A letter from me.

So here I am, 27 years ago on my first birthday getting ready to dig into some cake.

Last night I found myself in this same spot, in a house on the end of the same road, on the same day of the year, doing the same thing.

Yup. I turned 28 yesterday. And somewhere between digging into the angel food cake my momma bakes me each year, opening presents in my parent’s living room and reflecting on the past while thinking seriously (like I do on August 25th each year) about what I want to be when I grow up, I realized that really, in 28 years of life in this body, not much has changed about me, except for maybe the length of my limbs…

Please, allow me to reflect for a moment:

See, despite being thrust into a world with a big sister who liked frilly, pink, sparkly things…and ballet slippers…it was quite evident at a young age that being stuffed into a tutu was not where my pudgy body felt the most comfortable.

Oh, I will admit, I tested it a bit, having gone through a stage at about 2 or 3 where all I wore was leotards, tights, leg-warmers and velcro shoes. I am not sure whether or not to be thankful to my wonderful parents who obliged this trend, allowing me the freedom of expression, even though that freedom included spandex and a sweaty toddler.  Thank Martha that phase only stuck long enough for a few choice photos to exist.

Yes, soon I realized I was much more comfortable in outfits made out of denim and plaid.

That worked for me. Dance lessons be damned, I was going to be a gardener.

A gardener and a vet.

Oh, there was a moment, I think in the leotard phase, that I wanted to be a beauty shop.

Yes. A beauty shop. 

But I think that was tossed out of the equation as soon as I got on the back of my first horse.

Then I was for sure going to be a rodeo star. A singing professional horse trainer and barrel racer. That would make my life complete. That and living in a hollowed out tree like the kid in my favorite book “My Side of the Mountain.”

Yes, I would be a gardening vet and professional singing horse trainer who lived in a hollowed out tree and on Fridays I would attend county fairs and jump my amazing horses off of one-hundred foot towers and into tiny pools of water like the woman in the movie “Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken.” Only, I wouldn’t go blind.

I would need my eyesight to attend to the animals.

I remember it that way anyway, being young and full of magnificent ideas about the world I would create for myself once I was an adult. And then you hit about 15 and you start questioning everything that you had laid out so nice and neat in your imagination. And then you go to college and you experience mass confusion. And then you get your first job, ditch your first job, fall in love or out of love, get your own dog or goldfish and continue searching for a spot in this world…the spot you were pretty sure existed when you were four or five or six.

Where the hell did it go?

When I moved back here, to the ranch, a little over a year ago, I made a small promise to myself to do the things I remember loving so much as a kid. That explains the gumbo hill fiasco, you know? And I have. But now that the newness of this back at the ranch experience is wearing off, I have found myself losing sight of that promise, pushing it away to make more room for paperwork and plans.

Yes, paperwork and plans, they exist in an adult’s life. But they don’t have to move everything else–time spent watching the sunset, picking wildflower, exploring the coulees, or trying to catch a frog–out of the way. It’s hard to remind myself of that sometimes.

So when I received an email from one of my long-lost friends last month, a friend who really only knew Jessie Blain Veeder as a young kid in elementary school, I was excited to hear that she had found one of the letters I had written to her as a best friend forever who was left behind at the country school as she moved to the big town.

I think I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. And my long-lost best friend–who used to be as wild as I was, dirty knees, swinging from the branches of the small oaks, falling in creeks and exploring the barn– felt compelled to share that letter with me.

Word for word. Spelling error for spelling error.

As a gift for you all, dear readers, in the week of my birthday, I am going to share it with you now:

Dear Caroline (CBO):

I am writing to you from my school room. I heard that you invited me to your house this summer and I think that would be wonderful. I Miss you a whole bunch and I wish you still were at this school. I haven’t written or talked to you for a very long time. I have this friend and her name is Gwen she reminds Me of you. Thats why I like her. We are going to the Theodore Rosevelt National Park tomorrow for our field trip and it is supposed to be 80 outside. I herd that you are going to a horse camp. I am too. Are you in 4-H? I am. I am going to 4-H horse camp. I am going to Bible Camp and Youth Camp for 4-H. I have been riding horse alot this year. I am sooooooo glad winter is over. Rondee is substitute teaching today because my teacher is sick. She has been gone for four days. Friday Monday and Tuesday and Wednseday. We get out of school on the 20th of May. We have play day on the 20th too. I am doing the three legged race with Gwen. We have been practicing for a long time and we are going to Kick Mike and Dan’s Butt. For sure. They never practice and we are getting pretty good at it. Do you remember when we won the three legged race together? What are you going to be when you grow up. Ever since my runt Dog named Tiny died I have been thinking that there was something I could do to save her. So I have decided I want to be a vet. I love animals and I want to help them. I have been playing vet at recess alot and I have discovered that I know alot about animals. We are bottle feeding a calf his name is A.J. We had twin calves too. I named them Rockey and Bowinkle. We have many kittens but most of them are wild. The calico cat has had 9 or 10 batches of kittens ever since you left from your last visit. Well It is time for class better go. 

Your friend forever

Jess. 

Sigh.

Thanks Caroline. Thanks for the reminder that the person who wrote you this letter is still in me–wild hair, wild ideas, wild kittens and all.

Happy birthday little girl. Thanks for hanging in there with me. Because of you,  I think we’re gonna be ok.

Just like her. Just like me.

 

I would like to take a trip down memory lane this morning because I feel I have some explaining to do. I find I have to explain myself quite regularly given my emotional outbursts, unruly hair, borderline crazy relationships with animals, worst case scenario obsession and addiction to cheese, so don’t feel bad about it. I sure don’t.

