A goat and a Lincoln

A Goat and a Lincoln: When Childhood Memories Turn Whimsical
3-12-17
by Jessie Veeder
http://www.inforum.com

Some days, when I feel like life hasn’t thrown me an adventure worthy enough of reflection, I like to dig back in the archives for a memory to recount, the way you do when you find yourself sitting around the table having a beer with old friends.

We all have our favorite go-to stories in times like these, the kind that work in mixed company, just off-kilter enough to reveal something about you to new friends while reminding old ones you were a younger girl and you once drove 30 miles in the car you borrowed from your best friend’s dad, to pick up a goat.

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That’s the story I’m thinking of today.

It’s funny how far your own memories can detach from you, making you a character in the plot line of a life you once led. Everyone seems to remind me of the “hold on tight to these memories” refrain now that I’m a mom, but I should have been warned more when I was kid to hold on to the part of my life where I was 14 and reckless and my best friend was beside me in her dad’s nineteen-seventy-something Lincoln. We were driving on the highway alone for the first time in our lives, feeling grown up and capable, with a late spring rain hitting the windshield, turning the scoria roads bright pink against a neon-green landscape …

Road Home

We used to listen to our dads swap stories around the kitchen table when we were children playing make believe in the other room. We would hear them talk about old times — cars with no seat belts, dirt bike ramps and no helmets, horses that bucked too hard — and I wondered if one day my childhood stories might sound as whimsical to my kids.

I didn’t have much real experience driving outside the prairie trails and back roads of the ranch. But my friend and I were getting ready for our first year in high school rodeo, and we thought we needed to get ourselves a goat to practice tying.

Now, I’m not sure what our parents were busy with that day, or why on earth they at least didn’t send us with one of the ranch pickups to take the 30-mile drive in the rain alone to buy a goat from the neighbor’s farm, but that’s the way it happened.

We were an innocent enough pair as far as young teenagers go, and I was born with enough old woman running through my veins that my parents were pretty confident I wouldn’t dare hit any speed higher than 55 … and anyway, the Lincoln couldn’t go much faster.

But, oh how quickly that old lady was driven out of my 14-year-old veins when the open road was before me and my best friend was beside me, and there was hardly another car on the road. My confidence was building with every mile and every mile-per-hour I got closer to the speed limit, until I turned off the highway and onto the church road and decided to really gas it to get a good splash out of that puddle.

That Lincoln jerked hard to the right, fishtailing on the gravel before ramping off the shoulder of the road then sliding down the slope of the ditch and coming to rest at the front of the deep mud trench it buried itself in next to a freshly planted field.

The world outside that old car evaporated as my friend and I stared silently and straight ahead for the moment we needed to evaluate if we were still alive.

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Once we found our breath, we found each other, sucked back a few tears, and then, eventually, found the spare tire in the trunk, just in time for one of the neighborhood grandpas to find us.

What a sight we must have been there — two soggy, pathetic kids standing in the rain and in the agonizing moments between freedom and a lesson.

But maybe not as much of a spectacle we must have been when we finally headed back home, slow and steady down the highway, wild and young and free, just two best friends and our goat standing on the backseat, popping his head up between us.

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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