Like her.

Mom copy

Coming Home: We gain more than just our looks from our mothers

by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

In my life, there haven’t been many times someone’s told me that I look like my mother. I’m thinking about that now as I look at my head bobbing, harmonica playing, blonde haired, blue-eyed daughter and think, well, she doesn’t look like she belongs to me.

Yesterday I watched her balance her baby doll on her shoulder while typing on her pretend computer and it was a reminder of how quickly they start to learn from us.

My graceful ballerina mother who once put salsa on her lefse and didn’t know much about horses or guitars.

Mom

How self absorbed we become when we’re trying to figure out who we are. I look back on it now and want to take the teenage version of myself aside to tell her, “Girl, the things you don’t understand about your mother are the very qualities that will get you through the toughest parts of being a woman in this world.”

Like the part when you become a mother yourself.

The Veeder Girls

I understand it now. That persistent worry tucked behind my mother’s eyes, the thing that keeps her checking the weather and checking in on us, I get it. And there’s a million little pieces of her that surface in me each day, things like collecting too many black bananas in the fridge for a rainy day baking project, obsessing about the right outfit for the job, or, in the event of surprise company, serving almost anything in a fancy bowl or on a platter to help it pass as an appetizer. Because you should always offer an appetizer.

But it’s more than the life applications that sunk in. My mother’s flexibility, self-awareness and good humor about fitting in and raising daughters in a world that was so much different than the world she knew is something I appreciate more now than ever. It took until I had Edie to finally ask her what it was like to uproot her life in Grand Forks to come out here to live in an isolated part of the country in a little house with two young kids and a party line. After barely surviving a lonely winter as a new mom myself, I suddenly became so aware of how isolated she must have felt.

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And she was. But she felt it was the best thing for her kids and so she went about figuring out how she fit without sacrificing the best parts of herself — her preference for salsa on lefse and all.

And I might not have green eyes or her nose, I’ve may not take her advice on always matching my bra with my underwear or making my bed, but I have her slush burger recipe and I have her as an example of how to live with a heart wide open. And I only hope I can do the same for my daughter.

Edie and Mommy

Some secrets should be kept secret…

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Coming Home: In marriage, some secrets should be kept secret
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

“Oh, by the way,” he said as he pulled on his pajamas pants and emerged from the closet. “There was a bat in the bedroom while you were gone.”

I sat straight up in bed, groaned a long “Noooo!” and clamped my hands to my mouth as I flashed back to the days of living in the old farmhouse and the traumatizing experience of discovering a really (like really) large family of bats hibernating in the space between the door and the screen we never used.

These things you never get over, no matter how rustic you think you are.

And, just to be certain we were both up to speed on all our bat incidents, my husband took the next moment to compare the most current bat situation to a similar episode in our past. Because there’s more than one.

“Remember when we had that bat in the bedroom in the old house?”

“Who could forget.”

“And we were laying there and it just flew in out of nowhere, through the fan blades and then all over the house.”

“Thanks for the reminder. I wasn’t planning on sleeping tonight anyway.”

“Yeah, well it was like that only it was in this closet. It flew out, right at me,” he explained as he reenacted the event, arms waving, voice rising, my stoic husband suddenly becoming animated at the memory. “So I quick got out of the room, closed the door and ran downstairs to get reinforcements.”

I don’t want to know what the reinforcements were. I don’t want to know how he got rid of it or why, for some reason, the racquetball racquet that had been tucked away in the cobweb filled corners of our storage space long enough for it to become a sports-shaped fossil was now mysteriously laying next to my husband’s boot collection. I just want to imagine the bat was a figment of some sort of sleep-walking dream so I can continue to feel civilized in the new house that my husband was supposed to promise to make bat proof.

“How did it get in here?!” I whined as I scanned every corner of the room looking for an answer. I pulled the covers up over my mouth and waited for him to reassure me that it was indeed a dream or, at the very least, an isolated incident.

But that’s not how my life tends to go out here.

“I don’t know. It could have come up through the vents from the basement or something.”

“The BASEMENT!” Do we have bats in the BASEMENT?!”

“I don’t know….”

