by Jessie Veeder
Krystal Krohn misses the warm Texas sunshine most of all.
“Last winter was the first snow I’ve seen. I’m a true southern girl,” she laughs. “I miss the sun!”
In the middle of one of the most brutal North Dakota winters in years it’s easy to understand why, especially since Krystal, her husband Scott, their two children and their golden retriever, Marley, are waiting for spring together in a 38-square foot camper in a trailer park in Watford City, the epicenter of the Bakken oil boom.
“We have the windows sealed off from the cold, so it gets sort of claustrophobic sometimes,” she explains.
On the really cold days when the temperature drops below zero and the wind howls, Krystal says they can feel the cold making its way through the walls.
“Those are the days I bundle the kids up in footie pajamas,” Krystal explains. “You could find us in here in our hats and mittens under blankets.”
The week before when the wind-chill was nearly sixty below zero Krystal’s husband was told to stay home from work and the family of four pulled the big mattress from the bedroom out on the living room floor and spent the day snuggling and watching movies together under the covers.
“That was fun,” said Krystal.
It’s a surprising response to a circumstance most would find wearisome, but at just 24-years-old, Krystal’s understanding of sacrifice for the sake of family goes well beyond her years. And with her husband working from 5 am to 7 pm, seven days a week, Krystal relishes any extra time they get to spend together as a family.
Making the move
Back in Austin, high school sweethearts Krystal and Scott struggled to make ends meet. Krystal worked as a nighttime caregiver and Scott, with a computer programming degree from ITT Tech, worked days installing home theaters and security systems.
But at the end of the month the couple was still struggling to make ends meet.
“I knew it was on his mind,” said Krystal. “I’ll never forget the night he came home and told me we were moving up here. I was scared and nervous, I had never lived this far north.”
Scott’s brother had been working in North Dakota and became his point of contact in the area. One week after discussing his decision with Krystal, Scott quit his job and moved up to North Dakota to live with his brother in a camper in Garrison and look for work. Immediately, Scott was offered a job as a roustabout hand from his brother’s next-door neighbor and spent weeks driving back and forth from Garrison to job sites in the Watford City and Williston areas before quickly moving up the ranks, from hand to foreman to supervisor.
Four months later he bought a new camper, moved it into a trailer park in Watford City and welcomed his wife and kids to their new life.
“There was no question I was coming with him,” said Krystal. “The kids are at the age where they need their dad, even if it is only a few hours at night.”
Today Scott works as a supervisor for J Koski Company. His two brothers Daniel and Richard, and Krystal’s brother Keni, work alongside him.
“Scott is a quick learner. He loves his job,” said Krystal. “I have to beg him to ask for days off.”
Day to Day
And so Krystal, who admits that being a mom and wife is one of her dreams come true, moves through her days making the best of her new life in Watford City.
“It’s mostly kids, cleaning, grocery shopping and laundry,” she explains. “If you don’t keep up with the cleaning in this small space it just gets filthy fast.”
And with the lack of refrigerator and cupboard space, grocery shopping is nearly an every day task as well.
“I kind of like it when the weather is freezing,” said Krystal. “I can buy three gallons of milk and put two outside.”
But the laundry is admittedly one of Krystal’s most difficult chores, sending her out to the Laundromat with three loads of clothes on her hip and two children trailing behind, a task that typically takes about three hours.
“If I don’t do laundry once a week, we will run out of clothes,” Krystal explains, adding that she keeps their seasonal clothes and decorations stored in rubber bins underneath the camper, where she will retrieve them when she needs a change of scenery or wants to decorate for the holidays.
“I try,” she said. “It’s hard, but I try.”
To ease the isolation that comes with being a stay at home mom, Krystal has started selling jewelry with Paparazziand hosting parties to make some extra money. And although her camper isn’t equipped with an Internet signal, she uses her cell phone to keep in touch with women in similar situations on the Facebook group Oilfield Sweethearts of Watford City. Recently, Krystal started her own Mommy and Me of Watford City Facebook group with the goal of meeting other moms and setting up play dates and activities.
Tomorrow will be the group’s first outing to the Public Library and a every other Thursday and Saturday morning women from these groups meet up at the local Cenex Station to catch up and talk over coffee.
“It’s nice to see the kids running around,” Krystal said. “The old truckers come in and you can tell they’re happy to see kids. They miss their families.”
The compassion that Krystal has for this lifestyle is palpable. She understands what it’s like for men like her husband to be away from their families. And so she admits to being a sort of neighborhood mother, sometimes breaking up fights or offering advice to the men living in campers around her.
“Some are a little rough, but overall they’re sweet.” she laughs. “They’re up here for the same reasons we are.”
Krystal sits with Rylee on her lap and sends Connor to play with his toys in a small room with bunk beds and a little television behind a divider next to the kitchen. She explains that she just repurposed the kitchen table, removing the booth-style, wrap-around seating that took up too much room. She bought two new kitchen chairs to replace it.
She looks around at the small stove to her left that is “big enough to cook about anything,” the mini-refrigerator, the sink, the couch and the television behind her and explains that the family just moved from a trailer park where they paid $780 a month plus electricity to a new trailer park where the monthly fee, with everything included, is only $600.
And that’s a big deal for a family looking to a future free of financial stress, one that might someday include a house of their own under the warm Texas sky that Krystal dreams of on this chilly January day.
“Living in a trailer with kids you don’t get those special moments, like decorating their rooms or writing on the wall how tall they’ve grown, “ Krystal says. “But this is one of the best choices we could have made. We can save for the future.”
As for the present, Krystal is taking it day-by-day, celebrating family and her new life in the North. This Thanksgiving, to maintain a bit of normalcy, Krystal even hosted seven adults and four kids in her small camper.
“I go to the grocery store or the pharmacy and people recognize me there. They remember my kids,” Krystal says of her knew small town existence. “This life is hard, but it’s not as scary as you’d think.”
Jessie Veeder is a singer, writer and photographer who lives and works on her family’s cattle ranch in Western ND with her husband, Chad.