Sunday Column: On Easter

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In the little Lutheran Church, along a gravel road out in the middle of a cow pasture families filled the pews, back to front, to celebrate Easter. Children were dressed in new outfits, bonnets and vests, ties and frills. They sat next to grandmothers shushing their excited squeals and helped put money in the offering plate.

I stood next to Pops at the front of the church as he played guitar and I sang a song I’ve been singing since I was a little girl. My best friend was baptizing her new baby that day and she asked for a special song.

I hadn’t sung in this little church since I was ten years old.

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The girl who grew up down the road from me, who went to a country school with me,  who traveled to High School Rodeos and could relate to what it meant to be the middle sister, the blonde girl who grew up and moved away, came home for the holiday and she was sitting in the front row with her two little girls.

Behind them, wrangling three young boys in matching flannel shirts, was one of Husband’s best friends.

And then there were the little neighbor girls, all tall and grown up and beautiful. There was their dad, a little more gray in his hair.

There they all were, really, my community gathered on a spring morning that felt like spring. A spring morning that had the birds singing and the baby calves bucking and kicking, the horses basking in the warmth of it all.

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Easter, the pastor said, is a time to start again. The promise of a new season. A second chance.

A resurrection.

It made sense to me then that we would celebrate a baptism on that day, a baptism of a child that is hope and prayers answered personified.

It made sense that we passed two new baby calves, still wet out of the womb, on the road on the way to the church.

It made sense then that we were granted some sunshine and a place to gather with family and friends we’ve known all of our lives. So many they had to bring out the folding chairs.

So many familiar faces, growing up and growing old and still sticking with this place.

Still coming back to the broken up fields and this old church.

And I remember when I was the girl in the Easter hat, a little girl standing up before the congregation with my hands behind my back and singing out.

I remember what it was like when my legs didn’t touch the floor, but dangled there off of the hard pew, kicking and wiggling with excitement about the fun waiting for me and my cousins when the sermon wrapped up and the clusters of adults lost in conversation and laughter and church basement coffee had broken up and disassembled to their respective homesteads where they would conduct their own Easter traditions.

Ours was the annual Easter Egg Hunt, one that took us across dangerous barbed wire fences, in the dark depths of the old barn and the grain bins, to the top of muddy gumbo hills where the crocuses were working on blooming, and then down again to get stuck in that mud, tear our Easter dresses and count and sort our candy on carpet of our gramma’s tiny living room.

These were our traditions out here, out here by the red barn when we were all together and young, without a care in the world, no worries about time and what we could lose, who we could lose between all the Easter sunrises and sunsets.

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It’s been almost 20 years since our last Veeder Ranch egg hunt, almost 20 years since we continued the tradition a little further south to my aunt and uncle’s farmstead with the white barn and the neat corrals.

And then there was a space there where we found we were, all at the same time, too old and too young for egg hunts.

But time is a funny and magical thing. If you wait long enough it will turn those kids in Easter bonnets into mothers and fathers of children whose legs dangle off church pews in anticipation…and we are the ones who go “shush, child. Shhhh now…”

We turn into the Easter Bunny…

And all old things are new again…

On Easter.

Coming Home: Childhood Easter egg hunts helped us find more than candy
by Jessie Veeder
4-20-14
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Leotards, fuzzy ponytails and long-winded stories…

Ok, there was a time in my life when I wore nothing but leotards.

There, I said it.

I needed to make this confession today.

Purple leotards with pink tights. Pink leotards with purple tights. Short sleeves, polyester, spandex blends stretched tight over my belly, squishing the baby fat desperate to escape the confines of the fabric out  the seams and topping the whole thing off with leg warmers, velcro shoes and a fuzzy ponytail.

I was a sight to behold, a wild-child, a weird kid who had no explanation really for her choice in every day attire except, I can imagine, simply that today, I wanted to wear my leotard.

And tomorrow, I want to wear it again.

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Maybe it was because my mom was a dancer and an aerobics instructor and I had seen the woman, long and lean and graceful, rocking her own Jane Fonda attire while she lead a class to the tune of the Flash Dance soundtrack.

