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.

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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.

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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.

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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
2-9-13
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

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.