A song comes to life

Coming Home: How a song comes to life in the garden

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She was munching on a pea pod I’d plucked from the plant in front of her, her fine blonde hair escaping from the ball cap she insists on wearing backwards, rendering it completely useless for protecting her rosy cheeks from the 80 degree day.

Before she finishes her first garden treat, she’s reaching out her hands, mouth full, mumbling “more.” I pick her two, one for each hand. Pleased, she struts across the garden in her cowboy boots and shorts, trampling over my onions on her way to see if she might get the chance to pull up an entire bean plant before her momma tells her “no!”

We’d been in the garden together for approximately 10 minutes and this is about the way it goes — a series of “come heres,” “no, no, nos” and “stop walking on my peppers!” as if a toddler understands any more about the concept of a garden than the cool touch of the dirt and the crunch of that pea pod she’s started asking for by name while she points out the window toward the yard.

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I was removing the grip of her chubby fingers from the leaves of that plant when I looked up to find my husband and dad, back from the hay field, apparently taking a moment to see how this scene was going to turn out, a pregnant momma trying to save her garden from Toddlerzilla.

I put my hand up to shield my eyes and hollered, “hello” as they made their way over to take a seat on the grass in front of us, smelling like diesel exhaust and sweat. Edie squealed “Papa” and ran toward them.

They sat there together for a bit, commenting on the cool breeze, feeding Edie more peas while I pulled up radishes and weeds and that was that, just another moment in a series of moments on the ranch.

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“I went home that night and I was choked up about it,” Dad said the other night as we were driving home from a performance. “I saw you out there with her and it just reminded me of that song you wrote…”

I dreamed you high up on his shoulders, on a horse, riding along. I dreamed you digging in the garden and I wrote you in a song…

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And I thought, oh, of course. That song I wrote all those years ago, dreaming up that very moment, which seemed so out of reach at the time. I only sang it alone in my house and cried through multiple takes in the studio where I recorded it weeks after losing my fourth or fifth pregnancy … I lose count.

And then there we were, together in the middle of that scene, sweating in the hot sun and getting the chance to take it all for granted.

But leave it to Papa to say, “Well, look at you now! Who would have thought?”

Yes. Look at us now.

Because in this life we’re all made for something, holding tight and letting go. And some things, they are certain, and some things we’ll never know…

List to full length version of “For You Child” from my 2012 album, “Nothing’s Forever” available for purchase at www.jessieveedermusic.com 

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From Lost to Found: A Pug Story

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Search “Chug the Pug” on this blog and you will find countless entries on this little black bean of a dog that came into our lives to help us through a rough patch, and then continued on his merry way,

peeing in my husband’s shoes, losing an eye to a porcupine, snuggling up with the kittens,

chasing bulls out of the yard, showing up the bird dogs with his pheasant retrieval skills, snoring, snorting, howling and just all around creating hilarious chaos and merriment wherever he went.

He was a character in our lives out here at the ranch, one I loved to torture by dressing him up in a Santa suit and making him pose for countless photos.

A lap dog by breeding, Chug the Pug hated to miss out on an opportunity for adventure, proving time and time again that there are no limits, just mind-set.

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Chug the Pug, my search partner


My new readers may not have heard about our chubby little one-eyed pet because about a year and a half ago Chug decided to make his rounds to the nearest rigs and oil sites around our ranch to meet his neighbors, get his belly scratched and feast on table scraps and the occasional steak while he waited for us to come and find him.

It was a problem for us, all the kindness he was shown on these rigs, because it meant more wandering for an animal who could previously be trusted to stay within the safe limits of the farm yard.

And it meant that one day, when we went to retrieve him, he was nowhere to be found.

After a couple months of my husband taking daily trips up and down the highway, passing our name around to oil field workers who move in and off site by the days and hours, and checking with neighbors, I finally decided that Chug the Pug had likely hitched a ride with a lonely trucker and was sitting shot gun with a bandana around his head an his tongue hanging out the window, off to find a bigger adventure.

I liked that story better than any alternative. It helped me come to terms with the fact that I’d never see him again. 

And that’s the way that it was… that was the story I’d tell…

Until a couple weeks ago when I found out the rest of the story….

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Coming Home: Lost dog finds his way to the right home
by Jessie Veeder
7-26-15
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I sat behind the desk at my office and picked up the ringing phone. Young and determined, we were in our third year of marriage, had just moved back to our home state, just lost our first pregnancy and were chin deep in renovating our first home in an attempt to get our grown-up story on track. 

