Coming Home: No standing still in BoomtownWhen I was a kid, probably about 5 or 6, I used to sit in the back seat of my grandmother’s car as she drove us the 30 quiet miles into town to run errands.
By: Jessie Veeder, INFORUM
When I was a kid, probably about 5 or 6, I used to sit in the back seat of my grandmother’s car as she drove us the 30 quiet miles into town to run errands.
I remember the alternating scent of clover and lonely oil wells as we buzzed past the cemetery, my country school on the corner, the baled alfalfa fields and the golf course on the edge of town.
The sound of Randy Travis would come through the radio because those were the days, and she would take a turn down Main Street, waving to pedestrians as she pulled in front of the drug store. As she shopped for fabric, I would wander off to run my fingers over the shiny plastic dolls, squirt guns and Little Golden Books in the small toy section tucked between the medicine and school supplies.
When Gramma was done there, she might take me for lunch at the old Chuck Wagon restaurant down the block where my favorite waitress, Dixie, would bring me chocolate ice cream with chocolate syrup and chocolate sprinkles, and Gramma would laugh and ask for a bite.
Then she’d grab a mint for her purse on her way out, stopping to catch up with neighbors and friends and ask about how many inches of rain they might have in the gauge at their farm.
From what I remember back then there was never enough rain.
But it rained last night. In the middle of August thunder cracked, the sky darkened and opened up.
This summer nothing around here’s gone thirsty.
And this summer that same little town with the pharmacy and the old Chuck Wagon celebrated the opening of a giant, brand new, stocked to the nines, fancy-schmancy grocery store. My friends and neighbors cheered as the ribbon was cut by a family who has been in the grocery business in this community for decades, and we all rushed in to push our carts through what seems to mark the real beginning of new times in Boomtown.
My big sister and I wandered around the store with our mouths agape, saying things like “Look at the size of the deli!” “Look at the cheese selection!” as we passed our friends pushing carts down the aisle filled with bread and noodles, paper towels and cleaning supplies, milk and meat and every flavor of coffee creamer imaginable.
Those of you who grew up in a small town will understand how this big ol’ grocery store changes things. In a few weeks an Alco will open, and so will a Chinese restaurant and a Tractor Supply. In front of my eyes the small town where I ate chocolate ice cream with chocolate sauce and chocolate sprinkles is getting bigger.
Near the apples, someone declared they will miss the small SuperValu where you could grab a homemade cookie and shop for groceries in 10 minutes.
I get it. It’s the same way I miss the old Chuck Wagon.
But when our friends from out in Denver or Minneapolis ask us how we’re doing out here, wondering how it is that their hometown could change, mourning the loss of a place they didn’t choose to come back to, some days I can’t help but think our memories are selective.
And some days I think a small town changing is harder on those who have left it than those who are here. But it’s hard to explain. Because those who are here are making these changes happen.
We’re building a day care, asking for a stoplight and celebrating a bigger store because we’re having babies and navigating new traffic and we’re hungry dangit.
We’re finding a different way to make different work.
It’s hard to tell them that they’d fight for the same. It’s what our parents did. It’s what our grandparents did.
But I understand. Some days when Main Street is quiet and the smell of clover fills my lungs, I wonder what my changing town might look like to my grandkids.
And then I think how lucky we are to live in a town capable of changing. Because if we’re not moving forward we’re standing still, and standing still in Boomtown just won’t work.
Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. Readers can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.