Or maybe it was because my big sister was a ballerina. A tiny, delicate ballerina who wore beautiful sparkly tutus and toe shoes and twirled and jumped and leapt elegantly across the stage under the lights.

Or maybe I just liked the free movement spandex provided while I drug my blankie through the grass on my way to the sandbox in my grandmother’s back yard.

I’m not sure, because I was too young at the time of my leotard obsession to hold on to the reasoning so that I might go back in adulthood and analyze it. But I’ll tell you this, even though I was only three or four years old, it was pretty clear I was inheriting none of that grace and elegance thing. But it didn’t matter to me. In my mind I was something. In my mind I was leaping and twirling right alongside my big sister on that big stage. In my mind I was Jane Fonda.

Of course I was also digging in the dirt, popping heads off of dandelions, peddling my trike towards gramma’s, making mud soup, bossing around the neighborhood boys, singing Sunday school songs at the top of my lungs, making up the words as I went along and hunting and tracking ladybugs in the short grass.

All in my trusty leotard.

Can you imagine the looks on my grandparents’ faces when my parents brought their girls over for Easter dinner, their oldest in perfect pastels and frills and the youngest traipsing around the egg hunt looking like Jazzercise personified? That was a cute family picture.

Country CousinsCan you imagine what my parents thought when their three or four year old woke up one day and declared it was time to put on her leotard, obliging, I’m sure, because I put up a fight, or maybe, because they were always free thinking supervisors and probably didn’t see the harm in a day in a spandex. But that day turned into another day and on to the next, and, well, you know the rest…

Anyway, eventually I moved on. Probably to my Wonder Woman costume, but that’s another story. I bring this phase of my life up today only because I was reminded of it by my Texas cousin last week via a Facebook post about her daughter.

It looked like this.

“A insists on wearing her leotard every day now. You went thru this too, right?:)”

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To which I replied something like: “Yes, and I hope this similarity doesn’t worry you…”

Now, my cousin M and I were born a month apart and spent our childhood dressing alike (after my leotard phase) and trying to convince the world we were twins. It made sense to me, I wanted to be just like her, and still do.  She’s beautiful and sweet and funny and always pulled together.

She was a perfect long french braid. I was a fuzzy ponytail with plastic barrettes keeping the flyways at bay.

She was a Christmas dress. I was an oversized holiday themed puffy paint sweatshirt with stirrup pants.

She was flute playing pretty notes. I was a guitar playing some weird song I just made up…

She is a math teacher. I’m a long winded-story…

And we get along perfectly.

Then along came baby A…

Baby A, who’s not really a baby anymore because she insists on riding her pony Pearl all by herself, and yes, Uncle G, she can let the cats out of the barn whenever she wants.

Baby A who sprays herself in the face with a garden hose and thinks it’s a riot so she does it again and again.

Baby A who has her own guitar and uses it to accompany herself as she sings long songs at the top of her lungs about girls riding horses through the trees.

Baby A who’s hair escapes that golden brown ponytail and fuzzes just right.

Baby A who is just stubborn enough to convince her mother every day that she should wear a leotard.

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I looked at the photo, me here between the buttes of our North Dakota home and my Cousin M under the warm sun of Texas, and I wondered if the miles don’t matter as much as we think they do.

That there are pieces of us in our family that surface and resurface throughout our lives, showing up in our children and their children’s children in a familiar laugh, a crooked smile, a skin tone or a shape of a nose.

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Looking at Baby A standing so confidently in her plastic high heels and pink leotard miles and miles away but so close to my heart, I can’t help but think that maybe an affinity for leotards just runs purple and pink somewhere in our blood, alongside the place where we keep fuzzy ponytails and long-winded stories…

And to that I say, oh, Baby A, I’m so happy there’s someone else out there who understands…

Sunday Column: School bus stop ahead

School Bus Stop Ahead

When you grow up alongside a gravel road, there are so many miles between where you are and where you’re going.

Many of those miles in my childhood were spent sitting next to my best friend on a dusty seat in yellow school bus #12.

This week’s column is about a man who spent the majority of his life behind the wheel of that bus, picking up country kids on time and at 7 am from farmyards and small houses along those gravel roads and bringing them safely to school, in the heat of late summer, through plenty of blizzards and then splashing along the melt and mud of spring when school was out.