For two years our lives were covered in sawdust, paint and power tools. We worked during the day and in the evening we re-seeded the lawn, built a new staircase, laid carpet and lost two more pregnancies along the way.

You need to take out a wall? Get your hammer and break it down.

You want a baby? There wasn’t a doctor in the state at the time that could give us the blueprint for that.

When I picked up the phone that day, I heard my husband say, “I just saw a poster. There are pug puppies for sale. Little black ones,” he said. “I’m going to call.”

So he called. And two weeks later he brought home a little black smush of a puppy with a pink tongue and curly, wiggly tail.

Because we needed a distraction. Something else to love.

Fast-forward through six years filled with home renovations, new jobs, three more lost pregnancies, and a move out to the ranch, and that little pug became the star of our lives and the stories on my blog, his cow-chasing, raccoon-wrangling, porcupine-fighting adventures winning over the hearts of my readers across the country.

Until a year and a half ago when he decided to explore a rig over the hill from our house and didn’t come home. When my husband’s nightly searches didn’t yield any answers, I came to terms with the fact that I would never see Chug the pug again.

Until last week when I looked down at my phone and found a message from a stranger staring back at me.

“I think we have your dog Chug. Our friend found him on a rig and brought him home. It selfishly breaks my heart to message you but I just read your blog and I knew I had to … you can call me …”

I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I dialed the number.

“He just loves cats,” she said.

“I know,” I said.

“And he loves to go out on the boat and swim … We bought him a life jacket … The neighbors adore him. He sleeps in our bed with us … he’s well loved …”

And then the line went quiet. Two strangers, 60 miles apart, connected by an animal, each with her own bond, not knowing where to go from here.

So we made plans to meet up the next day. I would be through Dickinson on my way home from my 20-week ultrasound, halfway through a pregnancy we never thought we’d know with the chance to see the dog that helped us through the worst of things.

I anxiously knocked on the door and was greeted by a woman about my age, a tiny little yorkie and a one-eyed, barrel-chested black pug with a little extra squish around the middle.

I reached down to scratch his chin and pull on his soft ears, and he looked up at me, as well-loved as a dog could be.

I looked at the woman with her clasped hands and nervous smile. She invited me in, introduced me to her friends who had gathered for moral support or to be witness to this uncommon story, and we all started gushing about this small world, missed opportunities and how my online documentation of Chug led her friend to help find me.

And then there was that silence again.

She spoke.

“I contacted you because if it was my dog I would want to know what happened to him. This is a tough situation, but …. we can’t have children, and these dogs are like our kids.”

I looked at Chug rolling around with the yorkie on the floor, then down at my growing belly and back at the woman whose struggle for a family was all too familiar and fresh in my mind.

“Maybe he came into your life for a reason,” I said.

Judging by the sighs in the room and the tears in my eyes, I think we all agreed.

And so the decision was made. I said my goodbyes and pointed my car toward a life we could only dream of when we first called that little dog ours.

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What we never thought we’d know…

So yesterday, we saw our baby…BabyOr a little fuzzy silhouette of it anyway, a snapshot of what I’ve been working so hard on growing the last few months of my life. 

There is the hand that I swear pushes on my bladder every five minutes…

And there’s the foot I can feel poking and fluttering on all sides of my belly button at all hours of the day.

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I’m surprised we could get any pictures at all considering this kid never holds still.

Trouble already.

I can’t believe this is happening.

This picture, this sonogram, looks like every other sonogram I’ve every seen really. It’s a little smudge of a baby the size of a mango, but this time the little smudge of a baby the size of a mango is ours.

It was a date I’ve been looking forward to since we decided to put a family together all those years ago. I imagined what it would be like to make plans to head to the Doctor’s office together where I would lay on the table in a dark room with Husband at my side, staring at the screen where our little one would be the star of the show.

I wondered what it would feel like. I wondered what I would think. I wondered if I would cry or just hold my breath.  I wondered if Husband would hold my hand or just put them in his pockets the way he does when he’s concentrating on something. I wondered how he would act. I wondered what he would say…

I found out yesterday.

He said “Oh, look there, I think I see a mustache.”

And so that’s how that went.

And it was wonderful.

We were normal people with a normal pregnancy doing normal things that normal couples get to do when they have a baby on the way.

And then they printed off a reel of photos of little white smudges of feet and ears, a belly and bended knees a whole world and life forming under my skin and we listened to the heart beat and Husband put the number in his memory and we walked on air out of there to sit at a table at a restaurant and order anything we wanted, to sit as long as we wanted, to say whatever we wanted about this moment as we lived it…

Because we never thought we’d really live it…no matter how our friends and family willed it to be or reassured us it would all come together…that they’d been praying.

