Jessie Veeder, Published August 17 2012
Coming home: Embracing our brand new boomtown
The land I call home.
For the people who exist here, oil is not a new word. My county is celebrating its 60th year of oil discovery soon, and its county seat isn’t even 100 years old. So it’s not hard to imagine that many long-time residents of the small “boomtowns” you’re hearing about have had their hand in the industry at some point in their lifetime.
Many people here have stories about finishing high school or returning from college in the 1970s to work in the oil fields, moving up in the industry, seeing it through the rough times and coming out on the other side as leaders and veterans of the industry.
These people have served as members of the school board, city council and musicians in local bands. They’ve coached volleyball, owned businesses, filled the collection plate at church and then helped rebuild its steeple.
They continue this way, and I can only expect many in this generation, my generation, will be telling similar stories when it’s all said and done – stories that start with a back-breaking, 80-hour-a-week job and end in a life made.
It’s a life we’re all living out here surrounded by oil derricks, cow pastures, new stoplights and badlands. And I know you’re hearing about it. It’s big news in a tough economy – an oasis of opportunity in what some have come to refer to as “the Black Gold Rush.” It’s a dramatic story about hope, long lines at the grocery store, bar fights, traffic and the man who came to North Dakota on a prayer only to live in his car while he looked for a job that allowed him to send money home to his wife and kids.
We talk about how our lives are changing, and I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around what this means for the place I have and always will call home. But the bottom line is that without this change, I probably wouldn’t be here to contemplate it at all.
Last weekend my hometown hosted one of its biggest Main Street events of the year. Standing on the stage as I prepared to play music for the crowd lining the streets, I couldn’t help but take a moment to reflect on what was happening between the sidewalks.
There were thousands of people. Thousands. And they were moving in and out of businesses with their doors flung open to the streets, picking up gifts, eating good food, shaking hands and singing along to the music. Among the crowd were mothers, children, bankers, artists, oil field workers, new residents, temporary residents and those long-time community members, who I believe were seeing the vision they had for their town realized on that hot summer afternoon.
People of many different shapes, sizes, races, stories and backgrounds flooded the streets of a town that just a few short years ago was struggling to keep its Main Street alive. It was a sight unfamiliar to me in a town unfamiliar to many of its residents – a town that together we all call home.
Ask me how life has changed and I might tell you about the traffic, the oil wells behind my house and the new stop lights in town. I will tell you about the challenges and then I will tell you about the people, new residents and hometown citizens, who are setting standards and making tough decisions so that we all might feel we belong here.
It isn’t easy. It never has been. But ask those who built the school, owned the store, lived in that house for 50 years and walked along Main Street last Friday, and they will tell you not only is it worth the effort, it’s our responsibility.
Jessie Veeder is a 28-year-old musician and writer. She lives near Watford City, N.D., with her husband, on the ranch where she grew up.