Dear Daughters…

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Dear Daughters
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Dear Daughters,

I want to tell you about all the summers the two of you stripped down naked in the backyard and ran with arms wide open into the sun and through the freezing, glistening splash of the garden hose, your small, soft bodies reflecting the sky and the innocence of a moment that will inevitably get stripped away with the years.

I want to remind you of the time that no voice of reason could stop you from taking a running leap toward that puddle of mud that always pools up in front of our driveway after a spring thaw or a summer rain. Not that I ever really wanted to stop you. Because what’s a little mud in the beginning of the story of a life that could take you anywhere, send you right back where you landed or find you fighting every day to be brave, to do the right thing, to reconcile mistakes or to let go?

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You don’t know what any of this means yet. You are too fresh to this world. That’s why I’m writing to you. Because I want you to know there was a time that you felt safe enough, loved enough, free enough, happy enough and beautiful enough to strip down and squeal at the sky. And while you ran naked and free in our backyard, the world was standing up to yell “enough enough enough!”

That’s what happens when you have a voice, dear daughters. You can sing, you can coo and whisper. You can tell stories out loud to yourself in the dark of your room about unicorns with sparkling tails to help you fight the worry of the monsters in your closet. And you can comfort your friends with that voice. You can whine and complain. You can ask a thousand questions. A million. And you can answer them.

You can shush shush shush a baby, or a skittish pony, or your sister who won’t leave you alone. And you can yell. Yes, you can yell.

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But first. First. First, you need to listen.

Because yes, you have a voice. But you also have ears, dear daughters. And let me be clear here. You don’t get to use one without the other.

Dear daughters, you were born with blue eyes and blond hair and the dirt of this earth under your fingernails, the wind in your lungs, the grass bent under your feet and the stories of your blessings and your struggles, they will be forever in your mouth.

And make no mistake, your story is precious. But it is not more precious than your neighbor’s.

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And as much as you want to tell yours, so that you can be seen, so that you can be loved or understood or helpful or praised or protected or trusted, please remember, please always know, your neighbor wants the same.

Dear daughters, right now you are little and wiggly and hungry and wild and innocent, and no reasonable voice can stop you from jumping in those puddles. But I am your mother and it is my job to love you and teach you and today, even though you’re too young to understand it, I need to tell you, I have to tell you, that the best, most useful gift you can give to your neighbor, to the world, is an open heart.

Even when it’s heavy. Or broken. Or tired. Or angry. Or confused. Or hurt beyond repair…

And so, dear daughters, today I’m going to plant the garden. Some people will tell me it’s too late in the season, but I won’t believe them. Because I’ve always had hope, even in times I had to dig to the dark, damp, chilled places on this earth, I find it.

Because even if it’s too late for the pumpkins or the watermelon, I know I can grow a peapod. And won’t it taste sweet on a hot July day when you run out naked into the backyard, arms stretched out to the sun!

Dear daughters, I love you. Now go love others.

From the bottom of my heart,

Your Mom

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Do what we can do

Do what we can do
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Last week, I sat down and recorded myself singing. It was sort of chilly, but warming up the way early spring mornings do. And I wanted to be outside.

I wanted the recording to pick up the sound of the wind and the geese flying in overhead. I wanted to show the trees and sky behind me, and the sun I was squinting into. It wasn’t the most professional or produced, but it was a moment I felt I needed to take to do something in the face of the circumstances that are out of our control.

So I did one thing I knew I cold do — I sang familiar songs and hymns and talked into the camera about the crocuses blooming and the calves being born, my way of sending a little mini-concert and a piece of spring to the residents at nursing homes in our communities who can’t go out and can’t receive visitors.

This weekend at the Good Shepherd Home in town, they were supposed to be having a prom, complete with dresses, a fancy meal and a live band. Instead, they are playing tic-tac-toe on the window with their relatives and friends who sit on the other side, close enough to touch, but still so far away. What a heartbreakingly backward scenario our elderly find themselves in, the people they love most staying away to keep them safe.

It feels especially tragic when you know the positive effects that human interaction has on their physical and mental well-being. It’s the same for humans of all ages. We were made to be social. Made to be part of a village, made to take care of one another, to touch and hold and to laugh and cry together in the same spaces.

What an impossible situation to find ourselves in, going out in the world with the notion that every other person we see is a threat to our health. And yet, for now, this is our reality. To help one another. To keep one another safe.

