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.

Leotard

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?:)”

A 2

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.

A

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.

Cousins

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…

We’re ok.

It’s been three months since they rushed dad off of the ranch in an ambulance. Three months since his heart betrayed him.

Three months since we sat with him, night after night, in that hospital room in the big town as this brutal winter froze us over and life’s unexpected struggles brought us to our knees.

Three months since I told him, hang on dad, in a few months it will be spring and we have so many things to do.

And for three months it has just been my husband and I living on this ranch, going back and forth between work and home, one house and the other, checking on things, making sure everything’s fed and things are running right.

See, my parents decided to stick out the winter a little closer to town, to recover and take a breath, avoid the drive on icy roads and call someone to come in and renovate the house, nice and new for when they returned.

For three months I have been sending up a prayer each night thanking God for giving us our dad back. And for three months I’ve been telling myself that we are so blessed, so lucky to all be together in one piece.

And so it’s for all those blessings that I should jump for joy each morning, ready to get up with that beautiful sunrise outside of my window, but I haven’t.

I haven’t risen to shine very bright.

It’s been one of the longest, coldest, hardest winter of my life.

But let me say this, when we moved back to the ranch, almost four years ago now, it was not to get away from the big wide world, it was not to quiet and slow things down or to live inside a fantasy of a “simple country life.”

I grew up out here. I know it’s never been simple. In fact, living thirty miles from town on a gravel road that turns from dust to mud to ice and back again, has the potential to complicate a lot of things.

I knew this. And we came home anyway. We came to work. We came to learn. We came to make a life out here surrounded by a landscape we love and a family that can help us make the most of it.

But something shifted this winter, in the way I see this place, in the way I see this world we chose to surround us. Maybe it was the unexpected call in the middle of the night and the threat, the knowledge, that it all can be taken away in a second.

Maybe it’s our ongoing struggle to have a family and the realization that some people just don’t get what they want, no matter their prayers or their faith in something…

Or maybe it was just the relentless cold piled on top of it all, keeping me from climbing to the tops of the buttes for fear of frost bite, when climbing to the tops of those buttes is what I’ve relied on to heal me up time after time, but in the past three months this world has revealed to me her edge, and in response, it seems I’ve created my own.

And I want to tell myself that when that first crocus pops up under the warm sunshine that edge will soften and I will feel more like myself, but the truth is, I don’t think I need to go back there.

I’m not sure I want that.

Because this place is my refuge, yes. When I was a little girl so green and sheltered, it was here I belonged, here I could grow up sort of innocently unscathed for a few years before being thrown into the real world, and that is what I loved about it and one of the many reasons I returned.

But I’m a grown woman now. I’m at the age where money runs out and babies don’t make it, we don’t get the job and parents get sick…

Running into the trees and singing at the top of my lungs is not going to save me from these things, but those trees can hold me for a minute, help me breathe, help remind me that I can survive these human shaped tragedies.

And that even when this place is cruel, it is simultaneously beautiful…

Human shaped miracles happen too.

I know that. I’ve seen it.

Yesterday mom and dad moved back home, back to the ranch. Mom pulled into the yard and dad was waiting there, shoveling the drive from Monday’s snow storm, ready to grab her bag full of shoes and help her with the groceries.

Husband and I came over to visit, to see their new floors, to talk about furniture arrangement, have a glass of wine and welcome them back.

Back from a lonely winter.

Back from a hard time.

Back on the right side of life’s unexpected twists.

And I know now that we’re not all always going to be ok out here, but we’re ok right now.

Right now, we’re ok.

Sunday Column: Another Superhero

Snow storm

We’re in the middle of one of those nasty spring storms that blows through North Dakota expectedly, unexpected. After a weekend spent celebrating the marriage of one of our best friends, Husband and I crawled back to the ranch with blood shot eyes and sore muscles from dancing  just in time to flop on the bed and watch the wind blow the snow around.

The roads turned to ice and the brown grass turned white and the geese wondered why the hell they ever came back.

That’s sort of what I was thinking really. Like, maybe I should have just kept drinking and dancing and singing 80′s rock songs at the top of my lungs until this March turns to July and we’re out of the winter woods.

IMG_6198If I were a superhero, that’s what I’d do. I’d just turn up the music and pour some margaritas for the world until there was enough crazy dancing, laughing and ridiculous stories to warm us all up and forget about our winter blues (and all those other worries this place has) forever.