The kids on George’s bus didn’t mis-behave much. And if we did, he didn’t yell.

He just tapped on the breaks so that those of us who were standing up got a little warning jolt.

That’s all we needed. A little warning jolt.

I guess that’s what George’s recent death was to me. George, a legendary character on this changing landscape, a man who drove bus for my dad and both of my sisters, my cousins and neighbors, the kind of man they don’t make anymore, left us here to navigate these roads and get to school on time without him.

George. What a guy, that George.

Coming Home: Bus driver taught lessons that stick with us as adults
by Jessie Veeder
3-9-14
Fargo Forum
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Back when I (thought I) was an artist

Last time my Aunt K came to visit she brought this with her.

My aunt K is the kind of aunt who saves and archives things like old photographs, art projects and inspiring drawings from her children and artistically delusional niece, puts them in file folders and dates the back.

That’s how I know this was from 1992-1993. Because Aunt K wrote it in pencil on the back right corner to remind me how brilliant I was when I was 8 years old.

Brilliant.

Like this shirt.

Now, I feel like I should comment here, let you know that the ukelele hanging out by that hat is actually supposed to be a guitar, but the size of that hat and lack of horse feet probably indicates I had a little to learn about proportions and gravity.

But this drawing reminds me of a time in my life when I really believed that I could be anything, and a gifted artist was one of these things.

An olympic figure skater, a talk show host, a rodeo queen/Miss America, a veterinarian horse whisperer, novelist and famous singer like Reba McEntire were some of the other things.

Turns out I may have hit my artistic peak at 8 years old.

Turns out I was never really “gifted” in this area, no matter my hopes and dreams…
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Same goes with the figure skating thing.

But I hung that picture on my fridge anyway, because it reminds me of my Aunt K and that little girl who believed she would cherish this magnificent piece of art forever and ever.

And it turns out I was right about some things.

Peace, Love and Precious Childhood Delusions,

Jessie

 

 

 

Sunday Column: A new life for an old country school.

This is me, about forth grade I suppose, back when Garth Brooks was king (and so were his wild Brush Popper style western shirts) and I spent my recesses planting a garden with my friends outside the window of the lunchroom of the country school down the road.

This summer they’ll start work to turn Johnson Corners Elementary School into a travel center. A gas station.

A place to buy Cheetos and Red Bull and fuel for the hundreds of trucks and pickups that pass by my old stomping grounds every day.

A sign of the times….times we never thought we’d see when they shut down that little school 15 or so years ago, sending those country kids to town…

This year, in Watford City, they built an addition to that elementary school in town, making room for the 100 + kindergartners that need to learn their letters.

In 2014 we’re making plans to build a new high school.

We couldn’t have known then what we know now about what lay below our scuffed cowboy boots as we kicked the soccer ball around and dangled from the monkey bars.

We couldn’t have known all these years later, after growing up along quiet highways and dusty scoria roads, that the world would pass by that abandoned playground, bringing with it a new life…

Coming Home: Boomtown makes room for travel center in old schoolyard
by Jessie Veeder
2-16-14
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Sunday Column: What it means to be a cowgirl

The wind is blowing so hard out here it woke us out of a dead sleep early this morning and detached some of the new shingles on the roof of the garage, undoing in one second some of the hard work Husband laid down last weekend when the weather was a little less tornado-ey and a bit more melty.

You never know what you’re going to get out here. If I’ve learned anything this winter I’ve learned that. 

So we’re spending the day inside making shelves, making plans, making progress and making egg in a hole.

Ever had it? It’s gourmet.

Later today after I get tired of handing my dear husband things like nail guns, screwdrivers,   sandpaper and the thing he just asked me to find that I will never find because I have no idea what it is, I will go hide in my room and play some cowboy music and try to get  prepared for our trip to Elko on Tuesday. 

This trip to another region of cowboy country has gotten me thinking about my roots and where I may have picked up on the idea that I want to stick around here and ride horses for the rest of my life.

In fact, lately I’ve been in touch with a woman from New York who is working on “The Cowgirl Project,” a documentary and movement that explores what it means to be a cowgirl. She’s going to meet me in Elko next week and we’re going to talk about it a bit more, but to prepare she called me up and asked me for my initial thoughts on the topic.

