4-H in my memories

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Old photo brings back proud horse show memories from childhood
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It’s 4-H Week in McKenzie County and I spent yesterday afternoon talking with 4-Hers about the photographs they took of their roosters and kittens, sunsets and sisters, horses and old country churches.

I’m always amazed at the poise, passion and pure creativity these kids possess and am always happy to be involved where I can. As a kid growing up in the middle of nowhere, 4-H held it all for me. It was my connection to civilization for a week in the summer and a good excuse to do a project.

I spent hours on the floor latch-hooking a rainbow or at the kitchen table woodburning or pressing and identifying wildflowers. I grew a garden. I tried my hand at drawing. I took photos of my cats and dogs and horses, and true to form, I never baked a thing.

But my favorite was the horse show. A few days ago I was looking through old photographs in search of some other memory, and out of the pages falls a photo of me, my little sister, and my sorrel mare Rindy, standing stoic and proud in our pressed white shirts, Wrangler jeans, hats and boots at the fairgrounds. I suppose she was about 6 and I was around 11 and we were the perfect age to take this seriously and make it our life. I held that photo and a flood of memories washed over me.

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I could smell the ShowSheen and feel the sweat pooling up on my back, my stomach knotting with excitement and nerves. My little sister and I at the county fair, fresh off the ranch where we likely spent the night before washing my old mare in the backyard with Mane ‘n Tail shampoo, a brush and a hose spraying freezing cold water. I would have put on my shorts and boots and worked to convince my little sister to hold Rindy’s halter rope while the horse got busy munching on the green grass in our yard, not fully understanding or giving a care to what was on the schedule for the next morning.

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My little sister, enthused initially, likely started to get annoyed by the whole deal, the sun a little too hot on her already rosy cheeks, the bees getting dangerously close, so she probably abandoned ship after a couple arguments about it and then I would have been out there finishing the job, picking off the packed-on dirt and yellow fly and then standing back, pleased with the work I did and excited to show my horse in the big arena and decorate her up and ride her in the parade. Because she’s never looked so good, so shiny, her red coat glistening in the sun.

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Then I’d take her down to the barnyard and give her a munch of grain, tell her I’d see her in the morning. It probably rained during the night, soaking the ground nice and good and I likely woke up bright and early because I didn’t sleep a wink, so nervous about getting that purple ribbon.

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I would have pulled on the crisp, dark blue jeans and clean white shirt Dad picked up for me at Cenex or the western store on Main Street and tucked it all in nice and neat before heading out to the barn with my little sister trailing behind to get my glistening horse and her fancy halter loaded up in the trailer, only to find that the mare had gone ahead and taken advantage of the mud, rolling in it nice and good and letting the clay form a thick crust on her back. Typical ranch horse.

So we’d get to brushing in the crisp of the early morning and to get her shined up again in time to head to town in the old horse trailer and show her off, two girls and a mare on her annual and only trip to town.

Yes, it’s county fair season across the state and across the country and I’m basking in the memories. Good luck to all you 4-Hers. Have fun and be as proud as those two little girls in that photograph.

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All the things to love

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All the the things to love
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Last night, as we were driving back to the ranch late from a performance in a bigger town, my dad said he wishes he could live a whole other lifetime so he would have time to fit in all of the things he wants to do.

He said it sort of casually to our friend sitting in the passenger’s seat, the man who has played guitar next to me during most of my music career and stood on stages with my dad in their younger lives. I sat in the back seat listening to them talk about the getting old stuff they are facing now — retirement and bad shoulders, travel and finances and grown children.

But I couldn’t shake what my dad said about the other lifetime, because it’s the same thing that has come out of my mouth time and time again, but it was the first time I’d heard it come out of his.

I wish there were another couple hours to linger a bit on the most important, or the sweetest, or the warmest, or the most fun things. To sit on the back of this horse a little longer, or with my arms around my sleeping child, or climb another hill, or make a trip to see my friends, or help or host or work on the ideas that tumble and toss in my head — the ones that need nothing but a little work and the extra time, time that we cannot, no matter how we try, create.

