At the end of a life…

Coming Home: At the end of a life
Forum Communications

Over supper tonight I was attempting to tell my husband about the highlights of my recent getaway to Nashville when my 3-year-old interrupted me repeatedly, insisting her story was more interesting.

“I went to the big town and swam in a hotel pool and met a friend with curly hair who shared her mermaid while you were on vacation to Menards,” she declared.

Nashville. Menards. To a 3-year-old, it’s all the same and another reminder that I was back to the reality of two-toddlers-in-the-house-supper-conversation as we rolled into bath time and bedtime and now here I am trying meet a deadline, piecing thoughts together as the clock pushes midnight…

A few years before my grandmother Edie died, she went on a trip by herself to Alaska. I’m not sure why I remember her vacation so vividly, but maybe it was because the timing fell in the short years she lived after her husband died and so, even as a 9-year-old kid, I was aware of her loneliness.

I understood somehow it was an adventure she never had a shot at as a daughter of homesteading immigrants turned into a rancher and mother of four turned into a widow before she even had a chance to turn 60.

I like to think of her standing on the deck of the cruise ship, posing in front of an iceberg, her magenta lips smiling wide and brave at a new beginning. There have been a million times since she died that I feel like we were robbed of her long life. She would have loved Nashville.

Last week, my husband’s grandmother died while I was sitting in a pew at the Grand Ole Opry. I found out between acts. And even though I suspected it was coming, my heart sank and I cried.

Of course I cried at the loss of a life so precious to all of us. I watched the rest of the show with that lump in my throat, thinking of Leona and how she would have loved the Opry if we could have ever convinced her to spend that kind of money on a ticket when she could listen for free on the radio for crying out loud, which was just one of the many reasons we loved her.

Leona was a woman raised on the dirt of the Great Depression who made up for her low thermostat setting with her warm nature and good humor. The first time I met her I was just a teenager, warned not to leave too many bites of pancake on my Perkins plate, not because she would judge you necessarily, but because it would drive her crazy.

“She cuts her paper plates in half,” said my future husband.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Jessie Veeder’s Coming Home columns

Maybe then I laughed at the absurdity, but ask me now and I will tell you this world needs more people like Leona. There’s not enough space here to tell you all of the reasons, but I hope I’ve said enough for you to understand why I kept her on my mind as I bought a round of drinks at Tootsie’s, toured the Country Music Hall of Fame and cleaned all of my plates.

Tomorrow, at her funeral, I will learn a little more about the places she went to forget about the burdens of life. I have a hunch her trips were more twirls across the dance floor with the men she loved than overpriced flights across the country.

She always seemed as content with where she was as she was content with that old VHS player no one could convince her to upgrade. And as a person who is always reaching and wondering, I admired her for that.

We were given the gift of Leona’s long life, but I wish I would’ve asked her if she thought we ever have enough time, although I think I know the answer. It’s only the ones left behind who feel robbed.

Leona, tomorrow I’ll play you “Red River Valley.” We’ll miss you forever.

Making Memories. Making Pies.

img_3947

It’s a beautiful morning at the ranch, the wind is calm and the golden trees are sparkling in the sun, the baby is napping, the windows are open and I’m so happy to be home after six days on the music road.

img_2435

I’ve designated this day to unpacking and putting away all that was drug out in the name of traveling across the state with a ten-month old and my mother…which means we most definitely brought home way more than we left home with…

img_2439

Like maybe a few more outfits. And at least one new pair of shoes for each of us.

And maybe a giraffe suit for Little Sister?

img_2477

We sure have a fun and exhausting time when we’re out traipsing around the countryside. But we don’t get much napping in. And we don’t stick to a bedtime. And we try to cram as much fun as we can in between the gigs.

baby-merch-slinger

Mini Merch Slinger

So we’re tired.

img_2445

I predict Edie will take the rest of the week to catch up on all of the extra time she spent kicking and clapping and singing along with her eyes wide open until the bitter end of the day when we plopped down together on the hotel bed, or the bed in my grandparent’s house, or the bed of our gracious hosts, and finally gave into the night.

baby-at-music

Sound check…

I’m contemplating crawling into her crib with her right now and the two of us could stay there all day. If only we both fit.

But not until I share this week’s column with you, a little story about the best part of this season change, which is most certainly more time in the kitchen with family reminiscing and making new, sweet flavored memories.

And I may be no Martha Stewart, as you all know, but this was my biggest attempt yet, getting as close as this non-pastry-making-family can get to pie perfection, thanks to the notes left behind from our grandma Edie…and maybe a little encouraging from above.

Happy season change. May the cooler weather inspire you to cuddle up and settle down a bit. I know that’s my goal this upcoming October anyway.

img_2483

Coming Home: Connecting with gramma’s memory over a slice of apple pie
by Jessie Veeder
9-25-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

img_5029

My mom keeps a small wooden box in her kitchen, tucked up in the cupboard next to her collection of cookbooks. On the front it reads “RECIPES” in the shaky, wood-burning technique of a young boy trying his hand at carpentry.

And the from-scratch buns she served with supper.

And the familiar casseroles that you could smell cooking as you walked up toward the tiny brown house from the barnyard after a ride on a cool fall evening.

Every once in awhile my mom will open that box on a search for a memory tied to our taste buds. She’ll sort through the small file of faded handwriting and index cards until she finds it, setting it on the counter while she gathers ingredients, measures stirs and puts the dish together the best way she remembers.

I’m thinking about it now because it’s sitting on my kitchen table, the one that used to sit in my grandmother’s kitchen all those years ago acting as a surface to roll out dough and pie crusts or a place to serve countless birthday cakes or her famous April Fool’s day coffee filter pancakes.

And so they’ve met again, that table and that box, which is currently sitting next to a pie pan covered in tinfoil.

Because last week we pulled the box out on a mission for guidance on what to do with the 50,000 pounds of apples my little sister inherited from the tree in the backyard of the house she bought a few years back.

“Maybe we should make applesauce or apple crisp,” we said as Little Sister plopped the fourth bag full of fruit on my kitchen counter, my mom sipping coffee and my big sister entertaining my nephew beside her.

I reached up in the cupboards to dust off a couple recipe books because we all agreed then that apples this nice deserve to be in a pie, and Googling “pie making” seemed too impersonal for such an heirloom-type task.

Then Mom remembered the recipe box.

And that Gramma Edie used to make the best apple pies.

It was a memory that was intimately hers and vaguely her daughters’. We were too young to remember the cinnamon spice or the sweetness of the apples or the way she would make extra crust to bake into pieces and sprinkle with sugar when the pies were done, but our mother did.

And most certainly so did our dad.

So we dove into the recipe with the unreasonable confidence of amateurs and spent the afternoon in my kitchen, peeling apples, bouncing the baby and rolling and re-rolling out gramma’s paradoxically named “No Fail Pie Crust,” laughing and cheering a victory cheer as we finally successfully transferred it to the top of the pie using four hands and three spatulas, certain this wasn’t our grandmother’s technique.

Wondering how she might have done it.

img_5050

Little Sister carved a heart in the top to make it look more presentable. We put the pie in the oven, set the timer and hoped for the best.

img_2404

img_5048img_2411

We fed the baby and gave her a bath. We watched my nephew demonstrate his ninja moves. We talked and poured a drink. We cleared the counter for supper. We put the baby to bed.

And then we pulled the pie from the oven. We marveled at our work. We decided it looked beautiful, that we might declare it a huge success, but first we should see what Dad thinks.

So we dished him up a piece. It crumbled into a pile on his plate, not pie shaped at all. But he closed his eyes and took a bite and declared it just the right amount of cinnamon, the apples not too hard, the crust like he remembered, not pretty but good.

We served ourselves and ate up around that old table. We thought of our grandma, wondered if she might have given us a little help and put the recipe back in the box right next to her memory and the new one we made.

And we closed the lid.

0b5wznj8wwj6_qwo2ten5cwotyjq

 

Sunday Column: What it means to be a cowgirl

The wind is blowing so hard out here it woke us out of a dead sleep early this morning and detached some of the new shingles on the roof of the garage, undoing in one second some of the hard work Husband laid down last weekend when the weather was a little less tornado-ey and a bit more melty.

You never know what you’re going to get out here. If I’ve learned anything this winter I’ve learned that. 

So we’re spending the day inside making shelves, making plans, making progress and making egg in a hole.

Ever had it? It’s gourmet.

Later today after I get tired of handing my dear husband things like nail guns, screwdrivers,   sandpaper and the thing he just asked me to find that I will never find because I have no idea what it is, I will go hide in my room and play some cowboy music and try to get  prepared for our trip to Elko on Tuesday. 

This trip to another region of cowboy country has gotten me thinking about my roots and where I may have picked up on the idea that I want to stick around here and ride horses for the rest of my life.

In fact, lately I’ve been in touch with a woman from New York who is working on “The Cowgirl Project,” a documentary and movement that explores what it means to be a cowgirl. She’s going to meet me in Elko next week and we’re going to talk about it a bit more, but to prepare she called me up and asked me for my initial thoughts on the topic.

Visit www.barbaranewmancreative.com for more information

At the time I was riding in the back of my Big Sister’s car as she drove our dad around town, a sort of outing we’d been scheduling that week to get him out into the world as he recovers. Lately I’ve found all of the women in my life have had to ‘Cowboy Up,’ so to speak, to tap into the best and strongest parts of ourselves to move through the scariest moment of our lives and come out better–more compassionate, more understanding and more capable–on the other end.

But I have to be honest, I’ve never thought to define the word “cowgirl.” And so when I was asked to do just that, I sort of started rambling. I mean, I have plenty of thoughts on what it means to be a cowboy, but really, when I get right down to it, some of the best cowboys I know are women.

And they don’t all wear hats and chaps and ride a strawberry roan. 

No. In fact one of the best cowgirls I’ve known, the one who showed me at a young age the kind of woman I could turn out to be if I stuck here with the cattle and the buttes and a roast in the oven, was my grandmother.

And when I think of her I think of an old free feed cap and hands that can soothe a baby and fix a fence.

When I think of her I think strong, not just in muscle but in spirit.

When I think of her I think of homemade rag dolls,  popsicles on the porch, rainwater catching in the barrel below the house and digging up potatoes in the garden out back.

When I think of her I think overalls in the winter and her voice yelling “Come Boss! Come Boss!” as my grandpa threw out grain for the cattle.

When I think of her I think of family and holidays surrounded by cousins and aunts and uncles in a tiny kitchen on the prairie, homemade buns and the jello salad she always forgot in the refrigerator. 

When I think of her I think of that old sorrel horse, the one I rode when she was gone. The one that taught me how to fall off and get back up again.

Coming Home: How I define a cowgirl
by Jessie Veeder
1/26/14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

There are plenty more like her out there, some of who’ve never sat thier ass in a saddle, but if asked to get ‘on up there  would give it her best shot, with confidence, grace and good humor.

And when you got home there would be a roast in the oven and maybe a jello salad somewhere in the back of the fridge.

And I don’t know what it all means except that as long as their are women out there who know how to “cowboy up,”–in between sidewalks or on the wide open trail–I think we’re all going to be ok.

If you need me I’ll be in my room singing about it.