I stared at him, wide eyed in silence from behind my cover shield, willing him to give me a better answer.

He blinked.

I didn’t.

“Yeah. It occurs to me now that maybe I shouldn’t have told you. My dad suggested I don’t tell you… but you know, I want you to be on the lookout.”

How thoughtful.

 

Unexpected Sacred Spaces

There’s a long hallway in a hospital in the big town that stretches above and across an intersection, connecting two parts of the building with plain beige carpet and tall windows that let the light in from the street.

All day, every day, nurses, doctors and employees rolling carts of covered chicken and Jello to be delivered to patients who may not want to eat but have to eat, walk these hallways as part of their minute by minute routine, wearing their shoes and the carpet a little thinner with each step. To those employees, the hallways of their hospital become a part of the fabric of their day, a relationship that may or may not be complicated. I don’t know for sure. I’ve never worked in a field where my job is to physically care for a person or to use my training to open up a body and save a life, so I can’t speak for them. I don’t know what goes on in the hallways of a hospital from their perspective.

But I do know from the perspective of a daughter who watched her dad come back slowly from the brink of death after an emergency flight and an open chest bypass surgery for a condition with devastating odds three years ago in that hallway that stretches across and above the street of the big town

And I don’t think about it often anymore, because when it turns out the way you want it to turn out, you get that luxury, but I’m thinking about it today because last week we found ourselves there again, the whole family, sitting in the very same waiting room where we would sit with dad for a change of scenery during that weeklong hospital stay.

Only this time he was the healthy one, visiting a family member who hit a little rough patch, offering to get food and magazines and trying to help me wrangle a wiggly one-year-old who found it hilarious to take off running and giggling toward patients’ rooms.

“Let me take her on a walk Jess,” he said as he grabbed her hand and headed for the hallway with the windows….

In those late nights sitting with dad I remember making plans for the barnyard and the corrals, the cows we would buy and what we would do that summer to move us forward. And a few times during our stay in the big town, I walked down the block in the freezing cold wind to talk to my doctor about infertility treatments, to do tests and try to figure out if we were ever going to have a baby.

I got up from the waiting room chair to check on the squeals coming from that long hallway where we would take turns strolling with dad as his surgery wounds healed and my breath sort of caught at the sight of it—a man we weren’t sure was going to live walking hand in hand with a baby we never thought would be born.

And, just like that, a hallway in a hospital in the big town with plain beige carpet and tall windows turned sacred.

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How a dog’s life measures time…

Hondo
How a dog’s life measu
res time
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

The first year my husband and I got married, we lived in the little house in the barnyard where my dad was raised, unloading all the earthly possessions a pair of 23-year-olds can acquire in the short and broke spans of our adult lives — hand-me-down lamps and quesadilla makers. By the time we emptied our car and unwrapped our presents there was barely any room left for walking.

And so I did what any responsible 20-something newlywed with an uncertain future would do: I got my husband a puppy for his 24th birthday.

Dog in the stock tank

It’s been more than 10 years since I chose him from the swarm of his wiggly brothers and sisters. I picked him up and he melted in my arms the way kind creatures often do.

And then the woman warned me.

“Big dog, more poop to clean up. That’s what I always say,” she declared.

And she was right. He is big. His paws make tracks like a wolf in the mud and his tail clears a coffee table with one sweep while he runs to the door enthusiastically to welcome guests, sometimes with an accidental and oblivious swat to the groin.

And while he spends most of his time outside these days, grunting while he rolls around scratching his back on the lawn before picking up the giant stick I swear he’s saved for five years, when he does come inside, he still wonders why he can’t sit on the couch with me.

Me and the dog in the grass

Because in his mind he is fluff, weightless and wishing to fit in the palm of a hand all the while working to squeeze his body between the small nooks of this house, taking up the limited space available for walking.

But what he is in cumbersome, he’s always made up for in manners, polite and happy to move out of the way when prompted, not recognizing that perhaps he may indeed be fluff after all … and the rest of his 110 pounds is taken up by his heart.