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And it’s funny that he said it then, after we wrapped up a night of music in a beautiful park in the middle of a growing town. That evening I stepped away before we went on the stage to have a look around. I watched daddies strolling babies, grandparents taking walks, a woman playing fetch with her dog, kids screeching down the slide, and I thought, ‘Well, I could live here.’

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And then for a few moments I allowed myself to imagine it. It’s the same way I imagine myself being a part of the families riding their bikes down a charming city sidewalk in a quiet neighborhood in an unfamiliar town. I wonder what it looks like in their houses and then I recognize that there wasn’t ever just one way to be me.

This spot out here on the ranch, where the cattle poop in my driveway and eat my freshly potted plants, might have remained the quiet little pile of abandoned cars and farm machinery if I would have followed through with my idea when I was 22 years old to move to the big city and sing.

What if he never asked me to marry him? What if he bought that motorcycle he talked about and headed farther west while I headed east, uncompromising in the vision I had for myself at that moment as someone who shouldn’t go home again?

There’s nothing there for me. They told me so. Would I have bought a house in a quiet neighborhood in a suburb in the Midwest or traveled to Nashville like they all told me I should do?

Would I have broken his heart and met someone new? Would I have children now with different colored eyes and unfamiliar names and would we ride our bikes and play fetch in a park like this listening to another woman singing about a life I could only imagine?

And in these imaginary scenarios, I like to think that I am happy and content, that whatever choices I made would find me just fine. And if I’m being honest, a part of me wishes that there was some way I could find out what would have become of me in Minneapolis or in Nashville or on a ship on the Mediterranean. What would my new favorite places become?

Because as much as there are things in this world that terrify me, those don’t weigh as heavy as the weight of all the things there are out there to love, if only we had another lifetime.

“Oh, I hate this getting old stuff,” our friend said to my father and then they both got quiet, staring ahead at a dark and familiar road, the headlights lighting up the night.

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Checking in with dad

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This month’s Prairie Parent is all about dads, of course!

With Father’s Day approaching and our house in a constant state of princess dress-up, meltdowns, sippy cups and dance parties, I’ve realized that while I delve pretty regularly into conversations with my sister and girlfriends about the challenges and tribulations of motherhood and how it’s transforming me in more ways than just turning my hair gray, it’s been a while since I’ve checked in with the only man in the house.

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And so I did. I sat him down after bedtime and I asked him questions about what it means to him to be a dad, how he’s doing (tired) and why it is all so terrifyingly wonderful.

What he reveled is not only something that offered me precious new insight into my husband, but it also reminded me how important it is to talk, not just about the schedule and supper plans and grocery lists and chores, but about the big picture of the life we’re building here.

This Father’s Day I hope you take a minute to ask some of these questions. You won’t regret it. In fact, I dare say, you may regret it if you don’t.

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Click here to read the full interview at prairieparent.com
and then take a few moments to read some wonderful articles from our other great, regional contributors on surviving summer break, travel tips, Father’s Day gift ideas and more!

And Happy Father’s Day to the important men in our lives. We love you. We see you. We appreciate you.

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Get the Gate

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Get the Gate
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“Get the gate.”

There are other words that conjure up anxiety for me, but none in the same way as this phrase declared from the driver’s seat of an old feed pickup or from atop a horse about to take off for a mile in the other direction and return with 100 cows that I’ve been instructed not to let miss that open gate and head for the deep and ominous patch of trees further down the fence line.

Get the gate. It seems simple enough if in your imagination you are picturing a white picket fence on neat hinges with a little latch. Easy.

We don’t have those here at the EV Ranch. No. What we do have is miles and miles of barbed wire fence line, much of it built 80 years ago, held up by old cedar and steel fence posts driven into the hard clay of the Badlands. And through the years, it’s been stretched and re-stretched, patched and stapled, trampled by wild elk and escaped by fence-crawling cattle that couldn’t be held by elephant fence so why do we even try…

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And in the corners and on the flats, in the mud puddles and next to the trees there are the gates. Gates that have also been stretched and re-stretched so tight that I swear Hulk himself would grunt when trying to release the wire loop connecting one post to the other.

