Our responsibility. Their Future.

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This week’s column was written in the chaos before the election, before the results. It was written in the dark quiet of my living room after I put the baby down for the night. While my husband was serving the chili he made at his monthly volunteer fireman meeting.
It was written after months of agonizing over the choices we were facing in the race for the leader of our country, on the eve of election day with the weight of what our decisions mean for our children sitting heavy on my heart.
In my last post, on Veteran’s Day, I asked for you to share your stories of kindness, given or received or witnessed. Please continue to share your accounts of good in the world, as we all need to be reminded that we have one another’s backs…
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by Jessie Veeder
11-13-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com
I just put the baby down for the night. I rocked her a little longer after she fell asleep in my arms, kissed her head and sat with her in the quiet darkness of her room before I laid her down in her crib.

Because I don’t know what babies dream about, but I do know it’s not the state of our nation.

She will not lose sleep over the big decisions and important matters we are faced with as members of our free country.

No.

She is too small.

She is too innocent.

And so it’s my job to worry for her. To make these decisions for her.

To speak for her future as I head to the polls.

By the time you read this, we will have elected the next president of the United States.

By the time you read this, that civic duty will be done.

But tonight, as I write this, the big decision is hanging in the air, looming in sound bites and accusations, scary threats and big promises and words assembled just right and I know for certain I will not sleep the way my baby sleeps tonight.

In the years I’ve spent writing this column, I have not mentioned many words about my politics. I promise you friends, I’m not going to start with it tonight as I sit in my easy chair in the middle of my life full of big plans.

In the middle of my country making big decisions.

No, I haven’t spoken much about politics, but I have spoken about kindness. I have mused at length about community and finding comfort there. I have talked about the importance of sharing our stories and how those stories connect us, turning strangers into friends or, at the very least, into people we have come to better understand.

Because we do not and we cannot and we should not all have shared experiences, opinions or beliefs. We shouldn’t expect it, no matter how it ruffles our feathers or makes us nervous or takes us away from our comfort zones.

It might be one of the most difficult tasks for a human (believe me, I know), but the acceptance, recognition and curiosity about all of our differences can be what make a full and well-rounded life. It’s what fuels our suppertime discussions, keeps us educated and, above all, gives us the chance to cultivate our compassion for people in situations we will never understand unless we try.

I’m writing this tonight as a reminder to myself as much as anyone else.

Because that baby sleeping in her crib down the hall? I don’t know who she will grow up to become. That’s the thing about children—their story is as much written as it is unwritten. They are as strong-willed as they are vulnerable.

And as much as I want to protect her from any harm or ill will or hurt feelings, more than anything I want her to grow up to find herself in a country, in a community (because we are a community aren’t we?) that accepts her and respects her for her accomplishments and potential as well as her differences and struggles.

And tonight I just can’t shake this sense of urgency in doing my best for her and all of those sleeping babies who are going to grow up and into our decisions.

And maybe that’s my politics.

Or maybe that’s my religion.

Or maybe that’s just my hope for our future.

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The fabric of a family.

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Coming Home: Lake traditions become more precious with plus-one
by Jessie Veeder
7-17-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

I spent last week in vacation mode, which to some might bring to mind palm trees and tropical drinks by the pool, but to me it meant packing up for a weekend of tradition.

And the husband and baby, of course, with a bottle and a plastic baggie full of toys for the six-hour drive.

And along the way a stop at the store to get the things we don’t currently own, but need. Like deodorant and blue nail polish and tonic water for our vodka drinks. And a baby lifejacket.

Because we were heading to my grandparents’ lake cabin in Minnesota just like we have done every year for the Fourth of July since the beginning of time, except this time, of course, we had a small and chubby plus-one, who apparently comes with a lot of baggage.

Like a one-ton, long box, pickup full.

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Seriously.

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But to carry out the holiday properly in my family, there are things you need to carry with you. Like at least one patriotic outfit to wear while sitting on the dock sipping bloody marys, waving an American flag at the pontoons decked out for the Fourth of July, tooling by the shore in the boat parade.

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Oh, the lengths we go to hold on to our traditions.

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That’s what I was thinking at 2 a.m. as I bounced the baby back and forth in the small backroom of the cabin, the one where my parents likely sat up with my little sister summer after summer, sweating, swatting mosquitoes and willing her to sleep while my other sister and I snuggled under thin blankets in tiny beds in the screened-in porch.

