Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

music, poetry, musings, photography and philosophy from a woman who found her way back home and wants you to come over for a hike and a cocktail.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

On donuts and grandparents

On donuts and grandparents
Forum Communication

My dad has a funny story he tells about when he was a little boy living over the hill from his grandpa Eddie. Eddie, a widower since his mid thirties, made the best homemade donuts, fried and cakey like the ones we get at the local Lutheran church fundraiser ever year. I always buy an extra dozen or so thinking I’ll freeze them for special occasions, but they never make it to the freezer…

Anyway, my dad was about six or so and was sent over the hill to get a fresh made batch his grandpa promised to his family. So off he marched on a well-worn path between the places. He probably lingered at his grandpa’s for a bit, where he was treated to one or two with milk for his good deed, and then he was off to meander back home, back over that hill, swinging the bag around his head, slapping it against his legs and maybe a rock or two for good measure because it’s fun, and then back and forth across his body until he arrived home with his treats: a dozen perfectly fresh donuts completely annihilated to nothing but crumbs.

I love this story because it gives me a little glimpse into my dad’s relationship with his grandpa on this place during a time in a kids’ life when grandparents are particularly magical, freely sharing knowledge, laughter, pushup pops and in possession of a candy drawer within a child’s reach.

I also like the one where Dad and Uncle Wade ran over to grandpa Eddie’s without declaring their intentions. They were likely missing for a little too long, and so when Grandpa Eddie saw their mother marching over the hill, well, he did what any grandpa would do. He calmly said, “You boys better get home now” and sent them by short cut, so the boys would successfully beat their mother home without crossing her path along the way.

Having grandparents nearby is a special gift that I’m so grateful we’re able to give our children. I had it in some form or another growing up myself and I hold the memories of after school snacks, homemade bubbles, popsicles on the porch and card games of Skippo and Uno in the whimsical and comforting parts of my memory box. There was no one else who thought we were as special or funny or talented or charming. No one else as willing to have us sit around their kitchen tables and tell our long winded stories, or clap as enthusiastically for our saxophone concerts, spontaneous interpretive dances and living room plays.

On the porch with grandma Edie

And no one else would actually stop the car when my little sister yelled that her imaginary friend, Becky, had her hand stuck in the door.

Oh, good grandparents are pretty special. Any day now I’m expecting one of my girls to pack her suitcase and head down the road, running away from her mean mom to someone who truly cares (and who will let her have a cookie for breakfast, lunch and supper.) 

I think my little sister was around three, Rosie’s age, when our grandma Edie found her dragging the giant red Samsonite down the scoria road, running away from the ‘witch’ that was her mother.

Grandparents, simultaneously saving our children while saving us.

Babysitter falls through on Wednesdays? Call Nana. She’ll bring over a project and fold the laundry. Want to join the curling club? Grandma and Papa will take the kids for that evening once a week. Need reassurance that you’re not screwing them up? Papa will tell you they’re perfectly normal and then get after you for thinking otherwise.

Need someone to remind you that a little dirt won’t kill them? Just look to your own mother. She has proof. I mean, you’re still here after all.

No, I can’t imagine getting through parenthood without these wonderful humans, but more than that, it’s magical watching my daughters live out their grandparent sweet spot. I just wouldn’t trust them with the donuts quite yet.

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?

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

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.


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…

Who are we without our memories?

Happy summer everyone. We took as much of a hiatus from real life as we could over the 4th of July week to head to my grandparent’s lake cabin in Minnesota like we do every year over the holiday.

This year was pretty special as more family joined us from across the midwest and my two-year old had a blast following the big kids around the lake.


Great Grandpa and Grandma with all ten of their great grandchildren

I’m not going to lie, traveling with two young kids and staying in a hotel for night upon night is no joke.

Kids like schedules. But there are so many reasons it’s worth it to spend a week having donut holes for breakfast, skipping naps for more swim time, serving popsicles before supper and wiping the sand and grass off of their little feet before zipping up their jammies and flopping down for bed sunkissed, dirty and exhausted from fun at 10 pm.