But my dad never did. Nope. He would just walk over there and pop that thing open like it was a toothpick connected to a string and we would move on with our lives. Which made me believe that my noodle arms and I were fully capable of opening it the next time we came across it.

But the whole “moving on with our lives” thing took a little longer with me in charge of the gates while Dad watched me flail, struggle, grunt, sweat and bleed before he opened the pickup door and put me out of my misery and I sheepishly returned to the passenger seat, my self-worth as a ranch kid sinking like my heart.

Oh, there are some gates on this place that are in dire need of work, making them easy to open. But you never really know what you’re going to get when you’re out there alone. Or worse yet, when the men in your life are watching you from the other side of the windshield.

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I’m sweating just thinking about it actually. And I’m thinking about it today because my husband and I had a recent discussion regarding the gate next to our house put there to keep the cows out.

I got it open, but couldn’t get it closed and so I accused him of stretching it too tight after I pushed and pulled and cussed the thing before finally giving up, marching to the house crafting a speech in my head about equal access, equal rights and calculating the costs of buying those fancy metal gate closers for every gate on this place. Or at least some rope.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” my darling husband calmly replied after I delivered my address. “That’s one of the easy ones.”

I guess if I want to take matters into my own hands out here, I’ve got to… well… take matters in my own hands.

If you need me, I’ll be at the fleet store loading up my cart.

Closing Gate

Parenting pit stop

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Over Memorial Day weekend, my most favorite sister-in-law in the entire world took my children on a four day camping trip so that my husband and I could be alone in our house together for the first time, basically, since the first kid was born.

It was a gift that resulted in meals eaten uninterrupted, a date night, two clean vehicles, a mowed lawn, weeds sprayed, flower pots planted, multiple rooms cleaned, a tiling project complete, a front door replaced, and the basement bathroom construction nearly finished.

Oh, and I sorta slept in.

And we watched a movie together without both falling asleep.

And while we checked off our list the girls were playing with their cousins and friends and making the best kind of memories.

It was one of the best gifts my sister-in-law could have given me. And it got me thinking that I could have been better some things in my kid-free life…

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A parenting pit stop is more important than you might think
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This morning, about 15 miles into our 30-mile trip to town for work and day care, my 3-year-old daughter declared from the back seat, out of the blue, that she had a tummy ache.

I asked if she thought she had to poop and then held my breath for the answer, because (1) we were another 20 minutes from the nearest potty and (2) we were also approaching the busiest intersection between here and there, meaning an emergency ditch stop wasn’t likely going to be a private one.

I started to sweat a little as I asked follow-up questions. It wouldn’t be our first busy-roadway-ditch-potty-pit-stop, but it turns out it was our first busy-roadway-ditch-puke-pit-stop. And just like that, child No. 1 wasn’t going to day care and my plans for a productive day at the office turned into my laptop on the kitchen table surrounded by Play-Doh and a child bouncing back to life minute by minute, begging me to go play on the playground.

Parenthood will surprise you, just like a side-of-the-road puke. And I’m telling you, 11 years ago, when our friends started having children in their mid-20s while my husband and I worked to build our lives around our visits to the infertility clinics, I wish I knew.

And it’s not so I could be prepared for this whole motherhood thing myself. Nothing prepares you for this. But looking back, I wish I knew what my friends’ lives were like with those young kids in tow. Because, bottom line, it’s hard on friendships when the babies come for some and not for others, which has certainly been the case for my husband and me.

But the level of the dust we got left behind in didn’t really resonate with me until we started kicking up our own all these years later. And now those friends carpool to hockey practices while we wrestle with car seats and I am starting to realize how crappy I was at being a friend to them back then.

I didn’t know what it really takes out of you to raise these tiny humans. I only knew what it took out of me as I hoped to be in their role.

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And I didn’t know what it truly meant to relieve some of the stresses of parenting little kids. Hint: The gestures don’t need to be grand. In fact, just the tiniest effort, like offering to watch the kids for an hour so she can go to that hair/dentist/doctor/banking appointment ALONE makes a big difference in the life of a parent of toddlers.

