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Jessie Veeder, Published January 26 2013

Coming Home: Retail is the perfect fit – even in Boomtown

My mom owns a department store in Boomtown.

Behind the windows of her storefront on the corner of Main Street and Second Avenue, she sells scarves and blouses, dresses and jewelry, high-heel shoes and other pretty things.

But in a town famously bursting at the seams with young, working men, we have to be innovative.

And practical.

So past the baby tutus, the dress rack, the earring stand and giant four-way mirror, my momma has a room full of shirts that won’t catch fire on the job, boots in sizes big enough to live in and long underwear that won’t back down from the -50 degree temperatures we’ve been experiencing these last few days of winter – because, well, all these men can’t work naked now can they?

My momma is new to this retail thing. A year ago, at a time in her life when most of her friends were making plans to retire and move to Arizona, my mom quit a 20-year career and started dressing the fine citizens of Watford City, N.D.

It makes perfect sense to her daughters. All three of us will tell you that in our lives we have never seen a woman work harder, dress better or wear more impractical shoes.

Retail is the perfect fit.

I mean, if it weren’t for her I would still be wearing a Garth Brooks brush popper tucked into yellow Rocky jeans pulled up to my chin.

Or stirrup pants.

Wait, aren’t those back in style?

Anyway, my mother, who was a social worker in her past life, can best be described as a humanitarian. Her compassion runs as deep as the trust she places on people to do the right thing.

As you can expect, her outlook on the world has not always served her well in the past, but I can tell you her position behind the doors of that clothing store in our home town has served the new faces in this community far beyond what it means to them to be able to buy a nice pair of jeans or proper work boots in a new and unfamiliar home.

To my mother, each new face in town is a familiar story of hope.

I’ve never considered it before, but I think she sees a bit of herself in the women transplanted from places like Minneapolis or Las Vegas or Gillette, Wyo., looking for something that might help them feel like themselves out here surrounded by big pickups kicking up dust.

See, my mother was not born in this place. She was not a ranch girl with mud on her boots, a proper sense of direction and a cowboy waiting on her step.

No.

She fell in love with a man who was in love with a place and so she decided to love it too, spending the past 30 years in great shoes, raising daughters who play in the dirt, think for themselves and dress the part.

No, you won’t catch her on the back of a horse or digging worms for a fishing trip, but you will find her standing up for her community with a passion unmatched by the most enthusiastic politician.

And every day dozens of working men walk aimlessly through the door of her store, confused and a little flustered standing among the soft frills of women’s clothing in a place that is unquestionably hard to them, and every day my mother greets them with a smile, asks them where they’re from, what they’re looking for and shows them to the work boots and fire-resistant shirts.

Some get what they need and head out the door, some stick around to chat and shop for their girlfriends, and some come back again to visit with a woman who reminds them a little of their mom back home.

That’s why, between the pantyhose and cardigans, my mother makes room for a stockpile of long underwear.

And the beauty she brings to the women standing at her counter picking out jewelry for an overdue date night in their new town is the reason she was made for her job – selling impractical shoes in Boomtown.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City, N.D.