IMG_6275Turns out I’m pretty good at this whole superhero invention thing.

Anyway, I know it’s snowing in other parts of the country and maybe some of you even got to stay home from work or school to wait it out. If you did, I hope there was dancing.

IMG_6135

Me? I got to stand in my muck boots in the basement with the shop vac sucking up what I like to refer to as just another little “septic issue.”

I tell you what, I could sure use that other superhero right about now,  fart gun and all.

Coming Home: Adventures of Sock Boy, Crazy Aunt
by Jessie Veeder
3-30-14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

Fart Gun

Fart Gun

IMG_5562

I spent the weekend with Darth.

And he spent the weekend with his fart gun.

I thought it was an imaginary thing when he made me lean over so he could “Tell me a secret.”

“Ok,” I said. “What’s your secret?”

“Fart Gun,” he said.

Fart. Gun.

And then he laughed and laughed and said.

“Find it!”

And then I laughed and said, “Okay, yeah…go find it you crazy kid.”

Go find that weird imaginary and apparently “top secret” flatulence weapon…

And then we played Darth Vader some more…

IMG_5560

and pirates…

and a little superhero game I invented while finishing up the chores called “Sock Boy,” the world’s most helpful and domestic hero.

photo-30

Have a laundry situation? He’ll sort it out!

Need someone to hold your dustpan? He’s there in a jiffy!

IMG_5557

Big home construction project? He’ll help you prioritize!

photo-25 Making french toast? He can beat eggs with the best of them.

photo-5

Yes, it was a busy day for for a little man, and after a story or two about barnyard animals and wild things romping about, he was tuckered out, tucked in and snoring…

And when he woke the next morning you know what came toddling out with him?

A Fart Gun!

photo-26

Yes.

The Fart Gun is a real thing…

It was in his bag.

His mother packed it for him.

“Well look at that!” I declared.

“PFFFTTTT….. BLLLURRTTCHHH….FLLLRRRRPPPTTT…HAAA HAAAA”, said the Fart Gun and the kid.

photo-26

And that’s pretty much all the both of them said for the next two days.

Forget Darth Vader, let’s shoot this Fart Gun at my aunt while she’s working on her taxes.

photo-26

Forget the Pirate thing, let’s point it at the dog’s butt, pull the trigger and laugh hysterically.

photo-28

Forget the whole “Sock Boy” routine, it’s just me and my Fart Gun now.

Forever.

And ever.

Amen.

photo-29

“PFFFTTTT….. BLLLURRTTCHHH….FLLLRRRRPPPTTT…HAAA HAAAA.”

“PFFFTTTT….. BLLLURRTTCHHH….FLLLRRRRPPPTTT…HAAA HAAAA.”

“PFFFTTTT….. BLLLURRTTCHHH….FLLLRRRRPPPTTT…HAAA HAAAA.”

photo-26

Well played big sister

Well played.

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…
New Drawing

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

 

 

 

How faith might find you…

Yesterday morning one of my best friends, my neighbor down the road with curly hair kind of like mine, a similar obsession with photographing wildflowers and a much better success rate with house plants, gardens and crafting projects, gave birth to her first child.

A beautiful baby girl.

When that baby drew her first breath from within the safe walls of a hospital made of bricks standing strong against the chilly North Dakota air, I had just landed in MInneapolis after taking the red-eye out of Las Vegas where I slept face down, hair splayed out on the tray table for nearly three hours.

When I finally landed in North Dakota, my momma and I rushed to the floral shop to buy tulips and chocolate, a small token of appreciation for the newest addition to our neighborhood, then we pointed our car toward that hospital made of bricks so that we could take a look at those tiny hands and count those toes and say hello, we’re so glad you’re here.

I’m so glad she’s here.

Now, babies are born every day. All of the people I passed on my way through the airport, all of those souls standing in line and sitting shoulder to shoulder, taking off across the sky together, have mothers who grew them and carried them and brought them into the world to grow up and drink coffee, tell stories and host dinner parties, drive cars too fast and take midnight walks, make a mean cheesecake and fall in love, fall out of love, then back again and bite their nails, own too many cats and someday, have babies of their own.

And while all of these living and breathing people, all 7.046 billion of us, have stories we can tell each other about work and family and that great restaurant we visited last night, stories we might hear over a long overdue phone call or while standing in line at the post office with a stranger, every single one of us carries with us a different story about how we came into this world.

And although we carry it with us, not every one of us is able to tell it. Because not every one of us were told–not all of us really know.

