Sunday Column: On best friends and lemonade stands

We all had a best friend growing up. The one we would meet on our bikes every day in the summer, the one we got chicken pox with, the one who would fearlessly have our back in an argument with the stupid boy who kept pulling your ponytail in 3rd grade.

Mine had short blond hair and freckles and blue eyes and was always a foot or two smaller than me. She could do backflips and front flips and side flips on their trampoline, and could ride her bike with no hands or feet when I was still working on the one-handed trick. She had a tall roan horse named Teddy who looked pink and she would climb up on his back like a spider monkey and ride like the wind in the badlands after her dad after the cows.

She could make an expert Juneberry pie long before her 16th birthday and was my passenger in her dad’s old Lincoln when we got a flat tire and spun around on the road and into the ditch on our way to pick up a goat to practice tying.

She cried with me for one second and then pulled it together enough to help figure out how to change the darn thing…just a few minutes before some neighbor men showed up…

Yes I hope everyone had a friend like her. A best friend who knew you before you had lost all your baby teeth and made big plans with you while jumping from hay bale to hay bale. Plans to grow up and move out, get married and bring those boys back here someday so we can live here and be neighbors forever.

We all know most childhood plans don’t quite come to fruition, maybe because they are a little too big or too wild or too bold.

At the time when the roads were quiet out here and the towns were shrinking as fast as the porch lights were going out on homesteads along the pink roads,  asking to be grownups making a living on a ranch in North Dakota was probably about as far fetched a dream as we could conjure, and we only sort of understood that…

But we still believed it. And we were right to. Because just a few weeks ago I stood in the yard of her new house with a bottle of champaign and a request for a tour.

I didn’t ride my bike because I’m a grown up and now, but I came over to welcome her home, her and her three blonde haired, blue eyed kids and that boy she said she’d bring here,  along that once quiet highway.

My best friend, my neighbor again…

Coming Home: Childhood summers full of good ideas, plenty of things to do

http://www.inforum.com/content/coming-home-childhood-summers-full-good-ideas-plenty-things-do

by Jessie Veeder
8-10-14
http://www.inforum.com

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…

Sunday Column: On the little yellow boat…

April did us a favor and, after bringing us a little spring storm, it warmed up nicely this weekend. 50 degrees uncovered all sorts of treasures for us, mostly mud and things stuck in mud…like dog poop, leftover construction materials and the Christmas tree that made it out the door, but not quite to the garbage pit.

We set out then in that spring air to do some tidying. When the weather warms up I get crazy. I want to do everything that I haven’t been able to do (because of the seven months of snow and subzero temperatures) all in one day.

I want to till up the garden spot. I want to plant grass seeds. I want to finish the garage. I want to ride all eight horses. I want to buy baby chicks from Tractor Supply. I want to roll up my pants and wade in the creek. I want to fix the barn. I want to start our landscaping project. I want to work on my tan. I want to go swimming. I want to make margaritas and grill burgers and have a deck party.

I want to buy a boat…

I think brown dog has the same idea…

Yes, a few days of warm weather will get the plans rolling. And the smell of the thaw, the sound of the water, the blue sky and sun and things uncovered by melting snow had me poking around the place, in search of projects, things I could accomplish.

And in my search I stumbled upon one of the ranch’s most unique relics. Sitting next to the shop covered loosely by a blue tarp and snow turned to ice water is Husband’s yellow boat, the one he brought with us to the ranch when we were first married. The one he built with his dad during the long winter nights when we were all just trying to make it out of high school alive.

The one he took me out in, to go fishing down in Bear Den, a little unknown nook of Lake Sakakawea a few miles from the ranch. The tiny hand-made boat where we sat back to back and trolled the shore, with nothing but sun-seeds, a couple beers and worms in our cooler.

And when the sun started sinking down below those buttes that surrounded the lake, it was that boat that got us stuck. Stuck in mud up to the floorboards of Husband’s little Dodge.

And there we sat. The little pickup connected to the little boat, stuck in the bottom of a badlands canyon, a new husband scratching his head and a wife in flip-flops clawing her way up the steep, cactus ridden banks that held them on a prayer that maybe her cell phone might find enough signal to call Pops to come and rescue them.

