls from people looking for employment and describe to them the type of winter that is settling in around here,  I like to think about all those stories, all the memories, all the struggles and triumphs and roads that brought these people here, to the edge of the buttes so far from what they know, to live in apartments or hotel rooms, to build a new house or rough it out in a camper on the edge of town. It’s hard to imagine what they have sacrificed to find their place, to find their future, to find a better life…

So yes, my little hometown has become a boomtown, but it’s not scared. It’s been there before. And yes, I have to wait in line at the gas station and the post office, something that we are not used to. We are having growing pains and there are challenges here, so we must be on our best behavior. We must be a little more aware, we must ask a few more questions, listen more carefully, take a little more time to understand what is going on around us so we can make this place the best that it can be…

We must be patient and find in us our compassion.

Please visit the link below to hear our story on Bismarck’s KXMB news channel and get a sneak peek of my new song “Boomtown.”

Scofield sings about “Boomtown” Watford City.


Catch me and Pops singing this tune and many others this Sunday at the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center
2-5:oo pm
Fort Buford State Historic Site

Visit the Jessie Veeder Music Link for more performance dates.

Halloween in Boomtown

On a dark and kind of windy night a woman in fleece pants and an old FFA sweatshirt sat alone in her farm house in the middle of nowhere eating leftover noodle casserole, waiting for little munchkins dressed as goblins and witches to pile out of pickups and knock on her door while the news anchors on the TV told her stories she already knew about the bustling, busy, over-stretched and opportunity filled boomtown where she once went to school and now works.

As the sun disappeared over the clay buttes and the stars popped out one by one, she munched on a bite sized Snicker bar for dessert. Her Halloween costume from the weekend’s festivities still lay in a crumpled heap, a massacre of fuzzy pink flamingo in the corner of her tiny house. Two days later and she was still recovering from the celebration of one of her favorite holidays. Turns out pink flamingos can’t handle five beers and two shots in the matter of three hours.

“Sweet Martha”, the girl thought to herself as she unwrapped another piece of candy. “What happened to the good ‘ol days when coming down from a sugar high and planning your costume around the necessity of a snowsuit were your biggest worries on Halloween?”

Here I am, six years old in a clown costume my grandma made for us..

She contemplated this for a while, because she could. Because no little Lady Gagas were knocking on her door and her husband had left her here for a week alone to her own dinner plans…and she was already failing. It was day one and she had resorted to leftovers and candy. Yes, she had time to herself. Time that, in another life, would have been spent planning her Pippi Longstocking outfit with her best friend up the hill who would be putting the finishing touches on her  picnic table costume. They would have been loading up in the pickup with their little sisters in turtlenecks and scarves shoved into witch’s capes and stuffed garbage bags that looked like pumpkins. Twenty years ago she would have been visiting the neighbors who lived within a fifteen mile radius of her little house in the coulee. Twenty years ago she would have been thrilled to curl her tongue into three loops, or throw her body into a cartwheel, or recite a poem about a goblin with the Picnic Table for their neighbor down the highway. “A trick for a treat,” she would say as she clapped her hands together.

Twenty years ago she would have performed. She would have thought this out. They would have expected it, the girl and her Picnic Table friend.  Because the stakes were high out here surrounded by gravel roads, trees windswept and bare, dark, starry skies and howling coyotes. It was Halloween for the love of Butterfinger! Halloween in the country and, well, twenty years ago those girls didn’t mess around.

The neighbor girls...

No, it didn’t matter that there were only five stops, only five houses to visit on Halloween night.  That was of no concern. The girls didn’t know about sidewalks and knocking on doors and running wild through neighborhoods. The ribbon of pink road, the miles of fence posts, the grazing cattle, that was their neighborhood…and it would take them days to walk it (especially in her dad’s oversized boots and with all that silverware stuck to the giant cardboard box her friend was wearing.) So their dads would drive them down the road to farmhouses lit up with lanterns and pumpkins with faces. Houses that smelled like dinner on the stove when they drove in the yard. Houses where their friends lived. The same friends who rode the bus with them for an hour every day to get to school.

Yes, twenty years ago those best friends lived for this holiday–the planning, the creativity, the stories and  piling into the warm ranch pickup with their squishy little sisters, caramel apples, mom dressed as witches, dads dressed as monsters and, well, the treats…

Momma and Pops on Halloween

Ah, the treats. The woman in fleece pants opened a box of Nerds and closed her eyes…

First stop was the neighbors to the south who would have a bowl on their kitchen table filled with pre-packaged goodies for all of the girls: stickers, small games, skittles, candy corn, chocolate shaped as pumpkins and, on your way out grab a scotcharoo why don’t you.

