WATFORD CITY, N.D. — Last night, the person in front of me paid for my meal at the drive through. It had been a long Monday, and I got to the end of it only to realize I hadn't really eaten anything all day. So I went to one of the only drive-throughs in town, sacrificing nutritional value and inevitable heartburn to make sure that I didn't pass out on my drive home.
They left me with a plate of Snickerdoodles, a fridge full of half-finished dips, opened bottles of white wine, sheets to be washed and a heart full and lonesome at the same time. A group of eight of my friends made their way to the ranch from Colorado, Minnesota and eastern North Dakota last weekend, fulfilling our promise to get together once a year, no matter what, since we first met 11 years ago during a hot summer spent moving picnic tables and cutting pies at a performing arts school.
I imagine everyone has some familiar scent that hits their lungs and brings them back to a time in childhood when they felt so deeply loved, so overwhelmingly safe, so much themselves. So free. Maybe it's your grandmother's warm cookies from the oven or the smell of a diesel tractor plugging across a field. Maybe it's your parent's home or the fur on the back of your old cat or the salty air blowing across the ocean and onto vast beaches. For me, it's sweetclover.
My husband and I have this ongoing fight in our house. It goes something like this: Him: Have you seen the charger to the phone I had back in 2001 during our first year of college? Me: I think I put it in a bin somewhere in the basement with the rest of the unidentifiable cords from various electronic devices that no one's used for 15 years. Him: Don't touch my stuff.
She used to follow me up the coulee and along the crick, her purple barn jacket zipped up under her chin, the rubber soles of her boots keeping a careful distance between her and her big sister who hadn't discovered her lurking behind the trees yet. I would leave the house unannounced to sing to myself as I inspected my tree fort, the frog count on the crick and the wild raspberry plants growing alongside the beaver dam. And she almost always followed, stopping at the tire swing for a quick ride.
My phone dinged with a message containing a photo of my daughter in her life jacket and sunhat sitting on the banks of the Little Muddy River looking up at her daddy looking down at her in his Superman shirt.
I rushed to get the slushburger in the crockpot, the chip dip layered, and the watermelon cut and mixed with the cantaloupe from the fridge. It was 7:30 a.m., and one of our friends was already sitting at the counter with a cup of coffee, boots and hat waiting in the entry. He's more of a cattle expert, but it turns out he had some tips on cantaloupe slicing before heading out the door with my husband to gather gear and saddle horses.
We said we would take a honeymoon later. I was on the verge of turning 23, out of college a couple years and on the road with my music. He was on the verge of 24 and climbing oil dereks, seven days on, seven days off and more if he could. We were on a mission, on a roll, in love but on our own schedules. We'd go when we had a bit more money. We'd go in the winter when we craved the heat. We'd go before the first baby. We'd go. We promised we'd go.
So, I'm a klutz. Accident prone. A magnet for small disasters. A target for falling things. This is my confession and a quality that's so much a part of me I often use it when introducing myself to large groups:
In all the years my husband and I have spent growing up together, there’s one quality we continue to share and that’s our affinity for last-minute, spontaneous plans. Especially if those plans mean blowing off yard work and fencing projects in favor of spending an 80-degree day at the sale barn watching horses come through the ring while we try to convince ourselves of all the reasons not to bid. I’ve always loved the sale barn.