But 10 years weighs heavy on a dog. White hair has appeared around his snout and his eyes droop a bit. His winter fur is slower to shed. Tonight we’ll go for a walk and he’ll hang by me instead of running ahead to kick up pheasants. If I have to take him in the pickup these days, I have to hoist him, heave-ho style, all 110 pounds.

I hoped our babies might grow up with him, but it all took too long and he’s beat them to the growing thing. I didn’t know when I made him part of our lives how those big paws would track time. I hope we have him around for many more years, but I didn’t know when I chose him, when we were so young, how fast a dog’s life goes…

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Spring: From the experts

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Signs of spring come earlier for the experts
by Jessie Veeder
4-9-17
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

The first calf of the year was born on the Veeder Ranch last week. That afternoon I went out on a walk to clear my head and to climb to the top of a hill to see if there were any mommas off alone on a hillside or in the trees, a pretty sure sign of some birth action.

But I didn’t see a thing.

Spring Thaw

But I struck out again.

Yes, to me the world was still brown with a few splashes of white snow in the deep coulees and, except for the dang hornets that have magically come to life to bang against the windows of my house, no sign of new life quite yet.

I strolled home with the dogs sniffing out the path in front of me, on their own mission for signs of spring, kicked off my shoes and went inside.

That evening my husband and I loaded Edie up in the pickup to go feed the cows, and just as we were pulling out of driveway, I got a text from dad.

“Got our first calf today,” it said.

First Calf

“Of course we did,” I said out loud to myself, wondering when the heck I will develop the sixth sense and laser beam eyes Dad has for things like this. We met him down the road a ways and Edie helped him unroll a bale by pulling out handfuls of hay and picking a nice strand to chew on herself.

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We drove over to take a look at the new baby who was standing on wobbly legs, fresh, slick and black as a bean. When my husband came back with the tagger (because we never have what we need when we need it), all four of us lingered out there in the warm spring air, leaning against the pickup doors and letting Edie work the windshield wipers, radio knob, steering wheel and headlights of the parked pickup, certain she was accomplishing the most important task on the place that day.

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After a half hour of solving life’s problems, we all went home for supper.

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The next day while I was in town for a meeting, I got another text from Dad.

“Found them first!” it said, with a blurry photo of a bunch of crocuses attached.

Apparently he also knew we were in an unspoken contest.

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I put my hands on my hips and huffed.

“Of course you did,” I texted back, thinking if it couldn’t be me, at least someone found the first promises of spring.

Thinking how different the world can look behind another set of eyes.

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And so with the first calf, the first crocus, the frogs croaking in the dam and the birds flying home and the appearance of Edie’s garden hat, I think it’s safe to say spring is here.

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Oh, thank goodness, spring is here.

Stick Shift…Shit

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Why I blame my dad for my stick shift struggles
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

I have a confession to make.

In the years I spent growing up out here on the ranch as well as those being all grown up here on the ranch, I have never properly learned to drive a stick shift.

Oh, I can make it work. I can get from Point A to Point B if Point A is the house and Point B is the barnyard over the hill, the hay yard, or my parent’s house a mile down the gravel road, but that’s where my gear-finding, clutch-pushing confidence ends.

I know, I know. It’s embarrassing. Some things are just expected of you living out here among cows and barbed-wire fences. But I have a handicap.

And I could say I have no one to blame but myself, because I’m ultimately responsible for taking the initiative to master something I need to know, but forget it.

I blame my dad.

I blame my dad and all the old, impossible, gear sticky, seat-stuck-too-far-back, ancient and impossible pickups he enlisted to teach me to drive back in the day.

I mean, how’s a girl to grab a chance at finding the right gear when the gear indicator knob long ago popped off and rolled around on the floorboards before meeting its ultimate fate in some brush patch Dad was fencing one day in 1995?

Am I in reverse? The only way to find out is to release the clutch and hope I don’t kill it before rolling backwards while simultaneously hoping I’m not in first because there’s not much room for error in the 10 inches between the front of the pickup and the shop.

And that wasn’t the worst of it. There was one pickup he tried to teach me on that you literally had to push down a hill like a Flinstones car to get started. And once it turned over, well, you had to keep it gassed for fear of starting the whole ritual over again.

