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Daddies on their way to work

Jessie Veeder, Coming Home columnist

I unloaded my daughter and her backpack, and we left the car with the mechanic and sat down on the chairs in the lobby. It smelled like a combination of tire rubber and grease. The sun had warmed the snow enough to make it stick to the rubber soles of the muck boots everyone wears around here, leaving squeaky, muddy footprints to and from the door that dings when it opens...

We live in oil country. It's been this way since my husband and I moved back to our home turf nearly six years ago. We used to call it a boom. The Wild Wild West. Men arriving from all corners of the country looking for high-paying jobs, some young and single and up for anything, others with families they left in Oklahoma or Arkansas, going back to visit every other two weeks, living in close quarters with other men in trailers, hotel rooms or apartments and sending money back home.

Add the heavy traffic flow, long lines at the post office and extravagant news stories about crime, safety and how you couldn't find a woman in the mix with a magnifying glass, and that was the narrative out here.

It's funny how fast a story can morph into history in a place like this.

Funny what a half hour in a Jiffy Lube with a toddler can show you about your community.

I'm married to a man who works in an industry that sends him out into the elements every day to help fuel the world. Along with raising cattle on our ranch, this is his job.

He wears fire retardant jeans, a button-up shirt, a hooded jacket and a ball cap every day, the ultimate uniform of a majority of the working men in this part of the country.

In Edie's eyes, in Jiffy Lube that day, every man that came through the door for an oil change that day was a daddy.

And she was thrilled about it.

So she hollered "Hi!!" loudly and repeatedly to each of them.

Certain that none of them wanted to spend their wait having a conversation with a toddler, I tried to distract her with crackers and a story.

"How old is she?" the man across the room asked.

"Oh, she's one," I replied, reminded then that they're likely also husbands.

"Hhiii!" Edie waved.

"I remember that stage," he said as Edie dropped down from her seat and did a little twirl on that dirty floor, and soon we were talking about his teenage daughter and her short-lived trombone career, his tech-savvy sons and the wife that moved his family here from the south to be with him.

Because when they talk about their families, history taught me to ask if they're here together.

"Yeah, they're here," he said. They'd been here for four years or so. They have a nice place in a new development south of town.

"We like it here," he said. "It feels like home."

They called his name.

"Have a great day," I said.

"Byyeee," said Edie.

As he went out, another young guy in the uniform came in. I got up to keep Edie from running down the hall and into the shop.

"How old is she?" He asked. "I have a 1-year-old boy."

And the same narrative followed.

Our kids will likely be in the same grade, but probably not the same classroom, because there are so many young kids here now. More than a hundred in the current kindergarten class.

I'm 33 years old, and I'm older than average in our once aging town, a statistic I was recently made aware of. And now that I'm thinking of it, it's pretty clear you no longer need a microscope to find the women here anymore.

It seems we're invested now, building the new swim team, organizing an arts council, building a new hospital, working alongside all those men they talk about, setting up businesses and young professional organizations. Building a community that will help raise our families.

Taking our toddlers to make friends in Jiffy Lube in a town that went boom and then settled itself quietly, like the dust kicked up behind pickups driven by daddies on their way to work.

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughter on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

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