On Feb. 4, 1920, The McKenzie County Farmer reported, “The McKenzie County Board of Health on account of a number of cases of influenza in the county deem it advisable to close all churches, lodges, theatres and public gatherings for a period of two weeks, or until further notice.”

100 years ago, in a time before video chat, Amazon Prime, grocery and food delivery, the county was asked to stay home, too. But 100 years ago, people weren’t as accustomed to instant gratification and 24/7 news and information streaming into their homes and in the palm of their hands.

It makes me wonder how the fear and uncertainty, isolation and loneliness compare. Those stories are held now only in journals, letters, newspaper clippings and the memories passed down in conversations with the people who raised us.

So much of the perspective we need right now can be found in the past. Because in the middle of it all, it’s the good memories that sustain us, and the new, good memories made that help push us on into another day.

And so I sang for them, because music can help transport us. And my friend, she brought her horses into town for a nursing home visit, because the smell and touch of something so familiar does the same.

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And we arranged for an artist to come to paint on the other side of their windows and ask them questions about who they are and what they love as they watched their story come to life in a picture.

 

And in a time where we feel helpless, doing what we can do, whether it’s singing or sewing or cooking or making a phone call or simply playing tic-tac-toe on a friend’s window, can help lift us all up in these uncertain times and remind us that, even when we’re apart, we exist for one another.

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*Bismarck based artist Melissa Gordon was hired by our local arts Foundation through an Art for Life Grant offered by the North Dakota Council on the Arts. 

Gather around the community table

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Gather around the community table
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Greetings from a cafe in Valley City, N.D., where I’m waiting on my meal and drinking a glass of wine in a booth by myself at the end of a day — literally — singing for this supper.

Dining alone. That’s been the deal in my life since I started traveling and performing up and down the Midwest 17 years ago.

In a career like mine, performing and presenting in different towns often hundreds of miles away from my home in the middle of nowhere, besides the performing, the dining has become one of my favorite parts of the gig. Partly because I’ve created for myself the ultimate reason I don’t have to cook.

But mostly these days, when it’s so easy to take it on the go or order in, sometimes a girl just wants to sit down in front of a steak and learn a little bit about the town she’s in. Because you get to know a lot about a place from the food they’re serving. And how and where they’re serving it. And what they’re talking about over their hot hamburger or roast beef or #2 Sunny Side Up with a side of bacon and pancakes.

Yeah, you guessed it, I prefer cafes. Everywhere I go, big city or small town, I try to find one.

And I would say I don’t know why except I do know why. Because I pop into the right cafe in any town and I’m a little kid again, sitting next to my grandma Edie in the Chuckwagon Cafe on Main Street among my Great-Uncle Paul in a feedstore cap and his friends taking a break, ordering lunch, then ordering pie and then another cup of coffee because there’s another story to tell…

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Spending their time. Spending the time. To gather around food, it’s an instinct of ours. It’s the watering hole where we go to feel connected over the shared necessity of nutrients.

Because “Everybody’s gotta eat!” If you’re from the Midwest, you’ve likely heard this phrase from your aunt or your mother-in-law or your grill-master cousin when you stop by to drop something off and they insist you stay for supper. Or at least a slice of cake. Or a Ziploc of cookies to go.

If I’ve learned anything from my upbringing, it’s that you could build the biggest house in the world, but the world will always want to gather in your kitchen. It’s the reason my grandma Edie was known to forget her Jell-O salad in the fridge until the end of the Christmas meal. Because we were distracting her, we were all in the way, she was sweating, but we were loving it.

And that’s why these restaurants and cafes, the coffee shops and bakeries, are the heartbeat of our communities, because they hold within them an energy we only get when we have a place to be together to talk about cattle prices and politics and new babies and inside jokes and how we would do it if we were in charge.

And even when I’m sitting solo in a four-person booth between the walls and among the wait staff that has heard it all, 300 miles away from home, keeping to myself, I feel more present and more myself in places like these with my #2 Sunny Side Up with a side of bacon and a real big slice of life.

A Cafe Somewhere in Montana...

Community runs on heartbeats

8. Great Grandma Gudrun and Great Grandpa Severin Linseth and their 12 children Edith Linseth Veeder is center in the plaidCommunity runs on heartbeats

Some days, I imagine my great-grandmother Gudrun at 17 years old, standing with her hands on her hips, 1,000 miles from everything familiar to her, looking around the place, the wind whipping her dark hair and long dress, wondering how she wound up so far away from the fjords of Norway.

Wondering how she was going to do it. Wondering what might come next.

And then I imagine her taking a big breath, letting it out quickly, and getting to work.

