Coming Home: We call it a century. 100 years. The Centennial.
By the time you read this, the music will be over, the crowds will have cleared, the stage rolled out, all hands shaken and hugs given, saying look how far we’ve come.
By the time you read this, Watford City, N.D., my hometown, will have taken her first step into the next 100 years a little worn and sunburned, full from all those roast beef sandwiches and scotcharoos, happy to have come together on behalf of a milestone, trucks and horse trailers, tractors and SUVs waiting their turn at busy intersections, back to work, back to work, back to work now.
What’s in 100 years anyway? How tall were these oak trees back then? How sturdy was the old red barn? How did this all look, these streets, the buildings, these dusty gravel roads?
What did they think? Those pioneers – what did they think we might become?
I live in a place that somehow stands facing both the past and the future, with a present just as unsure and hazy as both.
On the top of the hill at the approach to the homestead place is a row of grain bins, one an old rusty oil tank my grandpa repurposed for agricultural use. Funny how I didn’t know about its prior life until I grew up and asked why it looked different than its shiny gray neighbors. To me that old tank had held nothing but grain until I heard its story, its history.
And there’s plenty of that out here – relics, leftovers, save-because-we-might-be-able-to-use-its left on hilltops for parts, tucked on shelves and in old coffee tins, standing where it broke down years earlier in the alfalfa field, waiting for human hands to come and make use of them again before they’re tangled up in grass, swallowed up by dirt and earth.
Behind that old oil tanker grain bin, a rig reaches up the sky and pulls pipe from 10,000 feet below us. The juxtaposition is unnerving and hopeful all at once, a concept that’s hard to explain to those asking what it’s like out here now.
What would he say, my great-grandfather, at the sight of it all? What would he say of me, the man I never met, who found this place by the creek and put up a shack and now here we are?
What would he say about us building a house five times the necessary size over the hill? What would he think of my weekend spent cutting the clover that has grown on my yard, spraying the weeds, watering the flowers, doing what I can to tame this place?
Would my great-grandfather, the agriculturalist who worked each day to find practical methods to reap this ground, to feed a family, look at that rig across the road and exclaim, “Well now there’s another way!”
And then would he worry like we worry about what it all means for the next 100 years?
A century. A centennial.
It’s easy to look back and think that the good ol’ days are behind us, and depending on who you are, you may or may not believe it. I’m the first to mourn the quiet and the fact that prosperity like we have today comes at the cost of my children riding their bikes wild and free down an empty gravel road. And I know that I am here today because land was bought and sold and held on to and that wasn’t easy. It wasn’t so easy to hold on sometimes.
And it isn’t so easy to change …
But there’s much to celebrate. By the time you put down your paper, the formalities will be over, festival grounds cleared out, the clowns and the musicians on the road, the same roads filled with the people who left home and only look back now.
I look back with them and I wonder – who are we now? What will they say about what we’ve done here?
I will not live long enough to know, but it’s hard not to wonder, leaning up against that old grain bin watching the cattle graze on green grass as the trucks roll by, humming back to work, back to work, back to work now.