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At the time I was riding in the back of my Big Sister’s car as she drove our dad around town, a sort of outing we’d been scheduling that week to get him out into the world as he recovers. Lately I’ve found all of the women in my life have had to ‘Cowboy Up,’ so to speak, to tap into the best and strongest parts of ourselves to move through the scariest moment of our lives and come out better–more compassionate, more understanding and more capable–on the other end.

But I have to be honest, I’ve never thought to define the word “cowgirl.” And so when I was asked to do just that, I sort of started rambling. I mean, I have plenty of thoughts on what it means to be a cowboy, but really, when I get right down to it, some of the best cowboys I know are women.

And they don’t all wear hats and chaps and ride a strawberry roan. 

No. In fact one of the best cowgirls I’ve known, the one who showed me at a young age the kind of woman I could turn out to be if I stuck here with the cattle and the buttes and a roast in the oven, was my grandmother.

And when I think of her I think of an old free feed cap and hands that can soothe a baby and fix a fence.

When I think of her I think strong, not just in muscle but in spirit.

When I think of her I think of homemade rag dolls,  popsicles on the porch, rainwater catching in the barrel below the house and digging up potatoes in the garden out back.

When I think of her I think overalls in the winter and her voice yelling “Come Boss! Come Boss!” as my grandpa threw out grain for the cattle.

When I think of her I think of family and holidays surrounded by cousins and aunts and uncles in a tiny kitchen on the prairie, homemade buns and the jello salad she always forgot in the refrigerator. 

When I think of her I think of that old sorrel horse, the one I rode when she was gone. The one that taught me how to fall off and get back up again.

Coming Home: How I define a cowgirl
by Jessie Veeder
1/26/14
Fargo Forum
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There are plenty more like her out there, some of who’ve never sat thier ass in a saddle, but if asked to get ‘on up there  would give it her best shot, with confidence, grace and good humor.

And when you got home there would be a roast in the oven and maybe a jello salad somewhere in the back of the fridge.

And I don’t know what it all means except that as long as their are women out there who know how to “cowboy up,”–in between sidewalks or on the wide open trail–I think we’re all going to be ok.

If you need me I’ll be in my room singing about it.

Sunday Column: A way to celebrate winter

Despite the hostility I harbor for the recent sub-zero temperatures, I do believe this season comes with gifts, and I’m not talking about the ones that hang out under the tree.

And besides, things are looking up. Today it got up to a balmy -5.

Taking time to enjoy a snow day
by Jessie Veeder
12-8-13
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Sunday Column: Highway 2 Ghosts

Driving a familiar highway a few week’s back I was reminded of my former life.

Between the white lines that led me on a straight, flat stretch east across the state and back again in mid-November, I was greeted by passing pickups with blaze orange caps resting on the dash.

Suddenly I was five years old sitting on the passenger’s side of my dad’s pickup, back when pickups didn’t have back seats, barely tall enough to see that landscape as it stretched out before me, bringing us closer and closer to the ranch for hunting season.

When I sat down to write this column that ran today in a couple newspapers in my home state, one out east, one here in the west, it was going to be about the time in my life my family didn’t live on the ranch and how I used to take every chance I got to be my dad’s sidekick, to crawl in the passenger’s side and take that five hour drive to gramma’s.

For harvest.

For cattle shipping day.

For hunting season.

I was going to tell you all about the time when I was five or six when that pickup broke down on a lonely stretch of that highway in the middle of a nasty blizzard, before cell phones and gadgets that connect us and make us safer.

It was the first time I remember staying in a hotel. I called it an “apawtment”

I couldn’t say my “R’s.”

I didn’t know the difference between an apartment and a hotel.

I didn’t know the level of my dad’s anxiety, having a kid out on a stretch of highway, broke down, no heater, no help, in sub-freezing temperatures.

And I didn’t know that it was likely my parent’s couldn’t afford a breakdown, let alone an impromptu hotel stay.

All I knew was that I was on an adventure.