In her nearly 100 years of living out along the edge of the Badlands in western North Dakota, she raised 12 children — 14 if you count the ones she didn’t give birth to — and helped establish a church and a school, crops and cattle. She served as a “midwife,” before midwife was a term, delivering babies in houses on the prairie and teaching her daughters to do the same when they were needed.

I was raised 2 miles from where my great-grandmother raised those children, one of them who was my grandma Edith, the woman I named my first daughter after.

While my grandma Edith was growing up, down the road from her was a young man who laid claim to a homestead when he was just a teenager. He was married, went to war, came home and lost his wife when my grandpa Pete, the youngest of four, was just a child.

And who was there to help him with raising those children when he was trying to raise the crops and the cattle? Gudrun’s oldest daughters.

I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately as I watch the community where I was raised continue to work to meet the demands of an ever-growing population. Everything from groceries to day care to schools to housing is stretched and moving and shifting every day. Back when my great-grandmother was raising her family, community meant survival — and I can’t help but notice how much that rings true to us all in the middle of this booming town.

Although I think it’s easy to lose sight of it in a time when our access to technology and everything from diapers to refrigerators can be delivered to our doors.

Because community also means support. And support, now more than ever, means working to understand one another by sharing our stories, our concerns, our needs, our ideas and working beyond our differences and finding a way to go beyond survive and into thrive.

I had no idea when I was singing for my supper, driving up and down the middle of the Midwest alone with my guitar at a time when people were moving away instead of back, that I would be married to my high school boyfriend and living at the ranch that raised me before I hit 30 years old. And I certainly didn’t have any idea that would be possible because, suddenly, the opportunities in my hometown would be saving people’s dreams.

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Where would we be if we weren’t tied here by blood and history? Would we be here anyway?

Last week, my neighbor called. She was raised a mile up the road from me in a time where we could still ride our bikes down the middle of the county road. She came home to start a business and raise her kids on her family’s ranch. I came home to do the same.

“The kids set up a lemonade stand on the corner by the highway, come over if you have a minute.”

And so my little sister and I loaded up our three little girls and headed to the highway to meet her and her husband and her dad and her mom and her four kids holding up “Get Your Lemonade Here” signs as trucks and pickups slowed down and pulled over to buy a cup and a Rice Krispies bar made by the next generation.

Times change. Our little country road is filled with daddies and mommies and sisters and brothers and husbands and wives and daughters and sons on their way to work and home again.

I stand on that road with my hands on my hips, wondering what the future holds in a world that has somehow become bigger and smaller at the same time, determined to do what it takes, and to never forget that it runs on heartbeats.

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Listen

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Listen, Because it’s important
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I’m sitting in the airport in Minneapolis waiting for a flight to take me up and out of this city, back home to resume life as normal.

I came for a conference meant to connect people from all walks of life and give us the tools to start a conversation about acceptance, inclusion and understanding as we work to build our communities together — all of those things that start with a story and hover around an open mind.

It’s interesting to reflect on this in an airport where all of these lives in bodies converge, touch, talk, brush by one another, hold on to the same railing and sit side by side, knees nearly touching, everyone carrying the weight of their own world on their way to the sky.

So close, but we’re strangers.

I like to sit in places like these because I can be anonymous and sort of invisible if I want to be. My life in a small town doesn’t offer me that very often, even though last week I wished I were as I was sitting in road construction traffic for nearly an hour with a screaming baby in the back, giving into my urge to scream too and bang my fists on the steering wheel, as if that were going to change anything about my situation.

Yesterday, as part of one of our workshops, we were tasked to stand in front of a stranger and talk for one minute while the other person just listened under the assumption that we are an amazing person.

It was one of those exercises that make even the most confident person sort of squirm. It was uncomfortable. I was self-conscious. A 60-second pointless ramble to a person I will likely never see again. I just wasn’t convinced.

But something shifted when it was my turn to listen and her turn to speak. I fought my urge to ask questions, to relate, to say “me too,” or “tell me more about that” or ask her how she’s doing now.

We did the exercise three or four more times, sharing different parts of our stories with different strangers, and I left there exhausted but a bit enlightened. When’s the last time I gave someone, a friend or a stranger, the good grace of simply listening, without remark or request?

We want to know about community and how to build it. We want to know peace and how to find it. We want friendship and love and hope and healing. We buy the books and the movies and podcasts and take a plane to a big, unfamiliar city where we can disappear from our real lives for a moment.