That’s the thing about humans, we may choose not to share every detail in words.

A child may never know how much he was wanted.

Or how he was a plan.

Or a surprise, a pleasant surprise.

A terrifying one.

A surprise that couldn’t be handled.

But I’ll tell you something about my friend and her husband, the couple who welcomed that beautiful baby into this cold little corner of North Dakota yesterday–yesterday they witnessed a miracle.

And they knew it.

Now their story is like everyone’s story in that it is their own. And I, as their friend down the road, am not qualified to tell it, to give justice to what it’s like to pray and worry and drive hundreds of miles to spend countless hours in doctors appointments explaining and re-explaining, planning and re-planning and spending time on procedures and money on drugs while hanging on to a hope, a hope that has hung on for years…

Five years to be exact.

That someday she will be a mother.

And he will be a father.

And they will hold their daughter, a daughter with a little splash of red hair, tiny pink cheeks, long fingers like hers and eyes like his in their arms in the brick hospital in the middle of winter on the edge of North Dakota.

Because even some of life’s most natural promises are not promised to everyone.

And then sometimes that promise does not come easy.

But when it does, well…

There are no words.

Last spring I was driving my pickup down a gravel road, coming out of the badlands and onto the highway. My friend with the curly hair like mine was my passenger and we were talking about our struggle to become mothers, another thing, besides the unruly hair, that we have in common.

My hope was dwindling, wavering and faltering after years of disappointment. Six pregnancies celebrated and then lost with nothing but an unsolved mystery, heartbreak and frustration left in their wake.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be a mother,” I told her. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take. It might be a sign it’s not meant for us.”

She sat there beside me then, a woman with the same hope of a family, but one who had not yet seen those two pink lines.

“I just know there’s a plan. I have faith. I can see it for us,” she said. “I can see it for you.”

Faith.

In my life I’ve had it and lost it…

Moving along that gravel road with my friend talking and holding on tight to her hope, I believed for her it would work out.

But I couldn’t hold that same belief for myself.

And then I got the phone call in the early morning hours of January 5th, the one with my dad’s voice on the other end of the line begging for help. The one that sent our whole life reeling with prayers and hope and desperate pleas that the man called dad, grampa, husband, Pops, brother, uncle, friend would live to hear us tell him we loved him a thousand more times.

The one that promised this man was not going to live.

But some of life’s promises are not promised to everyone.

I stood in that North Dakota wind outside of that hospital as they prepared my faltering father for a plane ride he might not survive. I watched that wind bend the trees down and cool the air and I struggled to catch the breath that I lost with the news…

I tried to imagine a world without my father…

Today my dad stopped by the house. He wore his blue jeans and boots, a checked wool vest and a cap he got free from a company he’s likely been working with now that he’s back working. I made him a  cup of coffee and we sat at the counter and visited a bit about the weather and plans we have for spring when the cows come back…the things I promised him we’d do when he was lying in that hospital bed for a week working on pulling through.

Yesterday I got off a plane that flew me high above the clouds, shoulder to shoulder with a hundred other people with heartbeats and stories who were flying too…

And then we came back to the earth safe and sound so that I could hold my friend’s baby in my arms where she wiggled and opened her tiny little mouth to cry a bit before I bounced her and shushed her and told her she’s ok.

She’s got all the love in the world around her and in this world where she now lives, sometimes, miracles happen…

I know, because I have faith…

Sunday Column: Learning about love from my grandparents

Because it’s freezing and in a few days it will be Valentines Day and we need a holiday like this to warm us all up, this week’s column is about two people who have lived a lifetime together and taught me what it looks like when you truly and completely love one another.

This Valentines Day they will celebrate at their Arizona home. There will likely be breakfast in bed and flowers, a day spent golfing or swimming and dinner plans.

They’ve been married nearly 60 years so they’ve had some practice at celebrating things like love.

They’re the greatest couple I know.

They’re my grandparents.

Coming Home: Learning love from grandparents is a gift
by Jessie Veeder
2-9-13
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

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.

Visit www.barbaranewmancreative.com for more information

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
http://www.inforum.com

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 Columns: What faith might be

The reason I write is to share, to relate and reason and wonder out loud. The reason I read is to find a common ground, to learn about the world and those who exist here and to find out that I might not be so alone after all.

