Because of the women they were yesterday…

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It’s International Women’s Day.

Yesterday the wind blew snow across the plains at 60 miles per hour at times. I got out of bed at 6 am after a completely sleepless night with my one-year-old. I climbed in the warm shower and got my hair washed and legs shaved. I pulled on my robe and shuffled downstairs to wake my finally sleeping daughter, to kiss her cheeks, to change her diaper, to get her dressed, to send her out the door with her dad so she could spend a day at daycare and I could drive in the wind three hours across the state for work and then drive myself home again hopefully in time to miss the dangerous and snowy dark and to rock my baby to sleep.

I’m a mother living on a 100+ homestead at the end of a long winter.

Some days I feel lonesome and isolated.

Most days I feel fortunate.

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Every day I think of the women in my family who raised kids before me out here on the edge of the badlands before electricity, before telephones, before washing machines and the conveniences of our modern world that make it easier for women like me to pursue my own dreams.

Gramma Edie

My grandmother Edith as a young woman helping on her family farm

I wish I could talk about dreams with my great grandmother Gudrun who came to the United States from Norway at sixteen years old and raised twelve children out here in the early 1900s,  in all our brutal seasons.

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

Great Grandma Gudrun with her twelve children, my grandma Edith in the center in the plaid and bow

I wish I could talk dreams with my grandma Edith, one of Gudrun’s middle daughters, who grew up on that homestead with eleven siblings, married the neighbor boy, taught school children on the reservation next to the ranch, raised three kids and took many others into their small home and worked cattle alongside her husband, making sure breakfast was served in the morning and supper was on the table at night.

18. Gramma Edie holding baby Jessie

Grandma Edith holding me

I wish I could talk dreams with my great-grandma Eleanore, who raised two boys on her own as a working woman after the war in a time where single mothers weren’t a common thing.

And I am so grateful I can talk dreams with my mother’s mother, my grandma G. I’m grateful that I’ve taken the time to ask her what it meant to raise four girls in the fifties and sixties as a working career woman. I’m grateful she’s shared with me the struggles and accomplishments she’s found so important to her and to the lives of her daughters so that I can better understand how far we’ve come.

Gramma Ginny

My grandma Ginny with three of her four daughters, two of her four granddaughters and one of her two great granddaughters. 

And more than anything, I am thankful for my own mother who taught me to persevere, to pay attention, to laugh, to be kind, to recognize the struggles and have compassion for those different than you, to never be the victim and to work hard.

Always work hard.

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I have become the woman I am today because of the women they were yesterday. 

Let’s celebrate that strength in our past and look to the future with muscles flexed today. 

For a little motivation, a little celebratory music, here’s “Work Girl.”

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

I Googled “Jelly Making”

So in between my first month of employment back at the ranch, turning 27, planning a vacation with my friends, drinking entirely too much red wine, losing my wallet, not doing the laundry, frolicking in the hills, not mowing the lawn, making dried wreathes and crappy dinners for my husband, trying to get through a painfully boring book and painting my toenails bright pink, I have been canning.

And it turns out the age-old art it is nothing in real life like was is in my head.

As most of you know, this has been the summer of every North Dakotan’s dreams. The moisture and sunshine have been taking turns nicely, which has enticed the berries on every wild bush out here to grow big and bright. So husband and I decided that this bountiful, juicy, beautiful fruit simply could not go to waste and, between the two of us, we should be able to figure out how to get it into some syrupy, jelly, sugary delicious form. It couldn’t be that hard, could it?

It all started off innocently, like a scene from a Laura Ingalls Wilder novel (minus the prairie dresses and berry buckets and add cheap sunglasses, tank tops and plastic bags from Target). Husband and I, jelly on our minds, roamed the hills together scoping out the best place to pick chokecherries and plums, talking dreamily about the tips we have received from generous relatives and friends about the best way to make the jelly gel, the syrup sweet, the jars seal and how not to poison yourself and every innocent victim that receives our canned goods as a Christmas gift.