In a few hours my little family would emerge from that room and shuffle to the kitchen, say good morning to my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, grab a couple doughnut holes to go with the coffee we sip on the deck together and catch up while the family of ducks swims on the calm lake.

I can predict it all, the summer sausage sandwiches, the pontoon rides around the lake to look at the houses, the trip to the flea market where Dad stocks up on homemade jelly and Mom finds the best old furniture, the campfires and the fireworks lighting up the dark lake. All of those expected moments are more important to me than ever before now that I have a baby to raise.

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Because our rituals might remain the same year after year, but they can’t stop time from chipping away at us.

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I watched Grampa flip his famous pancakes on the stove in the little kitchen while Gramma fussed over us all crammed around the table, the same sort of breakfasts we’ve shared since I was 7 years old and suddenly, 25 years later, it all seemed a little less predictable and so much more precious.

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So I suppose it’s more than a vacation—this tradition has become the fabric of what it means to be a part of this family.

I walked out into the shallow lake with my baby as the hot sun beat down on Minnesota. In front of me I watched my grandmother, 80-some years old in her floral swimsuit dip her body in the water and swim out past the sailboat just as I have watched her do for years and years. Baby Edie kicked and splashed and I willed her to see it.

I wished she would remember this.

I hoped for forever right there in that clear lake with the blue house behind us and the future pressing cool and heavy on our hot skin.

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Sunday Column: My great grandmother was Strong Man Johnson

A few weeks ago I gathered a group of women together for coffee and a visit at the pioneer museum in town. I was asked to craft a story that featured farm woman advice for city girls and, while I had a few ideas, I thought it would be wise to get the conversation flowing from  the minds and experiences of women of all generations.

So I called my friend Jan, who grew up with my dad on a ranch down the road, and she called her mother, the woman who raised her out there, and taught Jan enough about making chokecherry syrup and canning salsa that Jan could be of help to me in one of my  “canning emergencies…”

The two women joined me, my mom and another three generations of women to talk work and worry, weather and washing machines and what it was like, and what it is like,  to raise children and crops and cattle out here on the edge of the badlands.

Really, I could have stayed with them chatting all day and into the night. The history and knowledge, the fortitude and respect and connection to place was palpable. But so was the humility. They were all so humble when faced with questions about their accomplishment and hardships on a land and under a sky that could be so beautiful and so brutal all at once.

I asked them what they learned out there so far away from the conveniences of town, and what it was like without the help of today’s modern technology when there was so much on the line.

My friend’s grandmother, who homesteaded her place, and then helped her sister follow suit before falling in love with a town boy and moving him out to the farm with her, gave the end all answer:

“You just roll up your sleeves and do what has to be done. There is no other choice.”

And so this has been on my mind as I’m working to extract all the wisdom and lessons and strength in these women’s’ stories.

And I’ve been thinking of my own grandmother, and her mother, a first generation Norwegian immigrant who arrived at Ellis Island when she was only 16 and made her way west to Minnesota before marrying and moving out to their homestead in Western North Dakota when she was only 18.

She raised twelve children and lived well into her 90s.

I was a young girl when she died, but I do remember visits to her room in her nursing home, her teasing the grandkids with her cane and this photo that set on her night stand, the youngest on her husband’s lap added to the photo later to make the family complete. My grandma Edie, dad’s mother,  is the girl in the middle with the bow.

I wish I would have been old enough to ask her things. I wish I would have known her.

Now all I have is stories and other people’s memories, my dad’s particularly, of a woman who used to call herself “Strong Man Johnson” before heading out the door of the house and pretending to lift it off its foundation at the grandkids’ delight and horror.

So that’s what this week’s column is about. My Great Grandmother Gudrun, Strong Man Johnson.

Coming Home: Winters on the prairies took immense strength
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

And now, after it’s been published, I’ve received a few emails from those who knew her, one in particular from a woman who cared for her in the nursing home and remember’s Gudrun’s story of baking five loaves a bread every day.

The spirit of these women drives me. It inspires me and it reminds me that I am braver and more capable than I think I am. Because it’s in this heart that pumps this blood, the blood of strong women.

May we raise them. May we praise them. May we be them.

My grandma Edie. One of Gudrun’s five daughters

The generations…

So we have been in the middle of making house plans this summer and have faced the big decisions about where we should put it, what kind of view we want from our front porch, who is going to build it, who will dig the basement, what is our budget for windows, how many bedrooms, how many bathrooms, what will our light fixtures look like, what style of shingles and what kind of toilet for crying out loud.