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Or maybe it’s just swinging by for a few minutes to give her a moment of adult conversation and a chance to pee without company. Especially the ones with limited day care options, like many of us have in these small towns or growing communities.

Before I became a mother myself, I took my free time for granted, free time I could have thought to give to a friend with a young child who might want an hour or so alone to clean the bathrooms or vacuum out her car without a “helper.”

Or maybe she wants a date with her husband? That would be nice. I could have done that for her. I didn’t get it then, but I get it now.

And I’m doing my best to try to be a better village member, especially out here in the middle of nowhere, where our village is so small. With my little sister now living down the road, a 2-year-old in tow with another on the way, I have a clear view of what she needs.

Because more often than not, parenthood feels like that panicked little voice coming from the back seat, with no ideal pit-stop options for miles.

And I’m going to do my best to be that pit stop.

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Not on days like today

Spring Trees

Not on days like today
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I planted some flowers this afternoon as the temperature reached up toward what we can finally call warm.

Some are working to root themselves in pots that have sat for years on this deck, and some sit next to me on the deck waiting for a turn as I watch the moon come up. Behind me, the sun streaks the sky pink, making its long, dramatic exit.

I leave more things undone these days than ever before. It’s a part of motherhood no one told me about. Inside the house, the ice in my husband’s whiskey glass clinks as he walks across the room, but I am outside searching for words tonight.

So I look up. The tops of the oak and ash trees are budding a neon sort of green, trying to compete with the birches. It’s quiet out here in a way that a world waking up and winding down is quiet.

The birds are having their final say for the evening. I hear whistles and chirps and the flap of the wings of ducks on the dam against the drone of crickets and the creak of frogs.

Something big is moving on the trail in the trees. I watch for it to appear — a deer, maybe an elk or cow — but it quiets and so I look up again.

Up at those treetops that were bare this morning, before the sun shone at 75 degrees, and I wonder if those crickets and birds and frogs, if that wind and the barking dogs in the distance, if the cattle and the babies and the mommas and the daddies and the engines of the trucks rumbling way up on the highway could take the same breath and hold it all at once, at the right moment, if we might actually be able to hear those leaf buds emerging one by one.

Pop.

Pop.

Pop.

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We will never know. Nothing here could ever stay so quiet. I suppose it’s all magic enough as it is.

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I’m anxious for the change of seasons. I feel like those leaves. It’s why I loaded up our pickup box with little cherry tomato plants and basil, petunias and geraniums, black dirt and seeds. All of the hope that is held in the small bud of a sprouting leaf I hold inside of me.

This afternoon, I filled up the baby pool with warm water as the sun shone on the backs of my splashing, naked children, and I dug in the dirt. Before I could strip her down appropriately, my youngest daughter, 1-year-old Rosie, climbed in that tiny wading pool. With her blankie clenched in her fist, she drug it with her to the water that was soaking her socks and up over the hem of her little pink pants.

And when she was where she wanted to be, she just stood there and looked out over her world and up at the big blue sky and fluffy clouds shaped to fit her imagination. A better mother might have scooped her up, but I just let her be for a moment.

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We’re all so thirsty. Tomorrow it will be cooler, and maybe it will rain, but today they were mermaids and then they were fishermen and I was a gardener dreaming of plump red tomatoes bursting in our mouths and a world where we might sell them together, my daughters and me, in little Mason jars on a card table at a farmers market in town.

Someone told me a story like this once, and there are times that my dreams are much bigger, but not today.

Not on days like today.

A game of cat and mouse and me in my robe at 6 am

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Cat and mouse game isn’t our new cat’s strong suit

Last week while I was writing my column, unfolding a tale from the olden days about my dear grandmother’s run-in with an ornery bovine and an exasperated husband, a saga of my own was developing in my living room between our new orange cat who now has six names and a mouse, who shall never be named.

At first I thought the commotion our new feline was making was just what cats do when they become “possessed” and chase imaginary threats around the house. I continued with my work unconcerned, encouraging the behavior of Sven (one of his names), thinking he was just practicing for the real fight.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the threat — and it was not imaginary. The fight was real, and Reggie (one of his other names) wasn’t winning. The mouse ran under the couch. The Cat (his third name) was now on a stakeout.

