I’m not from around here. Sometimes that can be really hard.
Usually I’m too distracted by the fun I’m having and the quirky local culture to notice the hard parts about not being a native North Dakotan myself. Once in a while, though, the very not-from-here nature of my existence creeps in.
If it happens to me, I bet it happens to others out there.
Those who have been born and raised here may never realize that life as a nonnative species can be uncomfortable for reasons other than the January wind chill. For me, this never comes into focus more clearly than on holidays. Here’s what I mean.
Memorial Day came and went. For the end of May the weather was cool and windy (surprise!) — not ideal for attending a memorial service at the park, cooking out, or spending the day on a lake.
In my house things were quiet. I’ve been swamped with projects, and my husband recently started a new job where he is often on call. Because of this, we made no plans.
By 10 a.m., he’d been called in to work. The kids and I were on our own.
We had a great day. We played inside. We ran errands. When the wind calmed down, we went out to ride bikes and fly kites in the driveway.
But all day, a hollowness chewed on my insides. After hanging up from a FaceTime call with my mom, I was finally able to articulate the feeling.
As I thought about the salad my mom tossed together while we talked on the phone, I envied the gathering about to take place. I envied the holiday’s predictability for my relatives in Indiana. On any given birthday or federal holiday, I can guess with great accuracy who will gather, and where.
It’s simple, easy, and completely enviable to someone who finds themselves “not from around here.”
On Monday, I’m sure people across Hot Dish Land gathered with friends and family for hot dogs and lemonade. Kids went to grandparents' houses. Cousins played. Countertops were lined with Pyrex and open chips. It all probably seemed so conventional, so ordinary.
Sometimes, that’s exactly what those of us who aren’t from around here miss most: the ordinary simplicity of knowing where we belong on a holiday.
Some of my sweetest memories of life in Minot have happened when I’ve been invited to spend a holiday afternoon with a local family. To them, my husband and I may have just been two more at the table. To us, it was the priceless gift of belonging and normalcy.
Even I, a lover of words, have a hard time finding one to sum up the warmth, impact, and relief a holiday invitation can have on the transplant’s heart.
It’s the difference between feeling like you will never truly fit in and knowing you are home.
To the locals: First, cherish the roots you have here. You’ve got something beautiful happening, just by knowing where you’ll eat a burger on Memorial Day — just by having a standing invitation to any holiday gathering.
Second, your backyard gathering is never too commonplace to warrant an invitation to someone who isn’t from around here. We aren’t looking for lavish — usually being invited into someone else’s mundane is what we’ve been longing for. Your extremely ordinary family get-together could be the bedrock of our fondest memories of life in NoDak.
Extend an invitation to your Fourth of July barbecue. Ask us to join you at the lake. (Really. Do it, because most of us don’t know what that even means.) Task us with picking up paper plates for the Labor Day potluck. We’ll be over the moon.
To the transplants: It’s okay to miss your own family traditions. It’s also okay to forge new ones, or invite new people into the old ones. Get to know the locals. Invite newcomers to join you in your own mundane celebrations. It won’t be the same, but it can be sweet.
Life here is good, and I wouldn’t trade it for all the lefse at the Hostfest. That’s true, even on the rare occasion I feel the sting of not being from the place I now call “home.”
(For more encouraging writing, find my writing here every week or join me on Facebook @amyallenderblog or Instagram @amy_allender.)