When I wrote about my dad’s survival from a major heart condition and emergency surgery last week, it was my way of connecting the dots, researching and sorting through my own feelings. I was terrified. I was grateful. I was nervous and worried and not breathing. I was on my knees.

And then I was alive. Alive with my family in the middle of the frozen North Dakota prairie.

Alive with my dad who means more to us in this world than we could truly understand before.

Before we almost lost him.

And now here we are. It’s been two weeks since he opened his eyes and declared he was living and every day we learn something new about what it means to be hopeful, to have faith, to wonder why and how and what next.

But I don’t really know what next, except that the cowboy is getting restless and we all prayed for this moment.  His sister took him to visit his aunt and uncle yesterday. Then we drove him to the badlands, my aunt, my little sister and I. We drove through those buttes with the window down a little and then stopped to take a walk on a paved trail through the campground before driving him back home in the sunset.

Since I got my dad back all of the the little things have become big things.

All the things I thought were so big have become much smaller now.

And I know I still wonder about all this.

Because I wrote his story and it was out there then, out there being read and shared and open for discussion. His story was seen by thousands of humans around the world. He received hundreds of comments and messages wishing him well, thankful that he was alive. Glad that we got our dad back.

Because some of them did too and they felt our joy and relief.

And some of them didn’t.

The week before Christmas one of my best friends was scheduled to deliver a baby. Their first. I visited her the month before and we took pictures and talked about names. We decorated the nursery and made plans for my next visit when she would have a little baby boy or girl in her arms. When she would be a momma.

The week before Christmas, as planned, my friend delivered a beautiful baby boy.

All he needed to do was breathe. To suck in the air of this world. To cry and scream with the shock of it all and their dreams would be fulfilled. Their prayers would be answered and life would move on.

But the baby didn’t take a breath. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. No matter how hard they prayed.

A week before Christmas my friend met and lost her first child.

And I can’t shake this as I walk with my father down the paved trail in the badlands, bring him tea and sit with him as we watch t.v. or play the guitar and think about the months ahead when the snow melts and the earth greens up and we get back to work. Get back on the horses. Get back to life as our lunges fill with air and our hearts beat strong and alive within our chests.

How can a world be so cruel and so forgiving all at the same time?

We all have our own story. My dad has his. My friend has hers. And the only lesson I can take with me as I move through the days is that we just don’t know the plan. We don’t know how tomorrow might hurt us or make us rejoice.

And maybe I am grateful for that. Maybe I am scared as hell. I’m not sure yet.

But what I do know, what I have learned is that our pain, our struggles and our joy is not ours alone. And maybe that’s the only thing that faith can really provide for us after all.

The promise that we are not alone.

Sunday Columns

The day my dad lived
by Jessie Veeder
1/19/14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

A happy life starts with what you do on the weekends
by Jessie Veeder
1/11/14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

Life about laughter, not resolutions
by Jessie Veeder
1/4/14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

The day he lived.

10 days ago my dad lived.

My dad, with his beautifully raspy voice, his strong, callused hands, his passion for this landscape and the creatures that exist here. My dad who loves unconditionally and laughs with a promise that things will be ok.  My dad who’s given the shirt off his back, the boots from his feet and all his heart to those he loves or those who need him.

Our dad who knows things. Takes care of things.

Takes care of us.

The weather report warned us that the early January thaw was about to turn treacherous, sending snow blowing across slushy roads, turning them to ice and dropping the temperatures to dangerous lows. But it was warm that early Friday morning when Pops struggled to find the phone to make a call that would save his life.

That evening as Husband drove us home in that mild winter air I was uneasy. There was no reason for it really. We had just finished a nice dinner with my family, celebrating my mom and little sister’s birthday. We laughed. We ordered steak. We watched Little Man move from lap to lap around the table. And then we all said goodnight and happy birthday.

But on the road that night as the tires hummed along the highway I looked up at the stars with a lump in my throat and a knot in my stomach and asked my husband if he ever feels lonesome for something. Something he can’t describe.

He said he thought so. He said he understood.  Then we pulled into the drive, trudged up the steps and tucked ourselves in safe and unaware that in a few short hours, at 2 a.m. the phone would ring in the darkness, threatening to change the comfortable and blessed life we take for granted.

The hours that followed are indescribable, a nightmare that threatened to paralyze me and send me gasping for air at the sound of my father’s voice asking for help and the sight of him lying helpless on the floor. But deep down under the fear that percolated and boiled up in my throat was an untried and reassuring belief that this was only an obstacle and not the end.