But we weren’t meant to hide our stories. Hard or unnerving, collected or entertaining, we can only help ourselves if we spill those stories out into the world like baby Rosie’s wails in my car that day, filling up the space with the certainty of her existence, willing me not to wail back and pound my fists the way I did, but to hear her.

And then scoop her up in my arms.

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The privilege of growing old

Maybe growing old isn’t what I once thought it was
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When I was a young kid, my grandma Edith would take us to town. I would ride in the back seat on the blue velvety cloth seats of her sedan, my feet dangling above the floor and my eyes reaching just high enough to watch the power lines whiz past the window.

She would run errands. To the drugstore, to the grocery store, to the Chuckwagon Cafe where her brother sat drinking coffee in his seed cap and then to the nursing home to visit her mother.

Great-grandma Gudrun was as close to 100 years old as most people ever get when I was the epitome of a kid, scraped knees and carefree. And when you’re a kid, close to 100 might as well be 100 million.

And there are things I remember about her there — mostly her stark white hair and her cane, the candy she offered and the tiny TV quietly flickering other people’s stories in the built-in shelves among her trinkets…

But I was a kid and all my memories revolve around how I felt and what I saw. Shy and quiet, wanting to escape to visit the birds in the atrium or feed the fish. Hoping she didn’t forget the candy.

It never occurred to me to think about what it meant to her to see her daughter with her great-granddaughters trailing behind. She raised 12 kids, after all. I wonder now if she liked the quiet that came with aging, or did it make her uneasy? I have so many things I want to ask her now that I am not that timid, unaware kid anymore.

8. Great Grandma Gudrun and Great Grandpa Severin Linseth and their 12 children Edith Linseth Veeder is center in the plaid

Last weekend, the arts organization I belong to helped host a Harvest Fest at the area nursing home and assisted living facility, the same place Gramma Gudrun used to live. Her son, the same man who used to drink coffee in the Chuckwagon Cafe, lives there now.

He sat outside on the front porch all afternoon and listened to his nephew, my dad, and his band play music while kids and families loaded up on horse-drawn wagons, squealed at the chickens, goats, bunnies and mini horse in our makeshift petting zoo, won apple pies in game after game of bingo, ate dessert and painted wooden pumpkins inside.

This event was a way of welcoming the community to engage and connect with their elders over stories attached to those apple pies, or the fancy chickens my friend brought to town. To tap their toes to the music under a clear, fall sky and remember where we came from. And maybe, help ease the fear that comes with aging. For them.

And for us.

When I was 8 or 10 visiting my great-grandma, I never imagined what it might be like to be an old woman. But I can imagine it now.

And I can see what a privilege it is and how we need to do better at not only celebrating it, but embracing the slowdown. The sit down. The process.

Because at the end of our lives, we only have the memories, and I understand now that it’s up to us to make sure that our elders never stop making them.
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In dark times, hang on to hope

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Western North Dakota has become many different things to so many different people over the last 10 years of an all out and unprecedented economic boom — a refuge. A last resort. A stop along the way. An experiment. An adventure. And for many, a new home.

Last week, it became a place where a family lost their baby to the sky.

And this isn’t my story to tell except that it’s my community and my heart is breaking. In another time of my life here in my hometown, it would have been more likely that I would have known many of the families whose homes were ravaged by a tornado that whipped through a trailer park on the south side of town in the terrifying and devastating moments before midnight.

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MIKE McCLEARY Bismarck Tribune

But then again, in another time, that trailer park was nothing but a field and I was a young girl with plans to leave a place that didn’t yet hold all of these new dreams, let alone my own.

But here we are now, together in this town, together between new stoplights, new foundations and freshly planted lawns, all of us on wobbly knees, all of us so focused on navigating our place here that maybe we forgot about that sky and how it can freeze our pipes and frost bite our skin only to turn around and soak us in sweat before sending down hail stones and ripping homes from the dirt.

And maybe that’s why the lump swelled up in my throat the way it did when I heard of the devastation that occurred while I was lying safe in my bed with my arms around my own baby. Twenty-eight injuries. One child lost. More than 100 people displaced in a town that has yet to become familiar to many of them.

I didn’t want this to be their experience here. I didn’t want this to be the place where a baby lost his chance at a future, where bodies were injured and belongings scattered in the dirt. I didn’t want this devastation to be a chapter in our unpredictable story.

But if we can’t control the sky, we can control how we connect our hearts to our hands and our hands to our actions. And we can carry on the narrative of compassion and neighborly love and muscle that made us a dot on the map in this wild place to begin with.