But I decided to be in denial for a bit. Tigger (his other name) looked like he had it under control and I had a deadline. I continued typing, one eye on the couch, but I couldn’t concentrate.

I called my husband to give him the report, because I heard husbands like to be informed of impending doom. I was right.

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Sven the cat takes a break after a hard day of work.

I texted my sister. I called the fire department. No, I didn’t really call the fire department.

But I did move the couch because Orange Kitty (his fifth name) needed help. The mouse scampered out toward my bare feet, and though I be tough, I screeched with immediate regret, praying it didn’t wake the kids. Because now the mouse was under my chair and I was neck-deep in a hunt and I hadn’t even finished my coffee yet.

I grabbed the cat and set him by the chair. He didn’t get the hint, but the mouse did, and he ran for his furry life toward the fireplace, huddling there behind the dollhouse. I grabbed Sven (my preferred name for the cat) again and placed his nose right on the stunned mouse. But apparently Sven only likes a challenge, and he turned that nose up and strolled away.

And so there I was, hunkered over, my robe undone, my hair undone, my column undone, my quiet morning undone, trying to teach a cat how to chase a mouse. It wasn’t working.

The mouse retreated behind the kids’ craft cupboard and I tried to pretend nothing was happening. I sat back down. I heard the 1-year-old stir just as I hit “send” on my column and realized that having a mouse and two toddlers roaming free in the house was not the kind of life I wanted to live.

So I got up. The baby cried louder. I grabbed the broom. I sent Sven subliminal messages and we approached that cabinet. I got down on my hands and knees to take a look and the mouse flew out toward my face at lightning speed. And though I be fierce, I screamed.

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The baby cried, I wiped the sweat from my forehead and I muttered some harsh words about our broken cat under my breath — until Sven, glorious Sven, emerged from the abyss of dust and smoke with the mouse in his jaws.

I beamed with pride for about three seconds until he dropped it. And though I be Wonder Woman, I screeched. And the baby cried harder. And the mouse ran back under my chair.

But its time had come. I grabbed the broom and Sven and I went to work as a team of freaked-out hunters, me sweeping, him catching and releasing, leaving toys and furniture, my hair and robe flying behind us until Sven crouched over a stunned mouse in the middle of the living room, the door of my 3-year-old’s bedroom cracked open, the baby couldn’t be left to cry any longer and I mustered my courage to finish the job, flinging the remains out the door and turning around just in time to bid my oldest daughter good morning.

And though I be brave, I never want to do that again. If you need me, I’ll be setting some traps.

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Happy Mother’s Day Peas and Thank You

Mother’s Day is around the corner. In this month’s Prairie Parent we explore a bit on what moms really want.

And it’s not a two hour shopping trip to Menards with the kids

Click here to have a read and then have yourselves a happy Mother’s Day….

And a Nap.

Prairie Parent:Mom we love you, Peas and Thank you

The Rancher’s Wife Mic Drop

Gramma and Grampa

Grandma Edie and Grampa Pete

If a rancher invented cussing, a rancher’s wife invented the walkaway mic drop
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The first time I heard my dad swear was when he was standing in the horse trailer at a high school rodeo in New Salem while my horse was standing on his foot.

Or maybe it was that time the bulls got out and bringing them back with only the help of an 11-year-old was going about as swimmingly as you can imagine.

Wait, no, I think it was the time he stepped off a young horse to open a gate and that horse began his slow and methodical side pass toward home, leaving the reigns just out of Dad’s reach.

Well, I can’t remember exactly, but my dad doesn’t swear much — so when he did, it made an impression on me. It meant a brief loss of the positive nature he exuded that fooled us all into believing we were going to be all right out there chasing bulls out of brush patch after tick-infested brush patch.

But mostly it was the string of words he chose to stitch together when it all finally did come spitting out, slowly and with utter, exasperated passion in a sort of poetic way that only a frustrated rancher could pull off.

Anyway, it just sinks in the point that being a cowboy is glamorous and everything, until it’s time to do cowboy things. I think it was likely a rancher who invented cussing. He was probably working on broken equipment.