How do you ever know.

I didn’t.

And if I would have known how it might all turn out in that moment I’d been wondering about, it wouldn’t have mattered as much when we finally lived it.

And it mattered so much. That day, yesterday, with my Husband clutching the reel of our first baby’s photos, practically skipping out into that hot, humid air blazing on his pickup in the parking lot in a town that took us a three hour car ride to reach, was simply one of the most ordinary, extraordinary moments of my life, one I never thought I could give him… give us.

And there we were, eating lunch in the summer sun together talking about strollers and cribs and how much tiny camouflage he plans on purchasing in the next few months.

There we were, two planning on three. Just like that, like we’ve never had our hearts broken time after time. Like we never had a moment of thinking otherwise. Like there was never a doubt we’d ever arrive here.

What can I say about this except that sometimes when you hold out hope, hope gives in.

Some would call that faith.

I don’t know what I call it except maybe a gift, just like every other life that exists here. After all of our trouble and worry and struggle, how it happens at all is a true and utter miracle.

We spent the rest of the afternoon milling around furniture stores, trying out couches and opening drawers on bedroom sets. Husband picked up some jeans and I tried on dresses. We bought a first aid kid and bathroom supplies and wandered through the baby aisle confusing ourselves.

I had a feeling that if I would have asked for the moon that day, my Husband would have set out building a ladder tall enough to let him wrap his arms around it and bring it down.

But I don’t need the moon…no.

Just a scoop or two of ice cream for the way home at the end of a day we never thought we’d know…

Holidays: How they hold us and haunt us

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Last weekend marked the end of deer rifle season here in North Dakota. My uncle from Texas arrived in the middle of the week with his son-in-law and nephew, Pops took some time off, Husband willed Saturday to come quicker and the entire Veeder Ranch turned into a hunting camp, just like it does every year at this time.

Boots dripping with melted snow were strewn in my parent’s entryway, a combination of camouflage, hunter-orange, fleece, wool and leather piled up on the chairs. Men were up and out with the sun sitting on hilltops and sneaking through draws.

When our Texas Uncle comes to the ranch it’s like an extended holiday around here. We all sort of hang up our evening plans and get together around mom’s table while Pops fries up fish or beef or, if there was some success that day, venison.

Ever since I was a little girl, and as long as I’ve lived in this place, this is the way it’s been.

Most years I go out with them on the hunt at least once. Because there’s something about being out with the boys who grew up here, my dad and his brother, together walking the draws they know so well, sitting quietly on the hilltops taking in the familiar view of their childhood, doing what they’ve always done, that’s always been comforting to me.

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Since we almost lost dad early this year, each tradition spent since his recovery has been regarded as a gift and a little more precious than it was before.

I seem to be seeing the world more that way lately.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches I imagine it’s timely to be so grateful for second chances, for family, for walking behind my husband on a warm early winter evening, keeping quiet while he carries his bow, turns around and smiles, waving me along.

It’s never been difficult for me to be grateful for these things.

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But never in my life have I seen the world and the people in it as fragile as I see them these days.

Never have I been more aware of time and what it means for us.

And as much as I’m grateful for all of the things that fill this life of ours, during the holidays especially, I become the most aware of what we don’t have.

And who or what others are mourning.

Because what we don’t have, who we are missing, sits like a silent ache in the quiet corners of our houses.

IMG_9778Yesterday I sat down to make a Christmas Card and for the first time in my life I felt sort of silly about the whole thing.

“Who the hell wants a picture of just the two of us?” I said out loud to my husband looking over my shoulder. “Christmas Cards are for people with kids, and grandkids, so their families can see how cute they are. How much they’ve grown. We just keep getting older. This feels pathetic.”

It wasn’t sadness coming out of my mouth, but frustration. Frustration that the life I was in was perfectly good and that I should be perfectly grateful, but I couldn’t will myself to be those things at the moment, not even in the name of the holiday spirit.

All I could muster up was annoyance and a sort of anger that other people have family photos taken for the occasion, snuggling into one another on a blanket or in front of a fireplace, birth announcements for Christmas cards, big extended family shots with grandkids on Santa’s lap, and all I could scrounge up from our archives was a photo of us sitting on a cooler at a music festival drinking beer.

It was a moment of pure envy. Pure poor me. It was ugly. (Others have lost more. Others have less to lose. Others suffer more than we can comprehend.)

And it sort of scared me.

Because I love that photo of us sitting on a cooler at a music festival drinking beer.