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A cat found in the rubble of a mobile home destroyed by Tuesday morning’s tornado hitting Watford City rests in the arms of Andrew Anderson, a missionary helping the Red Cross at the Prairie View RV Park.

And that’s what I see happening here now. Even if there’s no blanket soft enough and no hug tight enough to put that baby back in his mother’s arms, at least there’s a community wondering how they might help those new parents bear the weight of their grief.

Because the roads in and out of this town are full of people talking about how they’ve been helped and hurt, how they’re leaving for good or coming to stay forever.

And regardless of the story, I wish nothing for any of us but to hold on to hope. Because the sky can rumble, it can scream and shake us until we break. But in so many ways I’ve come to know it to shine again and that’s the only promise any of us can make here in this place.​

As shelter closes, Red Cross praises Watford City

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Chris Moore stands beside the American flag he has attached to the box of his pickup truck parked next to his mobile home at the Prairie View RV Park in Watford City on Tuesday afternoon. His home was damaged by the EF2 tornado that struck the park in the early morning hours, but the flag remained upright. MIKE McCLEARY Bismarck Tribune

Neighbor Kelly

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There’s so much more I could say about neighbor Kelly, so many stories that he would tell so much better than me, but I’ve only got 500 newspaper words for this week’s column.  He’s been like my second dad for as long as I can remember and I hope you have a neighbor like this in any weather…no matter where you are.

Coming Home: On the ranch, being a good neighbor means so much

Out here on the ranch there are millions of tasks that require the proper attire. When I was growing up I don’t think I ever saw our neighbor out of his Carhart bibs during the winter months. He would come in for a visit and sit at the kitchen table for an hour or so looking prepared to get up and go at any moment. Which he is — prepared, reliable and fearless. We know, because we’ve tested him.

Neighbor Kelly was the go-to guy to call when Dad wasn’t home for emergencies like a loose horse, broken appliances and keys locked in cars when you’re late for a meeting. Just a mile away, Kelly is quick on response time, too, there in a flash with a coat hanger and a plan. And depending on the season, his Carhartts and wool cap.

Oh, Kelly’s collected hundreds of rescues like this throughout the years because when you live in the middle of nowhere, being a good neighbor means wearing a dozen different hats.

So Kelly is a locksmith, yes, but he also earned his exterminator badge that time he tackled the suspected pack rat problem by camping out on the living room floor with Dad, pellet guns pointed at the cabinet under the sink waiting for the signal.

And when Mom found herself a snapping turtle in the garage, Kelly was there to assist in a plan to wrangle it back to the dam.

Kittens stuck behind the refrigerator? Call Kelly — he’s more agile and can fit back there.

Seating for hundreds needs to be built for your daughter’s wedding in your cow pasture? Kelly’s got a hammer and a case of beer.

Cows need to be moved? Kelly’ll be there early with a horse and maybe his bullwhip just for kicks ’cause he might get a chance to climb that big butte and snap it like the Man from Snowy River.

Because Kelly’s the guy who’s entertaining like that. He’s the sweetest harmony in the band, the best dressed and the only one who can yodel.

He’s the guy you call if you want an epic sledding party because he’s got an unmatched dedication to fun that sends him out there for hours with a shovel clearing a fast course, complete with a jump at the bottom and a campfire at the top and a new snowboard waiting to send him to the emergency room.

Most notably though, he’s the Lefty to the Poncho that is my father. When Dad called us in the middle of the night, unknowingly staring death in the face, we called the ambulance and then we called Kelly.

And when they airlifted Dad to Bismarck for an emergency surgery during an ice storm, Kelly drove the three hours on those roads behind us to sit with us in the waiting room. Recently, when Dad was in the hospital in Minneapolis, Kelly made that trip too, and a trip almost every day now down the road a mile to see his friend as he recovers.

And I can’t imagine this place without Kelly up the road.

I’m just hoping it warms up so he can take those Carhartts off soon.

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It takes a village to raise a mom

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It takes a village to raise a mom 

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This morning I drove Edie to town to daycare so I could get some work done. My husband has been gone hunting in Montana over the past few weekends and into this week, and so I’ve been on my own a bit more, managing a schedule of deadlines, performances, doctors appointments and fun, calling on my mom and dad, sister, mother in law and daycare provider to fill in the blanks of caretaking along the way so that my husband can have time to do the things that make him feel like himself, obliging, of course, because he does the same for me.

