Rose soap and the woodwork of our memories…

Lasting memories of my great grandma

When I was in kindergarten, I lived in Grand Forks with my family in a small white stucco house by the Red River.

I don’t remember too much about this time in my life, except the blond neighbor girl named Jenny, my blue bicycle, drinking Dad’s cold coffee in his basement office, my little sister’s run-in with a hornet’s nest, my sparkly jelly shoes and my Great-Grandma Rognlie. Actually, her name was Eleanor, but we called her by her last name because she was the kind of woman who took formalities seriously.

She lived in a red house a few blocks away from our little white one by the river dike, and every day I would walk there to spend time with her in those free and unplanned hours kids used to have between after school and suppertime.

And that time for me as a little girl meant saltine crackers arranged on a plate and spread with peanut butter, reading books with her giant light-up magnifying glass at her antique fold-down desk, watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” on PBS while laying on the carpet in front of her couch with the birds on it and her screened-in porch and her garden and this sophisticated woman with immaculate hair that was curled and styled every Tuesday at the salon.

When I pull from my memory, I realize that walking into my great-grandmother’s house was like walking into a different time that smelled like rose soap, tasted like frosted gingerbread cookies from the bakery and looked like a woman who worked to make money so she could put a roof over the heads and food in the mouths of two boys by herself in a time when women didn’t do those things without a man in the house, or at least they didn’t dare declare it.

But I didn’t know that about her then. I didn’t know how strong she was or the sacrifices she made or how hard it must have been or how proud it made her to see both those boys go on to graduate from universities, marry good women, contribute to their communities, succeed in their careers and raise children of their own.

I just knew she let me have Juicy Fruit gum and play her old piano and try on her fancy hats and shoes and she would order my sisters and me things from the Lillian Vernon catalog. And I knew that she always had a tablecloth on her table and a centerpiece and a game of Skip-Bo or Uno or Wheelbarrow or Solitaire and that she took the time to play cards with me after “Mister Rogers” and before my dad came to pick me up.

And on Sundays, I knew that she liked to take us all out to the Village Inn where I’d get three crayons and a paper menu and a pancake with that little dollop of whipped cream and I better behave.

And I knew that she had another husband later in her life, because I saw him in a black-and-white picture framed in her hallway, but I didn’t know him because I wasn’t born yet when he died, or maybe I was, I just wouldn’t remember, but somehow I knew that they didn’t have enough time together. None of us who love really do, do we?

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And I’m thinking of my Grandma Rognlie today because last night I watched my mom, dressed for the occasion, help my little Rosie put on her peacoat to head out the door of a theater event and I swear I could smell her grandmother’s rose soap…

And it occurred to me there is no way for my daughters to understand the complicated, compassionate, strong and beautiful story that lies within my mother. I can only hope that one day they will all grow old enough to ask the questions, woman to woman.

But right now, they know they’ll always find M&M’s in her drawer conveniently placed at their height, and on Thursday she’ll take my oldest to dance and then for a smoothie at her coffee shop and then the two sisters will run and play under the racks at her store until it’s time to head back to the ranch without sidewalks.

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And my daughters, they don’t know it now, but when they grow older these moments will lie quiet in the woodwork of their memories, waiting there for them when they close their eyes, searching for a way to feel safe and special and loved.

And they may never know the full story, and they surely won’t remember much about being small, but they will remember what matters, and it will always matter: that red house, that rose soap, that card game, those M&Ms, that Juicy Fruit gum…

If you need someone to build an ark…

 

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If you need someone to build an ark…

“We’re supposed to get 1 to 3 inches of snow today,” he whispered, his shadow looming over me as I rubbed my eyes in the dark of the early morning, removed the toddler foot lodged in my ribs and tried to make sense of the horror of the first words I heard in my waking moments on the second day of October.

Here’s a tip, ladies and gentlemen: Unless you’re at a ski resort, this is not the sort of news you deliver to someone you love before delivering their morning coffee. I mean, just because you know it, doesn’t mean you need to pass it on.

I suggest lying instead. Say something like, “I think we should plan a trip to Florida!” and watch the stars and hearts appear in your loved ones eyes. She’ll make you caramel rolls for sure. Denial. That’s the lesson for today.

Because it’s been raining here for a good four days straight. The kind of rain that has kept the autumn ground lush and green, magically making white-topped mushrooms pop out of nowhere, keeping the yellow on the flowers and the road in and out of our house drivable only if you have a big four-wheel drive pickup, horse, tractor or hovercraft of some sort.