The stars spun in the warm January night and under those stars our neighbors responded to the call, loading up in the fire-trucks and an ambulance, asking their God for strength to make the miles in time to help a suffering friend laying too far from town, too far from help.

And so how do you thank that God for second chances? My dad looked up at me from the floor of the home where he raised three girls and loved one woman, the walls that absorbed the sound of a family’s laughter and arguments, the notes of his guitar, the smells of supper warming on the stove and a life well lived and he told me he was dying.

I held his hand, looked him in the eye and without a waver, without a tear, I said no. No, you are not.

But he was. I didn’t believe it then. I didn’t know it then, but he was.

That big strong heart of his, the one that taught us – showed us – compassion and patience, bravery and tenderness, was torn and leaking and poisoning his body.

And with each passing minute, each hour it took to load him in the ambulance, to get him to town, to test, to poke and prod and diagnose and medicate, to plead with the nurses and doctor, to fight to make him comfortable, to hold his hand and ask him where it hurt, where is it…what is it…what can we do…do something…help him…the odds fell quickly and silently away from his favor.

“Dissection of the Aorta,” the doctor said. “We’re calling an airplane. There’s no time to talk now…”

My mother’s hand went to her mouth. My sisters gasped. The temperature dropped outside where the wind blew chilled rain across the plains and I ran out there to stand in it, to come to grips with the idea that we might go on living in this world without my dad.

But I could not accept it. This wasn’t our story.

I pushed down the fear and walked back inside where we hugged him goodbye for now.

“See you in the big town,” I said.

“Are you sure you want to drive those roads? The weather’s getting bad,” he told us. “I’ll be ok, really. You don’t have to come all that way.”

Just like dad to worry about us.

Silent and shaken we crawled in the pickup, 180 miles of daunting highway stretching before us under the darkening and freezing winter skies.

And up in those skies they flew him, my dad, on the wings of the plane and some merciful angels, to get to where he was going in time to be saved.

Who am I to give words to the feeling of moving through those miles in the dark, uncertain and silent, mind wandering to a future you can only will and pray for. Who am I to tell you how my stomach knotted with each ring of the phone, what it was like to watch my mother and sisters suffer with worry? Who am I to describe the relief we felt when we got word he made it to the hospital where staff and surgeon were waiting to perform one of the most difficult procedures of their careers?

How can I tell you what those hours were like, waiting with my family while my father was in another room with his chest cut open, his big, strong heart exposed and open to the uncertain world?

How can I describe what it meant to us that you drove all those miles behind us in the storm, neighbor, to sit with us and ease the silence while we waited hours for news of his life as the earth froze over?

What words do I use to thank the doctor who walked into that waiting room with news that he saved him? The nurses who cared for him? The family and friends who sent prayers and positive thoughts into the universe, begging for mercy for a man we still need with us here, while all around the world people with much better odds of living were being taken up into those spinning stars.

Ten days ago my dad lived. The earth froze solid while he slept. 60 below zero the weatherman said and we were frozen too with fear of the unknown. We touched his hand while he slept and told him we loved him.

Two days after that he breathed on his own and the air warmed up enough to let the snow fall. In the dark of the night we took turns sitting with him in that room in that city full of lights and unfamiliar noises as he healed, passing one another’s footprints in the snow on our way back and forth from the hotel to his bedside.

Twelve hours later he was walking down the hall of that hospital aware of his mortality, grateful for his saviors, both unseen and on this earth, and planning his escape back to the ranch where there is so much more work to be done, more people to love and more life to be lived.

“I almost died,” he said as the drugs wore off and he came back to us.

“But you didn’t dad. I told you you wouldn’t,” I said.

“You know why I didn’t?”

“Why?”

“Because I’m a son-of-a-bitch.”

Maybe not a son-of-a-bitch, but the strongest man I know.  How comforting that his sense of humor was so quick to reappear.

And with each passing day that laughter eased our worries, the temperature warmed and the earth thawed out as we all learned to breathe again.

Our dad is a miracle. Doctors and nurses got word of his survival and recovery and stopped by to see him, to tell him he’s an anomaly.

I could tell you the odds. I knew them all along, but it doesn’t matter now. He was meant to stay with us.

Because ten days ago, in a world that worked to freeze up, crush us and break our hearts, my dad’s heart, big and strong and open, against all odds in a world that can be cruel and forgiving all at the same time, kept beating.

Ten days ago he lived.