I have been through a major remodel in my short (five years to the month) marriage, which I left behind me in the dust last December when we sold the damn thing. I know about the process. I know what it takes and am excited about our final decision to have a new home built over the hill and keep this little house renovated and in tact for family on the home place.

I know, I know. Those of you who have been following my little journey here at the ranch will recall that I changed my mind about this a few times.

Approximately sixty-seven I would guess. It was a big decision, you know, the spot we pick to spend the rest of our lives.

But in the end, when the surveyors were here to stake it out, we were back at the beginning, back to the place where this little house originally stood, back to the coulee where my grandfather built it, and back to a home under my childhood stomping grounds, the big hill we call “Pots and Pans.”

They are building the road today…and you know the old saying “here goes nothing…”?

Well, forget that. Here goes everything.

The original Veeder Homestead where my great grandpa Eddy Veeder was raised

Everything my great grandparents worked to build, everything my grandfather and father and aunt and uncle worked to keep, everything I grew to love in the buttes and the clover and the coulees and the big blue sky is going to surround us, get under our fingernails, brush against our skin, greet us in the morning and kiss us goodnight…for as long as we chose to be here.

Which in my mind is as long as I live.

I can’t help but feel overwhelmingly blessed at the thought of it all. And then a bit guilty, a bit ridiculous.

Because what have I done to deserve to be here? What have I done but be born to a family who taught me things about the land and horses and cattle and how to plant a garden, a family who didn’t worry about getting my jeans dirty falling in the creek, or my boots scuffed from kicking rocks on the scoria road? What have I done but listen, learn and want to be like them?

What did I do but ask to plant my life here only to find my wishes so graciously granted?  Because someone should be here, someone should help tend to the fences and fix up the old barn.

The old barn my great grandfather Edgar Andrew Veeder built with his sons on this very place.


Can you see him here? A shadow in the doorframe of his homestead shack around the year 1915.

Eddy Veeder Homestead Shack-1915

His home that stood outside of the trees where the horses hide from the flies below our house. It was here he settled when he left his parents’ homestead to start out on his own at age 21. It was here he brought his new bride, Cornelia, after they wed on September 4th, 1917 in the small town of Schafer, ND. It was here he kissed her goodbye when he was called to serve in the Army during World War I. After his discharge in 1919, it was here, on this acreage where I ride and walk and kick up dust every day, that he purchased a threshing machine, more acreage from his brother, and worked cattle and the fields as he and his wife welcomed five children, the youngest, my grandfather, my father’s father.

Edgar and Cornelia Harrison-1917

It was here where my great grandfather watched as his wife, his woman, slipped away from this world at only 36 years old–a heart failed and five young children left behind to be cared for by a man who I hear made the world’s best biscuits.

And it was here, right below this house where I cook dinner each night, that Cornelia’s yellow roses still bloom in the spring.

Cornelia's Roses

I never knew him, my great grandfather Eddy. I couldn’t have. Time did not allow him to hold me in his arms, a wrinkly bundle of flesh and bone who would grow into a woman who would think of him often, discover his wife’s roses, and be grateful every day for the gift of this land, for his hard work, for the red barn and my grandfather.

My grandfather who chose to stay here too, through droughts, and too much rain and seven feet of snow. My grandfather who married a good woman who climbed on the back of a horse with the same grace and humility that she used to raise exceptional children.

Grandpa Pete and Grandma Edith Veeder

Children who loved this land, who cherished it more than the money it may or may not reap, who understood that it must stay here, no matter the cost, for their children to enjoy.

So what did I do but love this land too? What have I sacrificed but the conveniences of a grocery store and a shopping mall nearby? Why would I want more than this, besides my cousins and sisters and aunts and uncles as neighbors living here on this land where we all grew up?

My cousins and I with my Grandma Edie outside the house I live in

And so, as the first move of progress on the house we will have built comes creeping up the pink road, making a path to our new home, I am humbled by those people who share my name and my blood, who carved a few roads of their own out here, who put up their own walls, who grew their own flowers and wheat and corn and babies and cattle out here where I’ve always felt I belonged.

Where I will remain for as long as I am able.

And the colors of the carpets, the make of the siding, the size of the basement loom a little less significantly in my mind today as I am grateful…

Me with my Grandpa Pete in his house, this house, in 1985