But as I sat down to recall what it was like to climb in the passenger’s seat as a happy little girl and attempt to measure time in miles, the story I wanted to tell transformed from my recollection of a breakdown on Highway 2 to the realization that the sum of my life is made up of a string of memories, stretching long and straight between tall grass in the ditches and appearing before me like that highway moving off toward the setting sun.

Coming Home: Childhood homes bring back ghosts no matter how long we’re away
by Jessie Veeder
12-24-13
Fargo Forum
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Sunday Column: Sisters

On Mondays Little Sister calls me to see what I’m doing on Friday.
Or Saturday.
Or Sunday.

My little sister is a planner and she likes to know well in advance that she’ll have something to look forward to at the end of a long week teaching kindergartners to hola hoop in gym class.

So she might come over to help move cows, or have a margarita, to gorge on popcorn and watch a chick flick, play guitar or take a walk in the trees with our cameras.

Or we might go to town and dance to a band. Plan our next trip, make a big meal or just hang out in the kitchen catching up and watching funny videos of cats on YouTube.

Like me, Little Sister is easily amused.

When I moved back to the ranch for the first time after we got married seven years ago, Little Sister was still in high school, getting ready to graduate and make her way in the world. I got to go to her volleyball games, see her win Homecoming Queen, take pictures of her and her prom date and help at her graduation party.

When she left home I would go and visit her on the other side of the state and we would hang out at her favorite restaurants, catch her favorite bands, shop for clothes we couldn’t afford (while convincing one another that each purchase was an investment), go to movies and just be sisters.

Then I would head back to wherever it was I was living at the time and miss her face.

Well, now I don’t have to miss her face anymore. The changes happening in our Little Boomtown have made our once small town a enticing place to come back to work. It happened with Big Sister and now it happened with Little Sister and so, despite the odds, here we are, all together in a 30 miles radius, just close enough to borrow those shoes I helped her pick out, pick up Little Man for the weekend, swing by mom’s store with coffee and come over with guacamole and chips and be the kind of friends sisters were meant to be after they grow up and stop fighting so much.

I try to explain what it means to me to be close enough to these sisters of mine to watch them accomplish goals, fall in love, raise a family and be a close knit part of our own again.

I try to explain…

Coming Home: Rejoicing as little sister returns home
by Jessie Veeder
10/6/13
Fargo Forum
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Thursday Throwback: Gumbo Sliding.

In honor of throwback Thursday and all of the new Veeder Ranch followers, I wanted to share with you one of the first stories I wrote on this blog. For readers new to my shenanigans, it might help you understand what it felt like for me to spend my first summer back on my family’s ranch under the buttes as an adult. For those who have been with me for my long haul of misadventures (Three whole summers now! Thanks for hanging in there and I love you!) this will be a testament to how much I’ve matured since then

…yeah…

Something like that.

Anyway, that first summer I spent in my grandmother’s little brown house was romantic and whimsical and nostalgic. Everything that surrounded me was so familiar–the smell of the clover, the pink dust from the scoria road, the sound of the horses grazing in the pasture outside my bedroom window, the way I can always find a cow pie to step in–yet I felt like I was experiencing it for the first time.

And, because I didn’t have a job lined out, because the plan was to take a breath, I had some time to poke around in the barn and look for new baby kittens, to pick wildflowers, to make mud pies, ride my horse bareback, keep the grass mowed, kick the cows out of the yard, splash in big puddles, and, well, slide down the gumbo hills in the pouring rain.

In my pajamas.

…and tell you all about it.

Every thrilling, agonizing minute.

When I am asked to speak at events I often read this post as a way to introduce the audience to the woman they’re dealing with for the next 15 to 45 minutes. I read it not only to introduce myself and to entertain, but to remind them (and me) that   regardless of the outcome, regardless of how much we’ve learned about keeping our composure, keeping out of trouble and keeping out of the hospital since we turned into adults, sometimes all we need is to allow ourselves the freedom to act on impulse.

And fling our bodies down a muddy hill because, well, we think it could be fun.

So I invite you to take a minute to read about a silly grown woman who lost her head for a moment, but never regretted it.

And more than likely will never do it again…unless there’s lots of tequila involved.When spontaneity strikes, at least put on pants…
From the archives
August 10, 2010

Peace love and ointment,

Jessie