I imagine a hovercraft is what that water hauler was wishing for on Friday evening when he made the wrong turn onto our approach with his big rig onto a scoria road that couldn’t hold one more raindrop, let alone 25 tons on 18 wheels. And so there he sat, 50 feet of diagonal metal sideways across the only way out of the swamp we now call home.

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And so there we all sat, effectively immobile, jammed, lodged, wedged and in no uncertain terms stuck, stuck, stuck with no hope of moving until the relentless clouds relented… which didn’t happen until Tuesday.

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And so we did what any normal family would do when trapped in the house for an undetermined amount of time — home construction projects.

Don’t be jealous. Because when you live with the kind of man I live with, the kind who gives weather reports to the entire household before you and the sun have the chance to rise, then you know that we don’t need to take the 30-mile trip in the rain to the lumberyard to resurface the floors, build shelves in the entryway, change the laundry room into a pantry, install four new lighting units and roll out homemade noodles for supper to boot.

Because we have everything we need to survive the apocalypse scattered like a tornado of mismatched nuts, bolts, tools, scrap metal, tiles, epoxy, wire, wood, gears, motors, ladders and deep freezers in the garage attached to this house that will forever be a work in progress.

Yeah, my man’s prepared to be stranded, I tell you, and not the kind of stranded where you stay in your robe and slippers and eat macaroni and cheese and watch Netflix.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got God on the line here… he’s looking for someone to build an ark and, well, frankly, I have some questions…

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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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Praise for the good kids

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Praise for the good kids

For the past month, we have had a guest in the house. And no, it’s not a mouse, and no, she’s really not a guest. She’s more than that and always has been… my niece, my family, my helper, my right-hand woman and just an all-around good kid.

Good kid. I like to say those two words together.

Good kid. There are plenty of them out there, but we don’t usually pay real tribute to them as a whole unless they’re some sort of child prodigy or sports star or young business mogul or queen or winner of something. And when we’re talking community, sometimes we forget to include them in the discussion, in the decision, in the vision for it all.

I mention this because my niece, T, reminded me of the demographic I have been away from since I was one myself 100 million years ago.

Because on Monday, T turned 16.

I remember when she was born and her first birthday and when I bought her a tiny pink cowgirl hat and she fell in the mud at the ranch and was so mad we couldn’t get her to stop crying, but let’s not go there with those memories today.

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Because today, T is 16 and she has her driver’s license so she took the 100-mile trip to stay in the basement and save our lives during the months when I had major events to plan and execute, long-distance singing trips, my husband was laid off from his job, my family had health scares and our lawn still needed mowing, our ranch still needed running, our suppers still needed cooking and our babies still needed us.

So when we couldn’t fully be there, T, who was still just 15, was. And I never worried about her with my kids for a minute, which freed me up to worry about all of the other things listed above.

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And while I was giving her a rundown of the schedule for the day in the middle of our very unscheduled life while sweeping Froot Loops off the floor on my way out the door and then coming back into the house two or three more times because I forgot my coffee cup/phone/computer/sunglasses in my rush out, it made me wonder what our life looked like to this almost-16-year-old observer.

When I was 16, I drew a picture of the house I wanted to live in, on the ranch surrounded by cattle and horses. It wasn’t a good picture — I’m a terrible artist — but you get the idea. And inside that house I thought we would have three sons and matching furniture and cupboards that you could open without Tupperware and sippy-cups falling out on our heads.

Inside that house I thought there would live two adult people canning garden tomatoes together, certain of a supper plan and free of the angst and fear you have when you’re 16 years old. Because at 16, I really thought that there would come a time in adulthood, likely right here on the cusp of my 36th year, that everyone just had it figured out. Your cupboards, your lawn, your career, your family, your paperwork… because that’s what I thought adulthood meant.

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If T ever thought that was the case, my husband and I popped her bubble in the most chaotic way. This summer threw a few hooks at us, it’s true. And when I was almost 16, I certainly didn’t see a future where an almost 16-year-old would save my almost 36-year-old butt the way that T has this summer, just by being fully and truly there.

Not by being a superhero.

Not by being a princess (although she’s earned a few tiaras).

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Not by being a child prodigy or a star athlete or winning “American Idol.”

No. She’s none of those things.

But allow me to let something as simple as this thought make the paper for once: She’s loyal. She’s confident, trustworthy and mature. She’s compassionate and helpful, organized and has good manners.