Our first berry hunt however, turned up nothing. We scoured all of my familiar places on the ranch…you know, where I used to pick plums and spit the pits at my sister, but it seemed the deer had the same idea we had about the sweet fruit–only a couple days before us. I am sure their jelly tastes good. Wonder if they have any tips.

Anyway, it didn’t matter much because with husband taking the rifle along for target practice and me with my camera obsession, we lost our focus somewhere between me taking photos of the last wildflowers and him shooting their heads off.

We tried again a few days later and did manage to come up with quite the crop, but that was after swatting away crow sized mosquitoes, a weird tan line, one lost husband (or maybe I was lost…that was never resolved really) and multiple bloody cuts on hands and elbows from the bushes that grow thorns as well as plums (which is, in my opinion, an unnecessary form of protection for a plant)

And so we trudged home with our loot, very gratified and very excited about the bounty that these little berries were about to produce.

I thought about really getting after it….

But there they sat, in the plastic bag for a good three to five days, while I procrastinated.

I wasn’t sure why I chose to wait so long to tackle an activity that I have always wanted to master. And as it turned out, I had all of the stuff. All of the required tools my grandmother used to can her world famous jellies and syrups and tomato soup and pickles was still packed neatly in a cupboard in the basement, waiting for the next canning season—a season that had been skipped in this house for nearly sixteen years.

So I was determined to break the streak, no matter how intimidating words like “pectin” and “pressure cooker” and “lid bands” were to me. I was going to figure this thing out. Without any help. Just like the old days!

And it was going to be so calming, this process. I visualized husband and I in our cozy kitchen, sorting through our crop, laughing and talking about our hopes and dreams. I imagined him stirring the juices in a big pot as I added the necessary ingredients–the kind of loving and cheese ball teamwork you see in between the covers of a Better Homes and Gardens Magazine.

That was the plan anyway. Until I realized that perhaps the Pod People in BHGM don’t have parties to plan, bills to pay, jobs and, you know, have probably done this sort of thing before.

So I Googled “Jelly Making” and shit hit the fan.

Because you know all those helpful people that were giving husband and I advice about something they have been doing for years and years with grammas and old aunts and sisters and maybe even a Betty Crocker style male role model? Yeah, well there are a lot of those helpful people on the Internet.

A LOT!

And they all have something different to say.

I started to sweat.

My berries were picked. They were sorted through. I had my pots and pans, I had my jars and lids, I had my pectin and sugar, I had my spoons and strainers. I had a good two hours to devote to this…

I had a nervous breakdown.

And after a good hour and a half (just short of my allotted time frame) of verbally abusing myself and husband, the loving man sent me to bed.

Like literally sent me to bed. No joke, he said “You. Go to bed. Now.”

So I did.

The next day, after a strong cup of coffee and an apology, I hunkered down and asked for advice from a trusted source.

And you know what that advice was? Just read the directions in the packet of Sure Jell.

So I did. When husband was gone, I turned off all forms of distraction, stood in the kitchen in my bare feet, prepared my lids, put the juice and sugar and pectin in a pot and stirred and stirred and stirred over my grandmother’s stove in my grandmother’s kitchen.

And she, my gramma, must have been in that house, in that kitchen with me that afternoon. She must have been balancing her berry strainer, holding the spoon, timing the boil, whispering in my ear when to remove it from the heat and letting me know just how much hot liquid to pour in the jars. She had to have been there, making up for lost time, because it came together somehow. I let go and she took over and it all came together (without injury) into sugary, sweet, perfectly purple plum jelly lined up on her counter in a neat little row.

I took a step back, hands on my hips after the work was done, and I was damn proud.

Then a little sad.

And in that moment it occurred to me why it has taken me so long, why this is an art I haven’t attempted.

Because there were people I could call, friends and family I could ask to come over and help me, really good cookbooks I could trust. But I didn’t want them–I didn’t want to trust those pages, those people. .

This was her art…her kitchen…her tools.

I wanted her.

And she had been there all along.