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Jessie Veeder, Published February 02 2013

Coming Home: Women in Boomtown have diverse stories

It’s a strange thing to wake up in oil country to find my hometown in the pages of the New York Times, the headlines as striking as the stories I find waiting in line at the post office or ordering a beer on a Friday night standing next to a man with a Southern drawl in work boots.

He’ll want to buy me a drink and I’ll say no thanks, and then, because I’m curious, I’ll ask him where he’s from, what he does, and what he thinks of this place.

And I’ll listen as the story of my hometown is told through the eyes of a stranger.

It’s much like reading it on the pages of the Wall Street Journal, although it’s unfiltered, uncut, and when he asks I can tell him about the walleye fishing on Lake Sakakawea and where to go for the best burger.

Yes, it’s a journalist’s dream out here in Boomtown, so many angles, so many ways to see it, so many colorful characters to question.

And last week I was one of them, interviewed by a big city reporter sent to the oil fields to get the scoop.

She had a few minutes for a lot of questions so she asked:

Who am I? What do I do? Who is my husband? Why am I here? Do I feel safe?

I’ve been asked before. I know the answers.

I know I’m a local woman, close to my family and in love with the land.

I know my husband’s a good man, and I know this place made him that way.

I know I feel safe in my home, and every day I feel blessed and overwhelmed, nervous and excited, frustrated and inspired by what’s happening in my backyard.

And I know I can be an exasperating subject.

Because when she asked me, “What’s it like to be a woman in oil country?” I paused in my awareness that I was not qualified to answer that question.

See, I don’t have the tough skin of the women who work in a man’s world, driving truck, managing crews or engineering new ways to get oil from the ground.

I’m not the new wife living in a camper, the working mother searching for day care, the young entrepreneur looking for a storefront, the teacher making room for another new student or the retiree living next door to her grandson with plans to babysit on Tuesday.

I cannot begin to tell these women’s stories, so I gave that reporter some names so they might tell their own. In a world full of sound bites, I don’t know if we’ll ever hear them.

I went home that evening to more clips on the news about what it’s like in my hometown – too many men, too many trucks, not enough of anything, too much of everything, and I felt an overwhelming pang in my gut.

And it wasn’t that I didn’t believe the story. I know the story; at least the one I’m living in line at the post office, in a conversation over a beer and on top of the buttes with the wind in my hair.

No.

It was that I was taking those perspectives on my hometown personally.

Oh, I know it’s too much to ask that everyone who passes through Main Street appreciates this place the same way I do, learning about its history, recognizing its limitations and working towards its potential while we laugh over beers and make plans for an early morning fishing trip.

I know this is a request as unrealistic as asking me to speak for every woman out here, because we all come from different circumstances.

And we all have different plans for our future.

But for all the uncertainties, I think it’s going to turn out all right. Because I’ve been asking my own questions and I’ve come to find there are plenty others who share my admiration of place, not just for the wind and the sunsets, but for new friends, opportunities and a second chance to fit in.

And I’ve learned that all of those things don’t matter much for those who just want to go home.

And of all people, I can respect that.

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.