COMING HOME: Northern accent perfect for telling story of my town
WATTFORD CITY, N.D. - Last week I stood in line at a convenience store in Boomtown, behind a man in Carhartts and steel-toe boots, in front of a woman running in for a snack and a potty break with her toddler, and surrounded by dozens of characters shuffling around the man mopping the melted snow off the floor in search of coffee, cigarettes, a slice of pizza – something to help them through the rest of a working day.
I can’t remember what I said to the friendly young brunette behind the counter. Probably something like, “Hello, how’re you doing today?” or “Hi. Yes. That’s all for now,” as I set my packaged turkey sandwich up there next to my bottle of tea.
To which she cheerfully replied, “I like your accent. Where are you from?”
“Here. I’m from here.”
And that’s all I could say as I pulled out my cash, wondering at what point my Northern accent had become so thick that even in my hometown I’m mistaken for a foreigner.
All my life I’ve been a North Dakotan. This cadence in the way I speak to the world – the long “ohs” the “yah sures” – was cultivated and honed from years of sitting next to my great uncles as they visited about the weather around my grandma’s kitchen table or eating June’s homemade apple crisp surrounded by neighbors in the church basement.
I’ve taken it with me as I’ve gone along, standing behind microphones, passing it on with my own stories of home. I’ve had to explain that “No, I’m not from Canada” and “Yes, we have running water” to a coffeehouse full of locals in a small town in Kansas.
But somewhere during a career that has sent me and my Northern accent out on the road, buffering rumors of modern day North Dakotans driving covered wagons and lengthy discussions about long, cold but temporary winters have faded into new stories of a town stretched to its limits, a community’s effort to fundraise to build a new hospital, making room for a class of 100-plus kindergartners and what it might be like to live in a camper in the middle of these cold winters (we will always get to those cold winters).
“North Dakota huh? Isn’t that where they do the fracking?”
“North Dakota? I heard it’s crazy up there. You must not feel safe.”
“North Dakota. Loads of millionaires?”
“North Dakota. Jobs for the masses.”
“North Dakota. An oilfield wasteland.”
And while I might be compelled to shrug it off, to let the opinions fall where they may, there must be something in my blood, something that I learned from the church ladies, my coffee drinking uncles or my neighbors around the branding fire that compels me to tell it like it is.
Or at least how I know it.
It’s always felt like my responsibility as a citizen of a home that grew me up and loved me so much, not necessarily to stand up for the place, but to give it a face and a voice and a narrative that is true to me.
So I will talk to that construction supervisor sitting next to me on our flight out of Minneapolis about what I’ve learned about directional drilling, what they’re paying employees at McDonald’s, how we’re handling the housing shortage, and how I, along with thousands of other residents, have yet to become millionaires.
Because I don’t know everything, but somewhere along the line I’ve vowed to know this place, to understand its heartbeat and learn about its people in Carhartts and muddy boots, mopping floors, holding the hands of their children with Southern drawls and foreign Northern accents standing in line for a sandwich in the middle of a story just waiting to be told.
Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City. Readers can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.