Pops, who had no idea where they went in the first place.

Pops, who wasn’t home, but got the message an hour or so later..

“Dad…*scratch scratch*…stuck….*static static*….Bear Den…*crackle crackle*…”

When I think spring I think of that fishing trip with my husband. When I think of that fishing trip, I think of that boat. When I think of that boat I think about mud and dads and how they have so many ways of saving us…

So I wrote this.

Coming Home: Little yellow boat never meant for fishing
(I’m having trouble with my hyperlinks,
please click URL below to read the column)
http://www.inforum.com/event/article/id/431239/
by Jessie Veeder
4-6-14
http://www.inforum.com

Happy thaw out. May this season bring mud and good memories….

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
http://www.inforum.com

 

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
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

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
http://www.inforum.com

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
www.inforum.com

Sunday Column: Stories ride in on Pops’ Trail 90

Here’s Pops.

He’s in a pink helmet. It’s not his usual get-up, as you know, but we figured he would need it.

See, for the past few weeks he’d been recalling dangerous childhood memories of the time way back in the day when he and his brother owned a ’75 Honda Trail 90 and rode like hell’s fury up and down and around the buttes of this place.

Yup.

There are stories about ramping things, checking cows, running around with the neighbor kids up the road and, well, concussions. There were a few concussions.

Just the other night he confessed that, before he was old enough to be issued an actual drivers license, he and his friend drove that damn bike thirty miles to town and back again to catch a football game or something, he can’t remember.

It didn’t matter anyway, by the time they actually made it (it took a little while you know, driving at top speeds of 35 MPH and flinging themselves in the ditch’s tall grasses every time a neighbor drove by) it was past dark and whatever event they were trying to catch was long over by then.

Those are the stories we get from Pops. They’re good ones.

And the reason we  did what we did.

Coming Home: Stories ride in on Pops’ old motorcycle
by Jessie Veeder
September 15, 2013
Fargo Forum
www.inforum.com 


Happy Trail 90 Pops.

Happy Trails to You.

Sunday Column: When summer’s over

The hay is baled up and waiting to be moved out of the fields.

he hot sun is starting to turn the leaves on the trees a little bit lighter.

The cattails are bending and swaying in the warm breeze.

The water in the stock damns is getting low and covered in moss.

The tomatoes are ripe.

The school busses are kicking up dust on the back roads.

The days are getting shorter.

Coming Home: Summer can’t last as life goes on
By Jessie Veeder
9/1/13
Fargo Forum
www.inforum.com

 

Summer’s almost over.

Sunday Column: Holding on is the best part…

Wedding
Last week Husband and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. I went to the new grocery store and picked up crab legs, opened a bottle of champagne and we sat at our kitchen table and looked out the window at the tall grass and the setting sun and remembered what it was like

To be 15 and at the movies together for the first time

To be 16 driving the backroads in his Thunderbird

To be 17 and making plans to leave this place

To be 18 and away from home together

To be 21 and uncertain about where to go from there

To be 23 and married under the oak tree at the ranch with nothing ahead of us but time and gravel roads and plans we started making when we were 15.

Wedding Tree

Today my dearly beloved is outside hammering and screwing a big deck to the side of our house so that we can spend the rest of our summers opening the sliding glass doors with a glass of wine, a plate of steaks, watermelon for cutting or corn for husking, a magazine, a guitar or a good book to accompany us while we look out over our little homestead under the big blue sky or setting sun.

My future with this man has not always been clear, but it has always held him close: in the hot summer sun wiping the sweat from his forehead as he measures and saws and plans, bundled up against the winter winds on his way to work, rolling out his mother’s noodle recipe on the kitchen counter, throwing a stick for our big brown dog, riding a good horse behind some good cows, rocking our children and next to me, no matter what, just near me.

And so I hold on. I’ve held on since we I was eleven years old sitting next to him in band class.

Coming Home: Loving the same man for more than half my life
by Jessie Veeder
8/18/13
Fargo Forum
www.inforum.com 

I hold on because it just keeps getting better.