God forbid it quit at the bottom of a coulee somewhere.

Some of the biggest fights I had with my dad happened behind the wheel of his old pickups where he more than one chose the “just leave her to sort it out” method, and frankly, my pubescent tears of frustration just didn’t allow for that sort of sorting it out.

That’s the flashback I had yesterday when I suggested my husband run me through the workings of the hydraulic bale spear so I can feed cows on my own. I had left chicken baking in the oven, and we brought along the wiggly toddler who wants nothing more than for me to just scooch on out of there and let her take over.

Needless to say, I had a few distractions to blame for me killing it 37 times between my attempts at picking up and rolling the bales out.

But we were in Dad’s pickup, the one with the sticky gears, missing gear knob and seat that doesn’t move forward, so I blame him.

I will always blame him.

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The beasts, in their final resting place. RIP…RIP…

The Coming Home Tour

Jessie Veeder Book Cover copy

Happy Friday everyone!

Today I’m sitting in a cute little coffeeshop on Main Street Bismarck where they serve, among many other delicious things, homemade scones, fresh fruit granola and yogurt cups and lattes with a heart on top.

Coffee

I tell you, I don’t get that kind of fancy at home at the ranch working from the kitchen counter while the baby throws grapes from her high chair to floor.

But I’m here because things are starting to heat up regarding this book release. This morning my friend John and I played on the local morning show and I got to talk a bit about Coming Home, which is a collection of some of my favorite stories, recipes, poetry and photography, coming out on April 6th.

So I’ve been a little quiet here lately because I’ve been working out the details on how I can get out and about and visit with you all (in North Dakota at least) on behalf this book, one my favorite things to do.

So I think I have a good start to the lineup for book readings and concerts. Hopefully I’ll see you out there. I guarantee a nice time filled with, conversation, music, laughs and just being together, in a common space, for the sole purpose of sharing stories.  That’s my favorite part about this whole crazy ride.

And if you can’t make it to one of the shows in your area, you can still pre-order the book here or on dakotabooknet.com I’ll even sign it for you because I love you.

Thank you for reading all these years. I hope you find this book is a nice way to relive the memories of the places and people you love out here on the prairie and beyond!

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Friday, April 21

Coming Home Concert-Fargo
Book reading, stories, concert and signing
6:30 PM-Meet and Greet and Signing
7:00 PM-Concert
8:30 PM-Meet and Greet and Signing
The Stage at Island Park
333 4th St. South
Fargo, ND
$7
All Ages
Cash Bar
Buy Tickets Online or at The Stage At Island Park

Saturday, April 22

Coming Home Concert-Grand Forks
1:00 PM
Book reading, stories, concert and signing
The Back Stage Project, Empire Arts Center
215 Demers Ave
Grand Forks, ND
$5
All Ages

Sunday, April 30

Coming Home Concert-Bismarck
2 PM
Book reading, stories, concert and signing
North Dakota Heritage Center
612 East Boulevard Ave
Bismarck, ND
Free Will Offering
All Ages

Friday, May 5

Coming Home Concert-New Rockford
Time TBA
Book reading, stories, concert and signing
Dakota Prairie Regional Center for the Arts
New Rockford, ND
More Information TBA
All Ages

Saturday, May 6

Coming Home Concert-Minot
Book reading, stories, concert and signing
6:30 Meet and Greet and Signing
7:00 Concert
Taube Museum of Art
2 North Main Street
Minot, ND
All Ages

Visit www.jessieveedermusic.com
for additions to the tour and my full performance schedule.

A special thank you to Forum Communications for making this project possible and for allowing me space every week in your newspapers to tell the story of my life in Western North Dakota. And thank you Kathy Leingang for ushering me so sweetly through the process of writing this thing!

Motherhood: Hold on tight while you let go

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“One. Two. Threeee!!!” She yelled before she launched herself from the top of one big round hay bale and over the mud filled gap to the next, landing safely on her knees before scrambling up to her feet to continue her race down the rest of the row of hay.

I stood holding Edie on my hip, both of us laughing as we watched her three cousins run and leap, making an obstacle course out of the hay yard, their blonde hair escaping from ponytails and flying up toward the blue sky in the wind.

