On top of the hill across from the golf course, my hometown is busy building a brand-new, beautiful high school.
Plans have been in the works for a few years as our student population continues to grow, forcing classes to be held in portable rooms even after a recent elementary school renovation.
Even during these times of lower oil prices.
It’s hard to imagine, but it’s true. The kindergarten class this year registered well into a hundred students, and in a matter of six or so years, we have not only exploded in population from 1,200 residents to closer to 10,000, but we’ve turned from an aging community into a young one.
Last weekend, my best friend — the neighbor girl who used to meet at the top of the hill so we could ride our bikes along the centerline of the highway — called us to come over for supper. A few years ago she and her husband, my classmate, built a beautiful house on her family’s ranch, fulfilling the plans we made when we were kids jumping from hay bale to hay bale to “grow up, get jobs and be neighbors forever.”
So I grabbed a bottle of wine (because someone should be drinking this wine) and headed up the hill to her house where she’s raising four kids, the youngest a son who will be only six months older than our baby on the way.
Lord help us all if this baby is a boy, too.
Anyway, that night we gathered for meatballs and gravy to catch up with a house full of friends. I looked around the kitchen, listened to the guys talk sports and bounce new babies and realized that every single one of those five grown men grew up together. And there were more of them, quite a few more of them, who couldn’t make it to the party.
And while it’s not a surprise (more than half of the classmates who attended our 10-year high school reunion had either moved back home or were making plans to move), it was fun to take a look around and think about the next chapter in our lives as friends in a town they told us no one could come home to.
But look how wrong we can be about predicting the future. One of my husband’s best friends — the one who lived right down the block and was in on more than a few paint ball and principal office shenanigans with him — held his newborn son at the table. That friend was my locker buddy, and his dad was locker buddies with my dad, and it just occurred to me that the baby boy he was bouncing could very likely be locker buddies with our baby, too.
(Would it be more or less trouble if our baby is a girl?)
And there are quite a few stories like this in my hometown these days, not just among our small class of 40 or so, but among other classes here as well. Best friends from childhood raising families alongside one another, taking turns driving kids to football or gymnastics, meeting up to barbecue, to sit and visit with a sort of ease and familiarity that comes with knowing one another when we wore our pants too baggy and drove too fast.
Who would have known? When I left home almost 15 years ago, the porch lights on the farmhouses were going out one by one. This landscape was so much darker without any real hope of new and younger hands to flip the switch back on.
And nothing was going to make it any different except a change in the makeup of this place that would make it so we wouldn’t have to struggle the way our parents did.
Around the supper table that evening there wasn’t a person raised here who didn’t respect and love it in their own way. But just because we’re connected by the land doesn’t necessarily mean that we would naturally remain connected to one another.
Except in this case it is enough, to find this place worthy of returning to and planting new seeds, a new generation raised in a familiar, changing and unpredictable place.
Coming Home: Newfound hope means we’re raising kids with our old classmates
by Jessie Veeder
Jessie Veeder is a singer/songwriter and columnist for North Dakota newspapers. Find out more about her and hear more stories of life on her family’s ranch in western North Dakota on her blog, Meanwhile, back at the ranch…