But I feel it’s necessary given all of the drama, all of the animal created chaos, all of the love for place I have spilled all over the sweet world wide web.

Because I want you to know that this behavior, this passion, this melodramatic, arms wide open to the world life I lead and the fact that I write about it in all its glory and dirt and bruises and wind and sunshine is nothing new. Nothing new at all.

Yes, at young age I was told to write it all down, little girl. Write all those feelings down so you can capture them and understand them and maybe not worry so much.

So I did it and have been doing so ever since. And most of those thoughts were held safe in books never to see the light of day.

But sometimes we were given writing assignments in school…and, well…I guess I just couldn’t hold back the emotion and the theatrics and philosophy that emoted from my innocent mind,  seeing it was my time to expose my soul to the world.

In 3rd  grade.

And it just happened to be that one of my most prized obsessions at the time, and actually during my entire elementary school career, was my old horse and partner in crime and confidant and best friend Rindy. Rindy the old, sorrel mare.

Me with the mare at a 4-H show. I told you I was serious about 4-H and now I present the evidence-- all over that sweet, intense face.

Rindy was often the subject of my early literature.

So my gift to you, straight out of the archives, are a couple of my early pieces on the subject of friendship and love and animal whispering–all lessons learned from this beautiful, overweight and elderly creature.

Get your tissues and be prepared to be moved beyond words.

Exhibit A:

Yes, I think Exhibit A demonstrates my flair for adventure and the competitive spirit you all know me to posses as an adult. Oh, and also pure honesty at my father’s convenient forgetfulness which provided me a valid excuse for my accident. And my love of a good story.

And my feelings. Oh my feelings…

…which seemed to be placed directly on my sleeve at birth and continued to develop and grow and overwhelm my being as time marched on and my relationship with, ahem, my horse, blossomed and grew…

I give you Exhibit B:

First, I would like to point out that it was I who coined the phrase “you complete me.”

Take that Jerry Maguire.

Second, I think it is quite evident here that I needed some real friends…you know…the kind with opposable thumbs. I guess that’s what happens when you give a girl 3,000 acres years before she is legally allowed to take her drivers test (and fail).

Point three, it appears that third grade is where I developed the art of preparing for the worst case scenario as it looks like I was arranging for the eminent death of my four legged companion, or worse, her trip to the sale barn.

As if my pops would take away my only friend.

And while I have the podium, let us marvel at my remarkable use of simile, i.e:  “cling to her like a bur,” which I am certain I took from one of those children’s horse novels I was reading at the time.

In addition, it appears I was also the first horse whisperer to write about my successful experiences training the four legged beast to perform on command at such great speeds by, you know, talking it over with her.

We are a blur (or was that bur?) of athleticism and speed and pure endurance, thanks to my training skills and Rindy's agility and physique.

Also, please note the little whip I had ready in case Rindy fell out of line. A whip that was, if I’m being honest here, all show. A whip that never even grazed that horse’s butt. Not a once.

Now wasn’t that fun?

So here’s the thing about this flashback– there is more to our photos and our memories than bad red pants and other questionable fashion choices.

See, living out here for the past six months as an adult woman who is looking for her place in the world I am reminded every day of where I began:  in the hills behind this very house where I fell off multiple horses, walked the coulees, wrote my first songs and sang them at the top of my lungs to the trees, where I learned to dress warm, do what I’m told, identify the wildflowers, teach a young horse to trust me and plant and tend to a garden that would reap what I sowed.

And I know that’s a gift given to me from someone, somewhere.

Because oh, how I have searched for myself, just like we all have at different times in our lives, at different transitions: from student to employee. From woman to wife. From wife to mother. From young to-“gasp”- old. Yes, I have searched before and learned lessons from failing at goals, crying about work, messing up friendships and driving away from it all.

And in the times I have lost myself I have often closed my eyes and asked the ten year old version of myself, you know, the one you see up there, what to do. I have asked her for her spirit, for her courage, for her confidence and dreams.

I have asked her where she has gone? How could she leave me like this alone and so unprepared to take on all of our plans?

Because ten year old version of me really had it all figured out.  I really liked her.  And there were times I needed her and her purple pants to come and be by my side, to come and save me from myself.

So I came home. I traipsed around her old stomping grounds. I clung, like she so eloquently described, to the back of horses she never had the chance to meet. I named the wildflowers and searched for stray kittens and flung my body down the clay buttes during a rain storm and did all of the things that she would tell me to do if she could have seen me wallowing like this.

And it’s been six months, a half a year since I moved back here, back home where my roots are planted. So here’s my explanation, the one I promised you at the beginning of my journey down memory lane: This world in which I’ve surrounded myself remains a wonder to me.

Because this weekend as I was looking through old photographs and laughing and teasing and covering my eyes at the choice of words and the choice of outfits, tears streamed down my face at the thought of the innocence and spirit I possessed and how my life captivated me so.

During the last six months, as I saddled up horse after horse and took off over the hills smiling, flying through pastures, talking to those creatures like I did when I was young, sometime, somewhere when I let it all go and threw myself to the wind again, someone nudged me in the ribs, her face wide in a smile, curls springing out from underneath her cap, eyes big and brown looking at me with anticipation, with excitement, with creativity and energy.

She opened her smile to say,  “Hi there.”

And I saw my reflection: my hair a wreck, my jeans worn at the knees, my sorrel horse beneath me, my skin kissed by the weather and I was not afraid of myself. I was not worried. I was not unsure or fragile or grasping at the right things.

I was doing it.

The right thing.

My favorite thing.

Just like her…

Just like me.

  • Listen to a song I wrote when I was 12 or 13: White Horses