She cleans up after herself. She doesn’t complain much. She’s kind, but fierce when she needs to be. She’s loving and smart and she knows what she wants.

She’s 16. She’s my niece. And she means everything to me and she’s going to mean everything to this world, because simply and most importantly, she’s a good kid.

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A glimpse into our future

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Sisters, and a glimpse into our own future

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this with as much enthusiasm as I feel about the news, but my little sister has recently moved from town to the ranch and is currently living in the little cabin down the road waiting for her house to be built.

Yes, we are officially neighbors now, just like we were when we were kids building forts out by the creek, talking to one another on tin-can telephones. And while our string might not be long enough to stretch between our two forever houses now, when our girls are older, they will be close enough to ride their bikes to meet up and get into mischief.

And with a new niece arriving for my little sister in November, putting our girl stats at ages 4, 3, 2 and new, I sense some interesting times ahead.

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But I’m excited for all of us, my sister, the girls and me. Our husbands? Well, they’re in for some fun, too.

When we welcomed Edie into the world, I hoped she’d have a sister (I think my little sister hoped the same for her firstborn), so here we are. And with big sister/cousin Edie leading the charge, we might as well both douse our houses in pink glitter and get it over with.

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So now that my built-in best friend is my neighbor and we’ve created four more built-in best friends, I can’t help but think how their relationships are going to develop. Because when my little sister and I get together, it seems like we do a pretty good job of zoning out everything else in the world and concentrating on the things that matter.

Like the movie she watched last night, the new boots I’m thinking of buying, what we should drink for happy hour, the status of our children’s bowel movements and how we are going to pull off the next water balloon ambush on my husband.

And with roundup time just around the corner, I’m reminded of the last time my sister and I worked cattle together. Because nothing exemplifies how incapable we are at focusing more than when we so generously volunteer to help our father move cows in the early morning and then linger in the house just long enough over a cup of coffee, a piece of toast, my little sister’s missing boot and the morning hairdo I can’t fit under my hat for Pops to get out the door, up the road and into the barnyard to catch horses, saddle up and assume the position of waiting patiently while he listens to our jabbering as we finally make it out of the house and to the barn to meet him.

Three gallons of ShowSheen to get the burrs out of our horses’ manes and tails, three curry combs, seven curse-word combinations and another half hour later, we get the horse-hair situation under control. And once we get past the missing reign situation, the stirrup situation and the fly spray situation, we are finally on our way to moving some cows in the heat situation.

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My little sister hates the heat. She’s also hates bees, or anything that looks like it might belong to the bee family. Information to hold keep in mind as I describe the roundup, which went like this:

Us: “Where are we chasing them? Which gate? That gate? Where are you going? What? I can’t hear you!?”

Dad: “Just stay there, I’ll head up over the hill to look for more, then we’ll move them nice and easy.”

Me: “I think we missed one. Should I go and get it?”

Little Sister: “Should I come with you? I should probably come with you. I’ll come with you… eeeek! A bee… I hate bees… eeeeeeeekkkkkk.”

Dad (as he races through the brush and up the hill): “Just stay there!!! Girls! Stay there! I’ve got it!!!”

Little Sister: “I’ve never really liked chasing cows… I mean, I like it when things go well, like we can just ease them along, but they start going the wrong way and it stresses me out.”

Me: “Ooh, chokecherries!”

Little Sister: “Where’s dad? Maybe we should go find him. Should we take these cows with us?”

Me: “Munch, munch, munch… Oh, yeah. We should get going.”

Little Sister: “I think my horse runs weird. Does he look weird to you?”

We finally catch up with Dad, who is behind 25 head of cows and their calves. Little Sister and I brought along four, who head toward the wrong gate on the wrong side of the creek.

Dad (hollering from behind the 25 head of cattle and their calves he’s just moved through a half-mile brush patch on his own): “You’re going to have to turn them or leave them because they’ll never make it across the creek and through the trees…”

Me (running toward my small, straying herd eyeing a brush patch): “Oh, oops. I’ve got ‘em. Sorry. Wasn’t paying attention.”

Little Sister: “Do you think my horse runs weird?”

Dad: “I think your horse is just fat… Jess, you’re never going to get them. Just leave them. I’ll get them later.”

Me, hollering to Little Sister: “Whhhattt? Whhhattt did hee sayyyy?!! Ask him? Should I leave them???”

Little Sister, hollering to Pops: “DAAAADDD, SHOULD SHE LEAVE THEM?”

