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Coming Home: Time is relative in summer

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It was closing in on midnight our time. Our time is what we say when we cross the Little Missouri River around here. Their time gives us an hour, our time gets us home late and we were heading home, watching the lightning flash electricity inside a mountain of storm clouds in front of us.

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Dad drove into a tunnel made of headlights and tall grass, and I changed the songs on the radio and soon we were under that big lightning cloud, engulfed in a midnight downpour throwing tiny hailstones and sheets of rain so thick we could no longer see our headlights or the white lines meant to guide us on the road.

So he pulled over on the shoulder of that narrow highway and there we sat, a car full of guitars, microphones and old coffee cups yelling to one another above the whoosh and hammer of a North Dakota hurricane, things like “I can’t believe this!” and “I’ve never seen anything like it!” and “I hope you’ve got hail coverage on this thing.”

What timing, I thought as the clouds pushed north and the rain that held us captive let up and let us go again, car tires cutting a path through a thick coating of hail stones.

Ice covered roads in the middle of June.

Just hours before I finished up a pulled pork sandwich and a little pile of coleslaw on a paper plate under the tall and echoing ceilings of the Armory in Hettinger North and watched their One and Only Cowboy Band set the stage for a celebration of neighboring states – North and South Dakota, 125 years.

It would be my turn to sing in a few minutes, after we all got through the food line and settled in, fanning the humidity off our skin. After the Cowboy Band and the High School quartet sang the South Dakota Song. After the men’s choir and the introductions and the thank-yous. After the prayer of gratitude for this evening of celebration.

They left the big garage door open just a crack to let the air move through to jostle the balloons and cool the sticky necks of the 4-H kids serving coffee and cake to guests sitting around brightly covered tables. My uncle leaned over to me and whispered, “Someone’s cutting hay. You smell that?”

And I did smell it, a sweet and familiar memory of playing in the tree rows of their farmstead just across the border on the North Dakota side of the two states, playing on their time, where dark came earlier so I felt like we might be getting away with something.

And then I was singing facing a community that was facing me, standing next to my dad playing the harmonica, standing before them with a song about an old Five and Dime store, and then about my Boomtown and one I wrote about winter of course.

As if we ever knew a winter as we sat close, wiping the beads of sweat from our hairlines, drinking lemonade and talking about the hay crop.

For those 4-H kids dressed in green clover shirts this summer will last forever. They will finish collecting plates and napkins, their responsibilities and duties fulfilled and then they will take up the task of being invincible kids again, lining up a game of Red Light/Green light without regard for the bugs or the dark or the thing those old adults were celebrating in there – home and memories and time.

Time that comes rolling in over the horizon like those lightning filled thunderheads we could see coming but didn’t want to believe until they opened up and stopped us in our tracks, reminding us that we don’t have control over these things, but we can slow down for a minute and shout above the noise of it all.

Yes, we can slow down to sing out loud, to remember other storms, to have a slice of cake and listen to the Cowboy Band play music from a time we thought was easier, simple, but look at us here now, together, talking and laughing and clapping along in time. Your time.

My time.

Our time.

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