My only wish is that my girls could remember every minute of the weekend spent with this family, especially these special moments…

Last week, Edie caught her first fish off of her great-grandparents’ dock on a little lake in Minnesota.

After her daddy helped her pull that bluegill out of the water using the little orange fishing pole with the button reel that has likely caught many grandkids’ first fishes, she inspected its puckered mouth, ran her fingers over its scales, looked toward the shore and yelled at the top of her lungs, “Gramma Ginny, look! I caught a fish!”

Gramma Ginny is Edie’s 80-something great-grandmother who is known to her family as a woman who loves to play bridge, has read thousands of books, is probably magic because she can float in the water for hours without paddling and refuses to look on anything but the bright side in life. This is a quality that is seeing her and her family through the difficult and inevitable process of time that has taken her quick wit and memory, but has not broken her spirit.

Edie calls gramma Ginny her best friend and like any best friend, she was thrilled by her little granddaughter’s first catch. I watched them celebrate with a lump in my throat wishing time would stop for a moment.

Edie, don’t get bigger just yet. Gramma, don’t get older. Warm sun, don’t go down on Lake Melissa today; just hang in the sky a little longer and shine on my mom in her swimsuit as she floats out to the sailboat with her sisters. Don’t set on these cousins getting to know one another and growing up too fast. Don’t stop our laughing and start our worries. Not yet. Hold still now, time.

“It’s a beautiful day. A good day,” said Gramma Ginny over and over as all 10 of her great-grandchildren, from 7 months to 14 years old, navigated their relationships to one another over games of beanbag toss, squirt gun fights and kayak trips to the lily pads.

“Yes, yes it is Gramma,” we would reply, all of us reliving old memories of swim lessons from aunties, rainy day card games and mosquito slapping by the campfire, wishing we didn’t know that our matriarch’s memories slip in and out like waves as she holds on tight to her husband’s hand and wades into the familiar feel of the cool lake water towards her grown daughters with children and grandchildren of their own.

I looked at my grandparents and thought about the 60-some years of a life they’ve lived hand in hand like that and I wondered how it is that I want to stop the very thing that has given them so much adventure and fulfillment and love.

What do we know if we can’t remember it all?

Who are we without our recollections, our stories? Our memories?

We are my 2-year-old daughter, fresh and eager to discover a mysterious new world, and her great-grandmother, two best friends celebrating a catch in a special moment on a good and beautiful day.


Unexpected Sacred Spaces

There’s a long hallway in a hospital in the big town that stretches above and across an intersection, connecting two parts of the building with plain beige carpet and tall windows that let the light in from the street.

All day, every day, nurses, doctors and employees rolling carts of covered chicken and Jello to be delivered to patients who may not want to eat but have to eat, walk these hallways as part of their minute by minute routine, wearing their shoes and the carpet a little thinner with each step. To those employees, the hallways of their hospital become a part of the fabric of their day, a relationship that may or may not be complicated. I don’t know for sure. I’ve never worked in a field where my job is to physically care for a person or to use my training to open up a body and save a life, so I can’t speak for them. I don’t know what goes on in the hallways of a hospital from their perspective.

But I do know from the perspective of a daughter who watched her dad come back slowly from the brink of death after an emergency flight and an open chest bypass surgery for a condition with devastating odds three years ago in that hallway that stretches across and above the street of the big town

And I don’t think about it often anymore, because when it turns out the way you want it to turn out, you get that luxury, but I’m thinking about it today because last week we found ourselves there again, the whole family, sitting in the very same waiting room where we would sit with dad for a change of scenery during that weeklong hospital stay.

Only this time he was the healthy one, visiting a family member who hit a little rough patch, offering to get food and magazines and trying to help me wrangle a wiggly one-year-old who found it hilarious to take off running and giggling toward patients’ rooms.

“Let me take her on a walk Jess,” he said as he grabbed her hand and headed for the hallway with the windows….