Dad, hollering to Little Sister: “Yess, ssheeee ssshhoullld lleeave them!!”

Little Sister, hollering to me: “HEEE SSAAAYSS LEEAAVEE THEM!”

And so on and so forth until a tree branch slaps me in the face, we almost lose the entire herd to the brush and my little sister never actually gets stung by a bee. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think this might be our future.

And I can’t wait.

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Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

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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The Rancher’s Wife Mic Drop

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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…

Wilderness Dreams

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Coming Home:Wilderness dreams come back on days like this
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When I was a little girl all wrapped up in the magic of this place, my favorite book of was “My Side of the Mountain,” a story about a boy who finds himself living alone in the wilderness inside of a giant hollowed out tree.

I still have the book buried somewhere in this house, holding all the secrets to adventure like all the books I loved about kids taming horses and dogs and braving wild prairie storms. Forget after school microwave popcorn and “Super Mario Bros.” — I wanted real adventure!

I’m sure I wasn’t unlike most kids at 9 or 10 years old. We all had a little more confidence than we had experience, so maybe it wasn’t unusual that I was convinced I could survive out in the wilderness alone. Without a house. Or a toilet. Or my mom’s cheeseburger chowder. Yeah, there was a time that was my plan.

In the evenings, I would step off the bus and head up the creek behind our house to work on building what I called “secret forts.” In the oaks and brush that grew along the bank, I would I use every muscle in my spindly body to collect and relocate every fallen log within a 200-foot radius to lean against a bent tree, creating a leaky little tent. And when it was complete, I would look around to make sure my little sister hadn’t followed me here, ruining the whole secrecy thing.

And then I would lay down under the flawed “shelter” of 50 logs to think about my next step. Make plans for a door. And a blanket. And rocks for a firepit.

But as the dark crept in, I would decide I wasn’t quite ready to spend the night, emerging to follow the cow trail back toward the house where supper was warm and waiting. For months, this was my daily ritual, and one of my signature childhood memories.

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I thought I wanted to be alone out there, left to my own survival skills, but it turned out that having company was a nice addition. So eventually I gave in and helped my little sister build her own fort. A much smaller fort. Across the creek. Out of site.

We built a tin-can telephone that stretched from my fort to hers and brought down old chair cushions from the shed, tried to catch frogs and spent our evenings planning our next move — spending the night. But we never did it.

Summer gave way to fall, and the leaves fell and covered the floor of our paradise. We would pull on our beanies and trudge down the freezing creek to clear out the fire ring we weren’t yet brave enough to use. And then the cold set in and the snow came and the neighbor girls called us to go sledding, and our wilderness dream waited on a warmer season.

I can’t help but think about those girls on days like these. Days when the cold sets in, burned casserole from the night before sits waiting for a cleanup on my countertop and the dark, naked trees behind my grown-up house seem to call to me to come out from behind these walls.

Come have an adventure, girl.

I step outside and let the frozen air fill my lungs and bite my cheeks. I step outside and miss my sister. I step outside and I’m alone with a woman who used to be a girl I knew, a girl who thought she could tame coyotes, break unbreakable horses and live alone in the wild.

I step outside to look for her. I know she’s here somewhere, waiting for me to come and play.

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

The way my grandpa sees the world

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Theodore Waddell, Gallatin Angus 2001

The way my grandpa sees the world Forum Communications

There’s a print of a painting hanging in a frame beside my bed that reminds me of my Grandpa Bill.

It’s a framed card actually, a watercolor of a rugged landscape, dark blue buttes forming a horizon against a gray and white sky. And below the buttes, in the foreground, the brush stroked green and beige, and then the artist, seemingly with the blunt end of his brush, came back to add a scattering of black dots.

The cattle.

I took the print off the wall tonight to take a closer look as I was crawling into bed and the back of the frame came off to reveal the reverse side of that card and my grandpa’s handwriting.

“This scene looks much like the blue mountains from the hills above your place. Happy Birthday.”

And he was right. If you sit on the top of a hill on our ranch, you will likely see the live version of this scene — a moody sky casting sporadic golden light in the pastures where our cattle graze. And off in distance, as far as you can see, those buttes that cradle our neighbors 10 miles to the north shine blue on us and frame every scene of our lives out here.

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My dad tells a story of when he was a little kid in elementary school. He was coloring a picture of Roy Rogers riding through the mountains on his horse, Trigger.

