Friday, August 15, 2014

going home

This will be long, and probably sappy (and way overdue). Deal with it.

I hail from Williston, North Dakota. It's a sleepy little town - barely a dot on the map in the very northwest corner of the state - almost in Montana and not far from our neighbors to the north. Jon likes to tease me about secretly being Canadian - not quite, but I've been known to drop an "eh" in conversation from time to time.

Well, my sleepy little town, isn't quite so sleepy any more. You may have heard about the oil boom that's taken over Williston from the Guardian or New York Times or NPR or from any number of other news sources that seem to rediscover the story every few months. It's a strange feeling when people who struggled to remember if your from the "North" or "South" state can now identify your hometown by name. Almost overnight, Williston went from total obscurity to headline news.

My parents moved to Kansas right before I got married (they like their states flat and tree-less), and since then, I've never been back to Williston. It's been six years, and a trip home was long overdue. I could only keep hearing about the changes for so long before wanting to see them for myself. Plus, as Megan perfectly articulated, the home video project we did for Mom's birthday made both of us miserably homesick.


That's the town, but now let me tell you about the people because they are really what makes Williston home. Growing up, life was ridiculously idyllic. We lived a quiet life on a quiet street in a quiet town. We never moved. I never even moved bedrooms. I came home from the hospital as a newborn and slept in the same room for the next 18 years. {This might explain my aversion to moving.} We went to the same church, the same school, and had the same friends for 18 years. Expect they weren't just friends. They were family.

Because we didn't have any extended family in North Dakota, these lovely people took us in as family. They had kids together and raised them together. In a way they grew up together, and so did us kids. They were at birthdays and holidays, celebrations and church functions. They make numerous appearances in our home videos - just like family would. They've seen me at my cutest (somewhere around age 3) and my most awkward (everything after 3). They grilled Jon when I brought him home. He didn't just have to pass the test with my parents - no, he had about 10 other surrogate parents who also had to approve. They've nurtured me, prayed for me, encouraged me and loved me. I'm grateful for each one of them.


I left bright and early on Friday morning. You know it's going to be a great day when your alarm goes off at 4 a.m. I landed in Minneapolis, and was immediately happy to be back in the Midwest - where people smile, say "excuse me" and the airport sells Green Bay Packers items. I did a little preseason shopping at the ripe hour of 7 a.m. Who needs coffee when there is shopping?!

The biggest moment of the morning was boarding the plane to Williston. It was a real jet with a flight attendant, jet bridge and everything. This is huge. For a long time, the only option we had was a propeller flight to Denver with no bathroom or flight attendant...and it was a long flight. To add insult to injury, the propeller flights coming from the middle of nowhere aren't exactly given landing priority. I remember circling the air in Denver on numerous occasions. One time we spent 30-45 turbulent minutes flying around while we waited for Al Gore's plane to land.

First positive change: oil means more people and more people means more air travelers and more air travelers means more flights on real planes. Oil boom: 1.

Upon landing, Williston looked pretty much the same. Still flat. Still treeless.

Much like a face only a mother could love, it's possible North Dakota is only a state a local could love.
Mom and Megan picked me up from the airport - after I successfully found my bag at the baggage claim that was marked with a 8.5x11 printed piece of paper. They had taken the more scenic route to North Dakota - driving up from Kansas. The 4:00 a.m. wake-up call wasn't looking so bad compared to the 2-day drive.We immediately went to Nina's house for lunch with the ladies.

I failed to take any photos, but it was a lovely lunch. We stayed for almost 4 hours catching up. Upon leaving Nina's house, Williston gave us a proper welcome with a big ol' flat tire. The roads have never been great - the hard winters take their toll on pavement - but the increased traffic, especially truck traffic has really made things worse. We ran over something, and sure enough, as soon as we got out of the car, we could hear the air streaming out of the tire.

Meanwhile I waited on the steps because no one was home to let us in.
But old friends are the best friends, and after a quick call, Joe came to our rescue. Except he couldn't get the tire off. Mom's fancy new car had a difficult bolt, and fearing he would break it, we had to call in the roadside assistance people. About 3 hours later, we finally had a spare tire...and another volunteer. Tim took the tire to get patched early the next morning...while I was still sound asleep. Bless him.

Saturday was a big day. We bunked all weekend with Russ & Dorry, which was a great idea. Not only are they great hosts, but Dorry is one of the best cooks I know. Half of my recipes came from her. That morning she made scones. Then it was off to lunch with these ladies at the country club. Williston is apparently very fancy now. With country club restaurants and $25 entrees.

After lunch, we stopped at Books on Broadway, where both Megan and I worked during high school and college over the summers. It's still a magical little bookstore, and one of my favorite places on earth.

Next up was the old neighborhood tour. This is where I grew up. It looks a little different, but mostly the same. We ran into a few old neighbors and got caught up on the 'hood.

We may or may not have broken into the backyard. Hey, that shed looks familiar...and like it needs a new paint job.

We couldn't walk down the block without stopping for a photo of our old mailbox #11. One time Megan tried to lick some snow off the top of it (ew) and got her tongue stuck to the box (duh).

That evening we had a cookout in honor of Russell's birthday. The gang was all there. Of course, we had to break out some of the home videos. We watched a few clips from church programs and had fun picking out all the faces in the crowd.

The next best thing about staying at Russ and Dorry's was spending time with their adorable grandkids. This little cutie. I die.

Sunday was perhaps my favorite day. Probably because it started with a true North Dakota caramel roll. Mom picked them up from two different spots and I definitely ate 1.5 rolls. I'm not ashamed.

Sunday afternoon we took the official driving tour with A+ tour guides Stacey & Jennie. I'll spare you photos of buildings that mean nothing to you - save Walt's Market because everyone loves Walt.

We made a pit stop out at Vance & Darci's house. This was a great choice because we got to take in their awesome view, and besides being great company, they fed us homemade ice cream and cookies. I swear people from North Dakota are the best.

We finally got back later that evening after a full day of touring the town. I was shocked at how much it has changed, but also how much it has stayed the same. It's really true that "the more things change, the more they stay the same." While the footprint of the town is now much larger (so many new houses, hotels and apartment buildings), it's still the same place where you run into the same people. That was somewhat comforting to me.

Poor Papa Tim had been entertaining Connor all day while us girls were away. I'm not sure which one of them was more exhausted.

We said our goodbyes to the Mendros and took a few photos before Connor squirmed away.

Monday morning we had breakfast with Karen and Becca.

And then one more meal at Russ and Dorry's before it was time to head to the airport. She even served ice cream with homemade raspberry sauce. She's the original hostess with the mostest.

More going away photos!
This is Bert. We became good friends over my stay at his house. 

Russell spilled on his shirt at lunch so he had to go Napoleon-style for these photos. 

Thus ended the trip home. It was a whirlwind. Mom's schedule kept us going the whole time. She was determined to see EVERYONE, and I think we did. But, I wouldn't have it any other way. There really is no place like home.