In those late nights sitting with dad I remember making plans for the barnyard and the corrals, the cows we would buy and what we would do that summer to move us forward. And a few times during our stay in the big town, I walked down the block in the freezing cold wind to talk to my doctor about infertility treatments, to do tests and try to figure out if we were ever going to have a baby.

I got up from the waiting room chair to check on the squeals coming from that long hallway where we would take turns strolling with dad as his surgery wounds healed and my breath sort of caught at the sight of it—a man we weren’t sure was going to live walking hand in hand with a baby we never thought would be born.

And, just like that, a hallway in a hospital in the big town with plain beige carpet and tall windows turned sacred.


Sunday Column: Learning about love from my grandparents

Because it’s freezing and in a few days it will be Valentines Day and we need a holiday like this to warm us all up, this week’s column is about two people who have lived a lifetime together and taught me what it looks like when you truly and completely love one another.

This Valentines Day they will celebrate at their Arizona home. There will likely be breakfast in bed and flowers, a day spent golfing or swimming and dinner plans.

They’ve been married nearly 60 years so they’ve had some practice at celebrating things like love.

They’re the greatest couple I know.

They’re my grandparents.

Coming Home: Learning love from grandparents is a gift
by Jessie Veeder
Fargo Forum

For a lifetime…

I suppose you haven’t noticed that it’s Valentine’s Day today have you? I suppose you haven’t heard the announcements blaring from your T.V. or examined the varieties of chocolate and pink and red things at the store.

I may or may not have caught the hint. So ok, good morning. Happy Valentine’s Day. It’s beautiful out here at the ranch this morning. The snow has been melting all weekend, and although it has left behind slush and mud and water, a lot of water, in its wake, it has also exposed some dirt, some patches of earth, glorious earth, that just days ago resembled nothing other than a frozen tundra.

And I love the way it’s making me feel, all refreshed and new. Hell, I was so into the idea of a spring day that I whipped out my vacuum yesterday and even cleaned a window or two…and maybe a toilet. Oh, and it’s making the animals feel fabulous too. The dogs have been soaking up the sun, lapping up the melt with their pink tongues, horses on the hills are laying on their sides in an open spot of ground letting the sun warm their furry bodies, the deer are rejoicing in the relief of the snow drifts and the coyotes are howling a good morning tune to me as I type this.

The dogs are howling back.

It’s a perfect morning to be celebrating love and all those mushy things…

…and so I am thinking about love and all those mushy things and what it means to me this year. Because it’s Valentines Day. And because I have been thinking about this relationship I have with husband lately because I have been working on planning our 10-year class reunion.

What? When did that happen?

And as soon as I got over the shock that this year will be the year we gather with our old classmates and attempt to explain what the hell we are all doing now and how the hell we got there and why we do or do not have little ones attached to our hips or loves attached to our arms, I realized, shockingly, that my love has been attached to mine for a good thirteen to fourteen years, give or take.

Almost half my life.

And that little piece of information has held my interest lately. Because not only does it mean that I caught husband’s eye during a time in my life when my mouth was full of braces with the little purple rubber band things and I hadn’t yet mastered the art of my hair and my favorite accessory was a smiley face necklace. And if he could fall in love with me then, I think I’m out of the woods when my hair turns a bit more gray and I start wearing Spanks. At least I hope. But it also means if all goes well and we stay healthy and relatively sane throughout the course of our lives, husband and I, at the end of it all, will have spent a lifetime together.


Young FFA love.(Future Farmers of America, for those of you who don't recognize the acronym) Good Lord.

Really, thinking back on it, it already feels like we have, because how much of your life do you recall before you hit twelve years old?   I suppose that’s the high school sweetheart thing that we crazies who found love early and held on tight for whatever reasons have that maybe can’t be explained or rationalized to our friends. Yeah, we stay out of the loop when asked for dating advice and take the phone calls about commitment and then try to explain ourselves.