Second stop a half a mile down the road: homemade popcorn balls in orange and green. Glow sticks, apple cider, and a PayDay for the road.

Third stop on the highway: Time to perform. A trick for a treat and a long visit with a retired teacher who loved them and gave them pencils and made them hot Tang and sugar cookies. And they loved her too…and knew better than to say anything about the prunes she placed in the middle of those sugar cookies.

Back to the gravel to finish off the night with caramel apples and a handful or two from the bowls at the doors and then on to the Picnic Table’s house to dump out pillowcases full of treats and trade and sort and count.

A sad clown with a broken leg. Yes, I was accident prone even as a fifth grader...

The woman tilted her head back to finish off the Nerds and then got up off of the chair to take a peek outside.

“There will be no puffy gremlin visitors tonight,” she said quietly to herself.

Because times were different. Twenty years ago this landscape she lived on was dotted with young families working to make a living out on family farms thirty miles from town. Twenty years ago the country school was still open and playing host to Halloween parties with green punch, piñatas and those to-die-for popcorn balls.

Twenty years ago the woman in fleece pants wanted to be Pippi Longstocking…

But somewhere in those years, between eight years old and twenty-eight, people got older and moved to town and no more babies were brought home to those farmsteads that smelled like dinner when you drove into the yard. Moms who once dressed as witches became grammas to babies in other states and the hair on the young dad’s head grew gray or fell out.

And there was a time in there, it occurred to her, that perhaps her dad thought all was lost. When the last of his daughters packed her pumpkin costume away in the toy chest in her old room only to pull out of the driveway to get on with growing up, that he may have believed that he and those five neighbors may be the last to make it out on this landscape where the coyotes howl and the moon is bright.

There was a time like that for him, when there were no picnic tables or Pippis to drive around and the knocks on the doors on Halloween went from ten to five to none…

But she was back. Here she was. And so was her picnic table friend. And their other friends who once walked the sidewalks in town as kids were now holding the hands of their own children on Halloween. Here they all were, back home because it seemed, the times were changing.

The woman saw it first hand after a day of work in town, she understood that the nostalgia came from the stop she made  in the local department store on her way home to help her momma hand out candy to kids trick-or-treating in town. She needed to get a taste of the magic she was missing as a childless adult on this holiday, so she stood by the door unsure of what to expect from the children in her once sleepy hometown that had come to life in the midst of an oil boom.

And what she saw was bowl after bowl of candy diminishing before her eyes as a stream of princesses and Spider Men and bumblebees and pirates paraded through the doors, smiled and opened their treat bags hour after hour. She had never seen so many adorable, sparkly, smiling children out and about at one time. Her friend’s children were dressed as army men and Buzz Lightyear, her nephew as a lion, children she worked with in 4-H were witches, children of families she had never met before wandered in all dressed up and excited…all adorable, all doing what children should be doing on Halloween, all here, in Western North Dakota, on Main Street Watford City laying roots for their futures, making memories here in the woman’s hometown.

So, on a dark and sort of windy night a woman in fleece pants and an old FFA sweatshirt sat in her house reminiscing about a childhood full of Halloweens on a landscape that was dotted with friends and neighbors and black cows. She remembered this. And then remembered  a time when she wanted nothing more to be back in that place…and a time when she thought it might never be possible.

So although that woman knew that she wouldn’t hear a knock on the door of her little farmhouse from a witch or a gremlin or a picnic table tonight, she smiled as she popped another Snickers into her mouth knowing that out there her community was changing. New goblins and firemen and zombies were walking the streets of her hometown, finding themselves bonding over skittles and costume ideas. And for one night those children in sequins and cardboard boxes and masks spoke louder than all of the truck traffic, worries, gossip and news stories that move and swell along a Main Street that is changing every day in a town that is pushed to its limits.

Yes, there, on Halloween, on the scariest night of the year, were the children– building strength, camaraderie and hope.

Hope that there is an opportunity for people to make it again, to really build something, to make it possible again for children to grow up in the hills among the hay bales, to eat a neighbor’s popcorn ball, to sit and sip hot cider, to perform a trick for a treat..

To live a good life.

To have a Happy Halloween.

Whether on sidewalks or better yet, country roads.

Thank God for Cowboys…

I’m in cowboy country out here.

Yes indeed.

Cowboy country.

A classic American icon. Songs are written about them, movies have been made about the ones in white hats standing up for what’s right, epic novels follow characters on the back of wild horses, on cattle drives and shootouts, sleeping under the stars and opening doors for women.