“Why are you coloring the mountains blue, Gene?” his teacher scolded. “Mountains aren’t blue.”

I always thought that was one of my dad’s sadder stories…

But I don’t think Grandpa Bill had this sort of teacher in his life. And if he did, he didn’t pay her any mind.

And I like this little card with black dot cows because I like to imagine it’s the way my Grandpa Bill sees the world, like a painting waiting to be made and admired. And I’m so glad to know that about him.

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When I was 11 or so, my dad’s mother, Gramma Edie, died on the ranch, leaving the little brown house in the farmyard down the road empty and lonesome. So in the fall and winter, my mom’s parents, during their early years of retirement, would move out here to breathe life into the place.

Grandpa traded his Minnesota dock shoes for boots and immersed himself in ranch life. He fixed fences, he rode along to move cattle, he updated that old farmhouse, hung his chaps and hat like a work of art on the entryway and took beautiful photographs, even trying his hand at painting the simple, old, everyday scenes of this place I might not have thought to find extraordinary if it wasn’t for him.

Eventually, my grandparents made the decision to settle into summers in Minnesota and winters in the Arizona sun. In fact, Grandpa Bill is likely reading this to Gramma as they have a cup of coffee and a doughnut hole on their deck.

And he’s probably noticing how the morning light creates a soft glow around his wife’s silver hair and thinking that it would make a lovely photograph or painting.

And every time I take the turn off the highway to head north, toward home, toward those blue buttes, I slow down a bit as I come up over the hill overlooking the gold pastures dotted with cattle and, because of Grandpa, I think the same thing.

Road Home

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

My holiday wish for you

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A sight we didn’t know if we’d ever see coming into 2018. 

Happy New Year to you all my friends. I hope you found some peace this holiday season. I’m trying to recover it in day three of my attempt at taking down the Christmas decorations and day eleventy-billion of the flu and pink eye and runny noses and coughs

As we face down the new year, I am thankful for a 2018 that challenged our hearts and our relationships, but brought us here, together and laughing in the best possible outcome.

And if you’re carrying with you a heavy heart, this is my wish for you.

The Day After Christmas, and my wish for you

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It’s the day after Christmas. I can’t see my floor. Every dish in this place is either dirty or awaiting its fate in the sink or dishwasher.

Toys are making noises that I can’t figure out how to stop, and I’ve eaten nothing but sugar cookies in the last 12 hours. And it’s snowing. A little late for a white Christmas, but I’m fine with that.

What lies ahead of us is a few more long months of winter, saved by those noisy new toys and the sweet memories we made the past few days with family. And I am grateful for so many things this year, but on the top of that list is our health. We have it today.

And as I sat in the emergency room with my husband and 1-year-old when we were supposed to be eating prime rib dinner with his family last weekend, I couldn’t help think of all the holiday suppers spent in hospital rooms around the world. Oh, our daughter is fine. A dose of Motrin and a flu diagnosis and off we went to wipe her nose and snuggle her for the next several days.

And I left that hospital knowing full well that we have a sick baby at Christmas, and yes, that’s a bummer, but we are the lucky ones. We are the lucky ones who got to bring her home. We are the lucky ones who were granted our Christmas wishes last year to spend another holiday season with my dad, Papa Gene, and watch the kids dance as he played “Jingle Bells” on the guitar.

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At this time last year, we didn’t know if we would ever see him again as I served pancakes on Christmas Eve in an attempt to carry on the comfort of tradition as we held our breath with worry.

In my life, I haven’t been sheltered from the fact that the holidays are not magical and harmonious for everyone, regardless of the faith one might carry. In fact, in the presence of twinkling lights, Champagne toasts, carols, gifts and funny photos of children terrified of Santa, grief, loneliness, hopelessness and worry become magnified. And for some, if the suffering or the loss is fresh or in the present moments, the weight can be unbearable.

I’ve known that unbearable weight. I know the feeling of going through the motions. And now that we’re on the other side, in a place where we are opening gifts with the babies we never thought we’d have and wrapping up dad’s leftover prime rib bones for the dogs, I wanted to leave this here. I wanted to say it out loud, put it in print, to tell you if you’re living that suffering right now, I see you.

I know you’re out there staring down a new year and wondering if you’re all going to be OK, if you’re all going to get through. If you’ll survive it.

And while each circumstance, each ache and emotion radiates through every heart in a different way, as the winter settles in now, my wish for you is that you can let go of that breath, hold tight to the memories and reach out for the people that love you.

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Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

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