But how do you explain why anyone holds on so tight–through adolescence, through breakups and make-ups and graduation and college parties and living in separate cities and working long hours and giving a ring and a promise out loud…a promise you had been making to each other when your age ended in teen and you had no idea what “I promise” and “forever” really meant.

No idea.

My grandparents on my mom’s side have been married over fifty years. They met and fell in love in high school and married soon after. Their lives took them across the country, across the ocean and back again. Their love gave them four beautiful daughters, eleven grandchildren and now six great-grandchildren. And they are two of the most influential people in my life when it comes to living with purpose and loving one another (and those around you) with everything you possess.

I have the privilege of being very close to them. They spent their autumns after retirement living and taking care of this very house down the road from my childhood home. And the summer after I graduated from college, the summer I was getting ready to marry husband, a boy I fell in love with who turned into a man with a ring, I lived with these high school sweethearts in their home in Minnesota.

And I am so glad I did, because what I witnessed gave me hope for lasting, true and honest love.

Lifetime love.

Between those walls and behind the windows that faced the lake, the sweethearts kept a quiet routine. My grandmother would take her coffee into bed in the morning and catch up on the news in the nightgown my grandfather no doubt bought her for Christmas that December. My grandfather would dress and read the paper, maybe out in the living room, or on the lawn on a sunny day.  After the news and coffee, my grandfather would most likely make a list of what needed to get done that day—mow the lawn, fix a light switch, clean the boat—and my grandmother would work in her garden, get ready to meet friends in town to play bridge, or take a swim or a walk and be home in time to fix her love some lunch and make dinner plans.

And perhaps this isn’t or hasn’t always been true of their life together, as both of them were working parents raising four children in the city, but since I can remember the two of them always sat down to eat with each other. That was one thing that always struck me as important. Also, my grandfather generally always drives and always fills the gas. My grandmother has her own checking account, knows exactly how to fix her husband’s perfect sandwich and always comments to her girls, her grandkids, about how handsome her husband is, how lucky she is to have him…and then quickly adds, “he’s a pretty lucky guy too, I’m not so bad myself.”

And in the winter of their lives together, this carries on. I am sure my mother has much more to say about the relationship of her parents, the affection, the adoration, the breakfast in bed and the chivalry. But as their grandchild their love for one another has been a gift to me.

Because it has taught me (and bear with me here because I think it is especially important on this hyped up day with all of the pink hearts dangling above our heads and jewelry commercials blaring through the speakers) that love, long term love, even if it began in the fragile and naïve stages of your life, isn’t about the red roses or the diamond ring, although my grandfather has shown that those gestures are important too, especially on days like these…

…in fact, as I sit here I imagine that down there in Arizona, where my grandparents are making their winter home, my grandpa has ordered up some flowers and perhaps even made his sweetheart breakfast in bed.

And my grandmother probably has dinner reservations for tonight.

They’ve had practice with this holiday and these types of celebrations are important to them…

But after the holiday and the grand gestures, their love is about a bit of something else…

…it is about genuine affection and knowing when to put mayo on his sandwich, or taking a moment to make him a sandwich at all. It is about space to play your bridge game and take a swim or a walk or a book club date and the trust that there is someone at home with the light on. It is knowing when to stop the tears and when to just wipe them up when they fall. It is holding hands and making decisions based on what makes you feel good, together, and what allows you to soak up the sun and laugh at the rain.

It is about worrying about the same things while one of you is designated to hold it together. It is about being proud of each other. It is about small gestures done to make the other’s life a little easier—coffee in the morning, a full tank of gas, perfectly folded underwear, compromising on the type of milk to keep in the fridge.

It’s about complete and utter confidence…in yourself…in each other.

And although I don’t doubt my grandparents have had their fair share of hard times, I am going to go ahead and take a wild guess that they have made the conscious choice to make sure they have just as many good times to make up for it.

That’s the way they are. That’s how their love goes.

And thanks to them, I have hope that my love can go that way too…

…from braces to gray hair…

…for a lifetime.

%d bloggers like this: