Sunday Column: A Very Ranchy Easter

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And now for a recap of Easter/Edie’s Baptism weekend where everything went as planned, including the part where our deep freeze went out on Saturday night with a house full of company, forcing my husband, dad and father-in-law to unload a chest freezer full of hamburger, frozen pizzas and elk meat into every other available frozen space on the ranch at 11 pm…

Because it’s not a holiday around here until we experience a few mild crises.

Did I ever tell you about the time my mom lit a kitchen towel on fire while hosting my friends for a Junior prom supper?

No? Well, we’ll talk about that another time…

Coming Home: Easter weekend at the ranch a thing of beauty, in spite of the wrinkles
by Jessie Veeder
4-3-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

We had a beautiful Easter weekend at the ranch. The family on both sides gathered to celebrate baby Edie’s baptism. We all dressed in our Sunday best and even got out the door early enough to get the church pews of our choice.

 

And despite my worries, the baby’s chubby arms fit into her 100-year-old heirloom baptism gown and she only sorta cried in church, but only after the pastor tried to give her back to me, which really looked good in front of Jesus and the congregation. That’s why we rehearsed it.

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I’m feeling so good about it all I decided to leave out the part where I nearly divorced my husband in front of that same Jesus and congregation when, during the church welcome, the baby started squirming and he informed me that he remembered to pack the milk, but failed to pack the bottle.

Apparently I declared, “That bottle was going to get us through this!” loudly and angrily enough that my sister-in-law two pews behind us started to worry for our family status. But all I could think of at the time was the dress I flung on in my frenzied attempt to get out the door in time wasn’t made for a woman with my, er, baby-feeding lifestyle. Which meant, during communion, you could find me sitting on a folding chair in the bathroom with that dress hiked up to my neck feeding my squirmy baby, desperately trying not to soil or rip that heirloom gown. Because we still needed to get pictures.

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Back at the ranch, we all gathered together, looking forward to cake and homemade kuchen, ham, beans and two types of cheesy potatoes. The weather was beautiful, we were going to dye eggs and snuggle the baby.

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But first, the annual Easter egg hunt.

Crap. In my distracted attempt to make the house presentable by eradicating the dust bunnies and dead spring flies on the windowsills, I forgot about the Easter egg hunt.

Which means I didn’t notice that the Christmas tree was still sitting on the deck, one lonesome red bulb left dangling from a bottom branch. We went out to take a family photo and my husband, suddenly inspired to do some spring cleaning, removed it from the stand and flung it off the deck and onto the lawn where piles of horse poop and a fine assortment of sticks and bones that the dogs have been collecting all winter waited.

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My yard, still a nice shade of early spring brown, looked like the before photo from one of those yard renovation shows on HGTV, only worse because I doubt anyone would dare send in a photo of a pink Easter egg hiding underneath an old deer leg the dogs drug up from the coulee.

And only in my world, on this ranch, would my brother-in-law/Easter Bunny find it hilarious to hide an egg in the middle of one of those piles of road apples.

And only in my family would the kids be completely unfazed by picking up their plastic, candy-filled egg from a pile of poop.

And only in my column will you read about so much poop.

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Needless to say I was horrified, but no one was surprised. I might have forgotten to landscape for the big day (and by landscaping I mean throwing all those bones, sticks and shovels full of poop over the fence and into the trees where they belong), but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. In two hours, those dogs would have located their loot and brought it all home again.

There are just some things out here that aren’t worth trying to control.

Because in the mess there are moments. Moments after the perfect ham is carved, the cake cut, the dishes piled up and our bellies filled where the chaos sounds like laughter, feels like a baby strapped to the carrier on my chest and looks like fun and freedom and love attached to aunts and uncles, grammas and grampas on the end of kites running up the road trying to catch the wind.

And when you’re looking at something like that, the wrinkles, the forgotten things, the mud and the road apples just blend right in to create a beautiful weekend at the ranch.

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Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.40.53 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.41.04 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.41.25 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.41.37 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.41.45 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.41.54 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.42.01 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.42.10 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.42.16 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.42.42 PMIMG_9605IMG_9597*Some photos stolen from Little Sister’s camera 🙂

Sunday Column: On Easter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A resurrection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We turn into the Easter Bunny…

And all old things are new again…

On Easter.

Coming Home: Childhood Easter egg hunts helped us find more than candy
by Jessie Veeder
4-20-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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A Country Church Christmas

It’s the morning after Christmas and from the comfort of my bed where I have decided to remain watching “Julie and Julia” and drinking coffee out of my favorite snowman cup, I can see (and hear) my dearly beloved practicing the D chord on the new “used” guitar I collaborated and schemed and finagled to buy him this Christmas.

And I am gathering he liked the surprise, because the first thing he said to me this morning as I rolled over and let him know that I am not getting up any time soon is:

“Good morning. Good to see you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go learn to play guitar today.”

So he’s working on it. And the thing about husband is, he probably will learn how to play guitar today. I have been practicing and playing guitar since I was twelve years old and husband will more than likely swoop in with a mission and learn to play “Stairway to Heaven” in a couple weeks.

Better than me.

Because I can’t play “Stairway to Heaven.”

Husband is good at everything.

Which drives me crazy, but comes in handy mostly.

Anyway, here I am this Sunday morning surrounded by unwrapped gifts and ribbon and leftovers and dishes, still under the covers in my little cabin in the North Dakota hills listening to husband take his first steps on the way to rock star status and I am thinking, this movie and coffee and private concert in bed in the morning should become an after Christmas tradition.

And I think I can arrange that.