And it was the rancher’s wife who invented the walkaway mic drop. Because the rancher’s wife is often times a rancher, too, unless you’re my mom who steps about as far into the calf pen as the porch outside her house and only gets her hands as dirty as they can get while planting geraniums, which is probably one of the reasons they’re still married, honestly.

My dad’s parents, however, worked side by side on the Veeder ranch during a time when the stakes were a bit higher on this place. And so it wasn’t always as romantic as their once-a-year trip down to the river to go catfishing.

And because I admired my Grandma Edie so much when I was young and she was still alive, I always lean in when my dad and uncle start sharing stories of their childhood with their mother at the helm.

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Last night, after the last few bites of my mom’s lasagna and a comment about my recent run-in with a cranky cow, the brothers sat back and remembered the time their mother was out helping move a bovine with a similar attitude from the pen below the barn to one in front of the barn.

It sounded like one of those moments where my grandpa passed on his own unique string of cuss words to the next generation as the cow did her best to fight the system and run past the gate and toward members of the happy family yelling and waving sorting sticks.

And then that cow turned on my grandma, chasing after her as she ran for her life toward the fence while my grandpa yelled at her, “Run toward the gate!”

And the part where their mother continued her climb over the fence and, without a word and without looking back, walked straight through the barnyard and up the hill into the house, leaving her husband standing there with only his foot in his mouth and stick in his hand, will forever be etched into the memories of her two sons.

And that, my friends, is what you call a mic drop that will live on in history…

What the cat knows…

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What the cat knows
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When we were growing up, we had a house cat.

I shouldn’t say “we,” really, because that cat was all my little sister’s, except that my big sister named her Belly, after one of her favorite mid-’90s girl grunge bands and I got the heroic ranch kid privilege of rescuing her as a tiny abandoned kitten from underneath my grandma’s deck while my 5-year-old sister clenched her small, nervous fists under her chin and waited for her turn to hold her.

And so the runty calico cat with the weird name came to be ours and stayed through the entirety of my little sister’s childhood. And she was a typical cat in all the ways cats are cats.

She did her own thing. She waited at the door to go out and then would immediately climb up the screen, tearing it to shreds and driving my mother crazy. In an effort to try to deter this habit, we were given permission to use our squirt guns in the house. But only on the cat clinging to the screen door, of course.

But Belly didn’t care. She knew how to get our attention. She knew how to get what she wanted. And what she wanted was to sleep in my little sister’s bed every night.

After she was tucked in, if my dad forgot to leave the door open a crack, the cat would sit out there pathetically whining until the little kid version of my sister, with her wild hair, leaky eyes and big heart, would let her in. Every night for 13 years until my sister left home and left that cat behind.

Belly didn’t live a year without my sister in the house. My little sister was her person. And in a different life I’d be the type of skeptic that doesn’t believe in those sorts of bonds, except I watched that cat come and get my little sister before she gave birth to both sets of her kittens in that house that raised us all, which is an uncommon behavior for any animal, especially an independent cat.

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I’ve seen it with my dad and his horses, too. And I’ve had it with my old dog Hondo, who always slept on the floor on my side of the bed, even though he was technically my husband’s hunting lab. My mom has a cat now that will only sit on her lap — that is until the few times a year my uncle from Texas arrives, and then that cat’s all his. It’s as if she’s saying, “Oh, there you are. I’ve been waiting for you.”

Yes, I think we choose them, and then they choose us, because maybe they just know better.

Last week I brought my two young daughters to Dickinson, N.D., to sign the paperwork to adopt a big, orange house cat from an animal rescue. As I write, I’m not sure why I felt compelled to do such a crazy thing. Maybe it was that heroic ranch kid rescue gene in me, but the last thing I need is another wild creature in these walls.

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And Lord knows there are plenty of cats for giveaway out here in rural North Dakota, except I saw him in a photo all curled up in that cage and I made a decision. Oh, I used the “we need a mouser” excuse on my husband, but this big orange cat is clearly a lover, not a fighter and my husband knows it.

Time will tell us what this cat knows.

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