Jessie Veeder, Published December 15 2012
Coming Home: Learning to recognize a changing home
It’s even stranger when that place is your hometown, once etched on the back of your hand, speckled with memories of ice cream at the corner diner, driving down Main Street with your new license and old car, football games on Friday nights and the street where he first kissed you.
As kids in the hills of western North Dakota, we got used to our world changing at a slow pace. Other than our favorite pizza place closing, the weather was the most dramatic shift we witnessed. We watched our friends’ taillights leaving town and waited for our turn, certain that if we were to return this place would be waiting for us just as we left it.
I think we found comfort in the idea that our town wouldn’t dare change without us. Because if we could try our hand in the unfamiliar world believing that home would stay the same, it meant our parents wouldn’t get older, old farmsteads wouldn’t crumble and we always have a comfortable place to land if everything else fell apart.
But nothing stays the same no matter how we will it, not anywhere and certainly not here in my hometown of Watford City, with a population that grows with each headlight beaming down Highway 85, each nail hammered in the building of a new business and each big idea shared over a beer at the Legion Club now buzzing night after night with southern accents, northern accents and every voice in between.
I listen to the town talk and hum and breathe. I follow a string of taillights into a town stretching inch by inch into the once-open fields on the once-open outskirts. I stand in line at the post office while we pick up our mail and hear new residents on their cell phones calling their own hometowns. I hear the trucks as they pass by my mother’s store. I wait for a table at the pizza place and remember where the pinball machine used to sit and the Budweiser poster used to hang, little pieces of a life lived here in another time.
I walk into the drugstore, the one where my grandmother used to shop for fabric, and the shelves filled with trinkets, medicine and the faint scent of cinnamon remind me that some things haven’t changed.
Then I see June standing at the counter talking to the clerk about the weather – June, with her silver hair a bit more silver, her steps slower, but her eyes just as bright as I remember. I look into them as she reaches for a hug, and suddenly I’m 8 years old standing on the other side of the counter in the basement of my country church as she serves me a cinnamon roll and a paper cup of orange juice. I am filled with a comfort I didn’t expect on a Tuesday afternoon errand run in a town I sometimes can’t keep up with.
I heard there are two new hotels under construction. I heard there are more houses coming, more oil to be extracted, more jobs, a bigger school, more opportunity and more growth.
I heard we’re getting a McDonalds.
I’m 29 years old, and I came back for this. I’m 29 years old and June is 80-something, and I wonder what she thinks as she searches for a parking spot outside the grocery store.
And I don’t know what to say other than I understand why it makes us all nervous sometimes – we worry we won’t be able to keep our heads above the crowds, we worry our voices will blend in with the hum of it all.
We worry we won’t recognize one another anymore.
But the pizza place still makes pizza, the football teams still wins games, they still sell ice cream at the diner and he still kisses me the same way he did on that street all those years ago.
And if I shop at the pharmacy I might see June and she might see me.
And we’ll be here for a while.
God willing, we’ll be here.
Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. Readers can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.