I lifted Edie up over my head to sit her next to her cousin and take in the view, my hands held tight around her little waist to hold her steady for a few short moments before my baby girl promptly reached down, grabbed my fingers with a little whine and pushed me away from her, trying to convince me to let her go.

Apparently sixteen months of growing on this earth is long enough to be ready to leap across the tops of five-foot tall hay bales on her own. Now if only she could convince her momma.

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The stomp of six rubber boots kicked up the scent of summer dust trapped inside that feed pile combined with the squeals and chatter transported me to a time when I was as fearless and free, racing my cousin to the third tier of bales in the stack, declaring myself Queen of the World on top of her pyramid 20 feet in the air, with no regard for the scary consequences that could result from a slip.

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I couldn’t help but notice then the little twinges of worry that shot through my body as I watched those girls reach the top of their own pyramid. And then there was the push and pull I felt in my gut, the tug-of-war of wanting them to go higher, to see what the cows look like from up there, but willing them to be careful.

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Oh child, don’t you know what could happen!?

I guess that’s what motherhood is. Holding on tight as you’re letting go…

Edie reached her arms out towards me, and I helped her off the top of that bale and then walked her over to where her grandparents and daddy were watching by the road.

“C’mon,” I said to him as I ran back toward the hay yard, stripping off my jacket as I hoisted myself up to enter the race to see who could be the first to leap across 25.

“One. Two. Threeeee!!….”

Daddies on their way to work

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Coming Home: Daddies on their way to work
by Jessie Veeder
3-19-17
http://www.inforum.com

I unloaded my daughter and her backpack, and we left the car with the mechanic and sat down on the chairs in the lobby. It smelled like a combination of tire rubber and grease. The sun had warmed the snow enough to make it stick to the rubber soles of the muck boots everyone wears around here, leaving squeaky, muddy footprints to and from the door that dings when it opens…

We live in oil country. It’s been this way since my husband and I moved back to our home turf nearly six years ago. We used to call it a boom. The Wild Wild West. Men arriving from all corners of the country looking for high-paying jobs, some young and single and up for anything, others with families they left in Oklahoma or Arkansas, going back to visit every other two weeks, living in close quarters with other men in trailers, hotel rooms or apartments and sending money back home.

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Watford City, 2014

Add the heavy traffic flow, long lines at the post office and extravagant news stories about crime, safety and how you couldn’t find a woman in the mix with a magnifying glass, and that was the narrative out here.
It’s funny how fast a story can morph into history in a place like this.Funny what a half hour in a Jiffy Lube with a toddler can show you about your community.
I’m married to a man who works in an industry that sends him out into the elements every day to help fuel the world. Along with raising cattle on our ranch, this is his job.
He wears fire retardant jeans, a button-up shirt, a hooded jacket and a ball cap every day, the ultimate uniform of a majority of the working men in this part of the country.
In Edie’s eyes, in Jiffy Lube that day, every man that came through the door for an oil change that day was a daddy. And she was thrilled about it.
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So she hollered “Hi!!” loudly and repeatedly to each of them.Certain that none of them wanted to spend their wait having a conversation with a toddler, I tried to distract her with crackers and a story.”How old is she?” the man across the room asked.”Oh, she’s one,” I replied, reminded then that they’re likely also husbands.”Hhiii!” Edie waved.
“I remember that stage,” he said as Edie dropped down from her seat and did a little twirl on that dirty floor, and soon we were talking about his teenage daughter and her short-lived trombone career, his tech-savvy sons and the wife that moved his family here from the south to be with him.
Because when they talk about their families, history taught me to ask if they’re here together.”Yeah, they’re here,” he said. They’d been here for four years or so. They have a nice place in a new development south of town.”We like it here,” he said. “It feels like home.”
They called his name.
“Have a great day,” I said.”Byyeee,” said Edie.
As he went out, another young guy in the uniform came in. I got up to keep Edie from running down the hall and into the shop.
“How old is she?” He asked.
“I have a 1-year-old boy.”And the same narrative followed.
Our kids will likely be in the same grade, but probably not the same classroom, because there are so many young kids here now. More than a hundred in the current kindergarten class. I’m 33 years old, and I’m older than average in our once aging town, a statistic I was recently made aware of.
And now that I’m thinking of it, it’s pretty clear you no longer need a microscope to find the women here anymore.