I’m sitting in my mom’s coffee shop to work, the occasional shrill of the latte machine cutting through the background hum of conversation and music coming from the speakers. If you sit in a place like this long enough you get a good glimpse of the characters that make up a community, or at least the characters who prefer to get through their day with a proper dose of caffeine and conversation.

When I was a kid my grandma would take my little sister and I into town to run errands. After a stop at the pharmacy and post office we would inevitably wind up at the Chuck Wagon Café on the corner for a hamburger or ice cream. If Dixie, my favorite waitress was working, she would serve us chocolate ice cream with chocolate syrup and chocolate M&Ms, a sweet indulgence and a simple gesture that seemed to stick with me throughout my life the same way I’ve kept the memory of a teenage neighbor giving me words of wisdom about an unruly horse at a 4-H show when I was eleven.

And there are dozens others—my third grade teacher who would let me write plays for our class to perform for the school during lesson time, our hired man who drove an El Camino and saved our puppy when he got his head stuck in the Christmas tree stand and caught my sister and I a grass snake to keep as a pet one summer, the older neighbor boy who taught us girls how to play football by running plays on his knees and letting us tackle him, my aunt uncle who would have me at their ranch for a few weeks in the summer to eat popsicles and help my cousins groom and show their sheep and steers and pitcher of KoolAid that was always waiting for us in the plastic pitcher on the kitchen counter in the house.

These are the moments embedded in that old saying “It takes a village to raise a child.” I’ve been thinking about it lately as I’ve been relying on my extended family and friends more than ever to help me balance mom life and work life and making sure the laundry is done once in a while. And a parent could start to feel guilty about leaning on others in the hectic times, especially someone like me who is under confident about asking for help and thinks she can handle it all on her own.

Except the older Edie gets, and as my big belly grows along with our plans, I have slowly come to realize that not only can we not do this parenting thing alone; I don’t know if we were meant to.

Because that little village of 4-H leaders, grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, nice waitresses, neighbors, baby sitters and teenagers I looked up to are characters woven into the story of my life who not only taught me lessons, but sweetened my life experience beyond the borders of our barnyard

And you know, now that I think of it, the influence of that village didn’t stop when I found myself all grown up, it’s just that I think I took them for granted until now when I feel I need them the most. Because it turns out it takes a village to raise a mom too, and I am thankful for mine.

How old stories help us hold on

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Coming Home: How old stories help us hold on

One of the best parts about sharing stories every week is that sometimes it compels others to share their stories, too, reminding me how closely strangers can be connected.

For the past few months I’ve been traveling on behalf of my new book, telling stories about crocus picking, old pickup driving and growing up on the back of my old mare.

Inevitably then, after the show, I get to hear a few of your own memories, the ones sparked by my recollection of sliding down the gumbo hill in the pouring rain in my pajamas, because—aw, you have a gumbo story of your own? One that started out with a pretty pink jacket bought to impress his family and ended with you and that pink jacket planted in the sticky mud after a too-close-for-comfort call with a rattlesnake den.

Yes, your boyfriend might have saved you from a nasty bite, but you never got over the ruined jacket.

I’ve never really thought about it before, but this is how I acquired a reverence for storytelling. It was all those afternoon coffee breaks I’d sit in as a kid, the ones where the neighbors would take their hats off after branding or a day spent fixing a stubborn part on the tractor again, and the recount of the things that went wrong during the day would spark a story about another time, a few years back, when a new spring opened up on the flat over the winter and he was loping along across that stretch and the ground just disappeared beneath that horse …

And that would remind my neighbor of a time they ran the outfitting business, and they were taking some guests on a ride through a narrow trail of the badlands and down slid their best horse with a dude on his back. It’s a story we all might have heard before, the ground becoming a little steeper with each re-telling, all the could-have-beens recounted over and over as they rehashed their gratitude that it all turned out OK in the end.

Good grief.

Thank God.

Can you imagine?

Last week I got a letter in the mail from a woman who used to help out a family friend who ran trail rides in the badlands for years. This is the ranch where our old Stormy spent years working as a trail horse, and after reading about how we recently lost him to the years, this woman felt compelled to write me to share with me her own memories of that spotted gelding. Included among her recollections was a photo of Stormy in his younger days, taking that cowboy through the sagebrush badlands. I put my hand to my mouth, surprised by the tears that caught in my throat as I folded up that letter, remembering that Stormy was someone else’s coffee-break story once.

Reminded, in a world that spins too quickly, stories are the only way we can really hold on.

Keep telling them.