I grew up out here surrounded by men like these. Men who would rope a 3,000 pound bull off the back of a half broke horse (because there was no other choice) in the early morning hours and then go home to rock their babies to sleep or to teach their preschooler how to ride a bike. Men who would drop everything for a neighbor in need of some extra hands or an extra horse. Men who had stories they would share over coffee or a beer about their rodeo days, having a buddy’s back in a fight, being stepped on, kicked, bucked off and bruised in the name of horsemanship and a living.

To me no other man existed. As a teenager I had posters and magazine pages I pulled out of the Western Horseman plastered all over my walls. They were handsome, mysterious and capable of fixing anything…just give them a wrench and some wire. They were fearless and light hearted but serious about their work and their animals. They all wore boots and hats and a clean shirt when they went to town. They didn’t own a pair of loafers or a polo shirt…wouldn’t be caught dead in them, not even if one of their wives finally got them to stop working for a week and join her on a Caribbean Cruise.

I was just certain all men had this in them. I was certain the market for khaki pants was a small one. I was convinced cowboys, intense as they can be, were the only ones worth marrying, the only ones to teach your babies things, the only ones to feed around a dinner table.

Certain.

And as I grew up around these young cowboys who were working on becoming the real deal, I watched as they learned lesson after lesson about what it meant to hold the title. The true title.

It was more than the outfit. It was the attitude. The confidence, the fearlessness, the quiet calm, the quick-wit, the ability to keep their composure while faced with challenges like staying on a bucking bronc for 8 seconds, jumping off a horse running wide open and wrestling a steer to the ground or working to save a sick calf. And when they failed, which every cowboy in training did, it was brushing themselves off and walking proud out of the gate. When their buddy beat them, it was a handshake, a hug, a good job brother.



And then I moved away, where there were fewer cows, less dirt and more pavement…buildings between the trees.

I missed a lot of things about the place I grew up when I was away. I missed the coulees and the bluffs and the sage and the crickets chirping through open windows at night. But it wasn’t long before I got used to being away, before I got used to the sidewalks and the men in sneakers and neckties. I was beginning to become convinced that maybe there weren’t many cowboys in the world, really. Maybe they were just contained in a few small places like western North Dakota, Texas and Montana. Maybe they were tucked away in those far away, wide open spaces…the spaces where cowboys go.

But every once in a while I would find one. He’d be at a bar in a baseball cap wearing Cinch jeans and boots. He’d be playing pool and joking with his buddies, he’d buy a girl a drink, he’d lean on the table waiting for his turn in the relaxed and cool way only a cowboy can. Or he’d be in class with me, studying to become a banker, an agriculturalist, a teacher, something to earn a living so maybe he could move back to the ranch someday. Every once in a while he’d kinda gaze in the distance, the way I would find myself doing when I was thinking of home, thinking of the horses, thinking of the sage, and I’d imagine where he might be from and understand that kind of loneliness.

Yes, they were out there. Because times are changing, it’s not the wild west anymore, there isn’t thousands of acres for the picking. Family ranches are bigger and further between…and sometimes, cowboys have to move to town.

And to me there couldn’t be anything sadder really-a cowboy in the suburbs or between skyscrapers. And I worry for my young sisters that maybe the real cowboys are a dying breed. That maybe with the changing times, our fast paced world, the ease of which we can get things fixed, be entertained, make a living with computers and machines, that the cowboy culture is becoming extinct.


I worry until I find myself in my hometown on a Friday night watching some of the best cowboys and cowgirls in the nation rope steers, ride broncs, fight bulls and then go out back to their trailers to hug their kids in cowboy hats and jeans who are practicing roping on the dummy.

I worry until I witness the little girl I used to babysit from down in the badlands, the little girl who’s not so little anymore,  bust out after a calf at full speed as a teenager competing against the toughest women who’ve been at this for years longer.

I am concerned until I see my uncle, one of the greatest horsemen and all around spirits I know, out there in the arena judging the events, cheering on the contestants, taking this tough job seriously only to wake up the next morning to make time for a nice long ride with my pops through fall pastures.

I worry until I take a ride with my pops and and my neighbor who wear the years of rough-stock and friendship and ranching out here in the badlands on their weathered faces and callused hands. The two men who grew up together, who remain neighbors and who have taught husband and I everything we know about cowboy so that someday we might pass it along to our children.

And so I am reminded that there are cowboys around every corner. Good men. Hard working, sacrificing men making the world an adventure, noticing the stars and the Northern Lights, feeding our families and keeping our land healthy…staying strong.

I say thank God for them.

Thank God for Cowboys.