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Photo in my mom’s coffeeshop on Main Street. On Saturday, the PTO organized a “Princess” event in honor of the opening of Beauty and the Beast. Countless mommas and princesses attended. It was overwhelming and still surprises a woman like me who grew up in this town when it was 1,200 people with no movie theater. 

It seems we’re invested now, building the new swim team, organizing an arts council, building a new hospital, working alongside all those men they talk about, setting up businesses and young professional organizations. Building a community that will help raise our families.

Taking our toddlers to make friends in Jiffy Lube in a town that went boom and then settled itself quietly, like the dust kicked up behind pickups driven by daddies on their way to work
Main Street, Watford City

Watford City, 2016. Photo by Chad Ziemendorf 

 

A goat and a Lincoln

A Goat and a Lincoln: When Childhood Memories Turn Whimsical
3-12-17
by Jessie Veeder
http://www.inforum.com

Some days, when I feel like life hasn’t thrown me an adventure worthy enough of reflection, I like to dig back in the archives for a memory to recount, the way you do when you find yourself sitting around the table having a beer with old friends.

We all have our favorite go-to stories in times like these, the kind that work in mixed company, just off-kilter enough to reveal something about you to new friends while reminding old ones you were a younger girl and you once drove 30 miles in the car you borrowed from your best friend’s dad, to pick up a goat.

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That’s the story I’m thinking of today.

It’s funny how far your own memories can detach from you, making you a character in the plot line of a life you once led. Everyone seems to remind me of the “hold on tight to these memories” refrain now that I’m a mom, but I should have been warned more when I was kid to hold on to the part of my life where I was 14 and reckless and my best friend was beside me in her dad’s nineteen-seventy-something Lincoln. We were driving on the highway alone for the first time in our lives, feeling grown up and capable, with a late spring rain hitting the windshield, turning the scoria roads bright pink against a neon-green landscape …

Road Home

We used to listen to our dads swap stories around the kitchen table when we were children playing make believe in the other room. We would hear them talk about old times — cars with no seat belts, dirt bike ramps and no helmets, horses that bucked too hard — and I wondered if one day my childhood stories might sound as whimsical to my kids.

I didn’t have much real experience driving outside the prairie trails and back roads of the ranch. But my friend and I were getting ready for our first year in high school rodeo, and we thought we needed to get ourselves a goat to practice tying.

Now, I’m not sure what our parents were busy with that day, or why on earth they at least didn’t send us with one of the ranch pickups to take the 30-mile drive in the rain alone to buy a goat from the neighbor’s farm, but that’s the way it happened.

We were an innocent enough pair as far as young teenagers go, and I was born with enough old woman running through my veins that my parents were pretty confident I wouldn’t dare hit any speed higher than 55 … and anyway, the Lincoln couldn’t go much faster.

But, oh how quickly that old lady was driven out of my 14-year-old veins when the open road was before me and my best friend was beside me, and there was hardly another car on the road. My confidence was building with every mile and every mile-per-hour I got closer to the speed limit, until I turned off the highway and onto the church road and decided to really gas it to get a good splash out of that puddle.

That Lincoln jerked hard to the right, fishtailing on the gravel before ramping off the shoulder of the road then sliding down the slope of the ditch and coming to rest at the front of the deep mud trench it buried itself in next to a freshly planted field.

The world outside that old car evaporated as my friend and I stared silently and straight ahead for the moment we needed to evaluate if we were still alive.

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Once we found our breath, we found each other, sucked back a few tears, and then, eventually, found the spare tire in the trunk, just in time for one of the neighborhood grandpas to find us.

What a sight we must have been there — two soggy, pathetic kids standing in the rain and in the agonizing moments between freedom and a lesson.

But maybe not as much of a spectacle we must have been when we finally headed back home, slow and steady down the highway, wild and young and free, just two best friends and our goat standing on the backseat, popping his head up between us.

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