Because I have had some practice at maintaining traditions this Christmas season, and, if I do say so myself, we did it proud this year.

As you know this little house has been around. My grandpa built it and my dad and his family have celebrated many Christmases between the walls. When I was growing up, my cousins and aunts and uncles gathered around the Christmas tree in our “Beef, it’s What’s for Dinner” sweatshirts (our gramma was a member of the Cattlewomen Association and felt her grandchildren should advertise the cause) and performed carols and put on plays on Christmas Eve and then dressed in our best and headed out to the little country church down the road for the candlelight service.

Evidence, I must always provide evidence. That's me on the right being held against my will by my oldest cousin. My sister and my other cousin to the left of me, thrilled about our matching outfits.

And as we grew a little older and time took people away and changed our world like it often does, the tradition of Christmas Eve spent in this house for my family continued.  After my grandmother died, my other grandparents from eastern North Dakota would move in for the season to ring in the holiday at the ranch. And they brought with them their own tradition of pancakes and gifts before church.

It was always cozy. It was always magical. It was always sweet and syrupy with the smell of cedar and cinnamon candles and hot coffee.

And there was always a trip through the starry, crisp and sparkling landscape to our little country church.

So that is how husband and I hosted Christmas Eve this year. With blueberry waffles and bacon and my homemade chokecherry jelly and gifts and laughter and photos by the Christmas tree (sans beef shirts.)

Me, cookn' the bacon. Yeah, sometimes I chip in with the parts of the meal that don't involve mixed drinks and wine.

Then we left it all to be cleaned up later as we piled in the car and let our headlights cut through the foggy, frosty night and take us the 35 miles to the little white church on the hill that was waiting for us with lights on.

Our drive to church wasn’t always this long. See, we used to attend services only five miles north of our home in a tiny little country church in the middle of a field called “Faith Lutheran.” This is where my sisters and I, along with the neighborhood farm kids within a 25-mile radius, took Sunday school lessons from my pops. And during the Christmas season, pops would put together a list of hymns that he knew and could realistically be played on the guitar and we would sing “Go tell it on the mountain,” “Away in the manger,” and “Winds through the olive trees,” loud and angelically in our red and green sweaters, hair combed and hands at our sides.

Then, in the grand finale, we would light each other’s candles and hold them steady, peacefully, prayerfully, as we sang “Silent Night,” to sweet baby Jesus on the eve of his birth.

And I like to imagine the crowd of eight families who filled that tiny church wall to wall had tears in their eyes at the beauty and innocence of it all…

But, sadly, the voices of little ones will no longer fill the Christmas Eve air out on the prairie where our little Faith Lutheran church stands. Because, without sounding too dramatic, the changing landscape of rural America has finally made its way to our little corner of the world as many young families choose to make their homes in town and family farms are left to be worked on the weekends.  The population of the congregation of that tiny church has dwindled and tapered off to the point of no return and Faith Lutheran, home to my first Christmas song solo, closed its doors for good this summer.

Leaving behind only one country church in our community, about 35 miles north of our ranch. First Lutheran Church, the last of its kind, still stands proud and tall on the rolling landscape, surrounded by wheat fields and oil wells and farmyards and cattle, and continues to welcome the family members of those who founded the place of worship, those who dug its foundation and built its steeple.

And I am one of those relatives, because, as pops reminds us each time we pull onto the gravel road that leads to its door, he helped build that steeple–the one that reaches toward the heavens…you know way up there, almost to the clouds. Yup, he did that, all the while overcoming his horrifying feelings toward heights.

Yup, pops helped build that steeple. So under that steeple we walked through the doors on Christmas Eve, hand in hand, side by side with those we love.

And we hugged neighbors and classmates we haven’t seen for years. We straightened out our holiday scarves and smoothed our dresses and talked about new babies and Christmas dinners and as the pastor stood before us, our chatter silenced and Christmas Eve candlelight service began.

And it opened with gusto as a neighborhood boy played “Good King Wenceslas” on his saxophone, cheeks rosy, shirt pressed and tucked into his blue Wranglers and belt buckle. I admit I might have welled up a bit as I remembered our humble Christmas concerts with guitar accompanist and wondered where all the children have gone.

And noticed that this church with the steeple wasn’t bursting at the seams with families squished in pews, sharing hymnals.

But that didn’t stop their voices, no matter the number, from filling the air with the music I remembered singing shoulder to shoulder with the kids who shared my landscape, called the little church out on the prairie theirs and grew and learned under the same remote sky.

So I sang the melody to  “Oh little town of Bethlehem,” as my pops’ voice sang the base. I listened to the greeting and looked down the pew to my little sister as she sang from memory “Go tell it on the mountain.” I smiled at the little neighbor kid, who wasn’t so little anymore and we sang together “Away in the manger,” just like we used to.

And then the sermon, the offering, the prayer and, with the lights turned low, in a chain reaction, we lit one another’s candles and sang over our flickering lights “Silent Night.”

And there was that magic again.

There it was. I have felt the same way every Christmas Eve since I could first form a memory.

My voice a little stronger, a little louder, my father’s voice a little more weathered, my little sister a bit taller, my momma a grandmother now.

But there we all stood, side by side, under that steeple, remembering our little church, thankful for this one, thankful for family, thankful for our place in this world.

Thankful for a tradition, that, no matter the time, the roof or the steeple we worship under, the family that had to leave us, or the friends and babies we welcome with open arms, we keep.

We keep and celebrate…

…and remember.

And maybe someday soon, husband will be performing his own rendition of “Joy to the World,” at church on Christmas Eve.

I am sure of it.