Live leigh updates*
*Less live, as in right now, and more lively, as in full of life.
After my freshman year of college, I spent a little over a year in a village that has a permanent population less than the maximum capacity of an average size restaurant. There are less than a dozen streets and not a single traffic light to tell you when to slow down. Nestled into a valley of the Badlands on the very edge of North Dakota, you might miss Medora even if you don’t blink when driving by. The natural views left behind by prehistoric waters are so serene you’ll forget the rat race of life and take a deep breath. The savory history of Medora, who was the wife of the Marquise responsible for finding and naming the town, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Badlands was revived by former Governor of ND, Harold Schafer, and still nourished today by the active non-profit organizations and residents that keep their roots planted in the gumbo that makes up the Burning Hills. Together they have dedicated endless hours of hard work, if not their whole lives, to make their home the most popular destination in North Dakota. It’s crazy to think that a simple town of a hundred and twenty people can host thousands of guests and seasonal employees from all over the world throughout the four months of summer, but Medora does just that every single year.
My life as part of the village began with a seasonal contract which turned into a whole year of working and continuing school. I was employed for four different companies in total and lived in three different homes that included a one-bedroom apartment tucked above the tourist information center on Main Street. The bed that I slept in was forty-five feet straight across from the railroad tracks which trained me (pun obviously intended) to reimagine the meaning of being rocked to sleep. The place was humble in my eyes, perhaps low quality to others, with one chair in the living room and a dryer that caught on fire the first time I ever used it. Above the light switch in the floor to ceiling wood paneled bathroom was a sticky note telling users how to flip it just right for the light to stay on: push in and to the left or else it’ll fall down leaving you in the dark. The apartment was generously furnished with everything I could have needed: dishes, pots, a bed, a table with chairs, and enough floor space for a dozen people to sit on all at one time. It was my temporary home and I loved it.
So, as winter approached the tourists left, and all that remained was a life in Medora that provided a glimpse into the world I imagine my grandparents growing up in. The bygone era of waving to passing vehicles, baking cookies and sharing them with the ladies at the post office, driving thirty miles into town on Sunday to attend Church and get groceries at the store. It was a season that allowed me to sit down and taste my coffee before going to work rather than just drinking it along the way. The springtime sun not only took the bite of winter’s bitter cold away but was followed closely by summer and the new wave of campers, tour bus groups, and adventurers of all kinds. Those hot days were never long enough for all the work to be done or, more importantly, expeditions to be undertaken. Summer was a time where coffee became a morning after thought and needed instead as an evening necessity to power through the star gazing. No matter the season though, the colleagues I worked with tended to become friends; and even some became family.
On a rare occasion during my second summer I had an entire day off, so I decided that I was going to try my hand at baking cupcakes. I found a recipe online for chocolate cupcakes and began an unexpectedly wild journey that proves even strong, independent women need a little help from their friends. I had a little bit of flour, some sugar, and an adequate amount of butter at home, but I soon realized that I didn’t have cocoa. That was no problem because what I did have was leftover cubes of almond bark from Christmas and a cheese grater. Naturally I shredded the six-month-old chocolate bar into a measuring cup and called it good enough. I then realized that I was also missing eggs, a muffin tin, liners, and vanilla. I admit, at this point most people would have found something else to enjoy, but I had already put so much work into the project that quitting was not an option!
I called my colleague and asked if I could borrow some of his ingredients. I drove across the tracks to his house, and when I arrived he reported that he didn’t have any eggs to offer nor cupcake liners, so I took his baking tin and was at least one step closer to fresh cupcakes.
Lacking a grocery store, I figured I would be able to pick up a carton of eggs at the gas station. In the five blocks between the tracks and the gas station I passed by one of my old supervisors. I hadn’t seen her for a few days, so I slowed my speed like they would have in the good ole’ days and rolled down my automatic window to see how things were going for her. She was heading home early for the day, and I decided to ask if she maybe had two eggs at home that she would be willing to sacrifice.
“Sure, Freddie-Leigh, I can grab you some eggs!”, she laughed back to me from her pickup. I pulled my car over and told her I would wait there until she got back. While I was waiting, another gal that I had worked with in the past was walking by and I, still needing liners, went out on a limb and asked what the chances of her having an extra few lying around were.
Thanks to the hustle of summer she reported back quickly between breaths while still walking along, “I’m not on my way home right now, but if you go in my back door and look in the cabinet to the left of the microwave, there might be an opened package with some liners!”
I jumped out of my car and rushed a block down the street straight into her unlocked kitchen. She was right! There was an opened package with leftover liners! I clutched them victoriously and rushed back to my car arriving just in time to meet my egg delivery. Finally, I had everything I needed to finish the batter.
At least I thought I had everything until I got home and remembered I was still missing vanilla. I measured out two teaspoons of leftover French Vanilla coffee from the morning, while trying to make three cups of flour stretch into four cups. I made up for the shortage by pretending stale saltine crackers that I crushed up in a Ziploc bag could pass as flour. It really gave the cupcakes a revolutionary “salty afternoon pick-me-up” profile that I wasn’t really going for.
Now, my kitchen, reflecting the humility of the entire apartment, was small and lacking counterspace. Therefore, the cupcakes came out of the oven and took their place on top of the kitchen table, all four chairs, the window sills, my trash bin, and eventually the dryer that previously caught on fire. Seeing all those tiny cakes chilling throughout my place made me feel accomplished; but I still needed to make some kind of frosting.
I threw half a package of Oreo cookies from an employee picnic into a blender I had been borrowing from a friend. I then heated the demolished cookies in a sauce pan with a little more of the leftover coffee and the remaining almond bark. When it melted into a gooey mess I poured it into a mixing bowl and whipped in powdered sugar until it became as fluffy as Oreos, coffee, Christmas chocolate and powdered sugar can be. With a broken spatula given to me as a gift from the Easter Bunny, I spread my concoction proudly on top of my cupcakes.
I started this quest with a double batch of will and a lot less way, but you know what? That’s exactly when life takes a village. - The product of which was a few dozen cupcakes that, after eating one, not even the post office ladies wanted a second.