I love that we have a life full of those sorts of photo opportunities. I am proud that despite all of our losses we are still trying, but most of all, we’re still living a fun life, striving for fulfillment. Holding on to one another. Laughing.

We have other dreams, dreams that don’t fill the empty void of a family we feel as incomplete, but dreams nonetheless.

We’re ok really. Most days we’re just fine.

But how do you portray this when picking out a Christmas card? The templates available to us are smattered with children frolicking in the snow, “Joy to the World” in big bold letters across their footprints.

Staring at the photo of my husband and me, in our early 30s, sun kissed and smiling despite seven years of trying and failing at creating one of those Christmas Card Template families, all I could see were our friends and family, the ones who know of our struggles, opening the card and shaking their heads.

“Poor Jessie and Chad,” they would think to themselves.

“Joy to the World” didn’t feel appropriate then.

And neither did anything with the words “Merry” or “Bright.”

But it was all bullshit. Justified bullshit, but bullshit still, and I knew it.

So did my husband.

He said, “You’re sending these to people who love us. My grandma. Your grandparents. Aunts and uncles. Our friends. They love to get mail. They will love to have a photo of us and I like this one.”

“I like this one too,” I said and carried on.

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If I learned anything this year it’s that we don’t know what the hell is going to happen. I’ve been walking through 2014 with that sucked so close to my chest that some days I can’t breathe.

But as the year progressed, as summer came shining down on our shoulders, when my little sister got engaged, as I watched my nephew turn 4, working on growing up into a cool little person, I watched my dad get better, stronger, more himself, the worry release from my mom’s face, I realized that not knowing how this is all going to turn isn’t all scary.

But sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s sad. And always it makes the holidays a little bit shaky for us. Because being so damn grateful and so damn frustrated and so damn happy and so damn worried at the same time is confusing and emotional, especially when it comes to cutting down and decorating Christmas trees and making sugar cookies alone together in this house.

Yes, traditions can hold us together as much as they can haunt us.

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I guess that’s what I’m trying to say here. That some of us celebrate as much as we mourn during this time of year. I say some of us. But maybe it’s all of us. And that’s ok.

I imagine my dad and his brother walking across these pastures where they were raised, and I doubt they take many steps before they think about their father and how he taught them to shoot their first rifle, how he was with them when they got their first big buck, two grown men, two grandfathers, just missing their dad.

I look at my husband looking back at me, waving me along the trail out there on our own hunt, I feel him standing behind me in the kitchen, I watch him cutting down another tree to stand in our house for the season and I know we can do it. We can be sad and we can be happy. Scared and hopeful as hell.

And we can sit together on that cooler under the hot summer sun, a little tipsy from one too many, smiling eyes under sunglasses in the face of a good and unpredictable life and we can be so frustrated and so thankful and so much of all of the heartache and happiness that sits in our bones under that skin that makes up the arms we have around each other and we can put it on our Christmas card, and despite all that we think we don’t have that we should, we can write “Joy to the World” if we want to.

But I don’t think I want to.

This year, I think I’ll just pick “Peace.”

Winter

How faith might find you…

Yesterday morning one of my best friends, my neighbor down the road with curly hair kind of like mine, a similar obsession with photographing wildflowers and a much better success rate with house plants, gardens and crafting projects, gave birth to her first child.

A beautiful baby girl.

When that baby drew her first breath from within the safe walls of a hospital made of bricks standing strong against the chilly North Dakota air, I had just landed in MInneapolis after taking the red-eye out of Las Vegas where I slept face down, hair splayed out on the tray table for nearly three hours.

When I finally landed in North Dakota, my momma and I rushed to the floral shop to buy tulips and chocolate, a small token of appreciation for the newest addition to our neighborhood, then we pointed our car toward that hospital made of bricks so that we could take a look at those tiny hands and count those toes and say hello, we’re so glad you’re here.

I’m so glad she’s here.

Now, babies are born every day. All of the people I passed on my way through the airport, all of those souls standing in line and sitting shoulder to shoulder, taking off across the sky together, have mothers who grew them and carried them and brought them into the world to grow up and drink coffee, tell stories and host dinner parties, drive cars too fast and take midnight walks, make a mean cheesecake and fall in love, fall out of love, then back again and bite their nails, own too many cats and someday, have babies of their own.

And while all of these living and breathing people, all 7.046 billion of us, have stories we can tell each other about work and family and that great restaurant we visited last night, stories we might hear over a long overdue phone call or while standing in line at the post office with a stranger, every single one of us carries with us a different story about how we came into this world.

And although we carry it with us, not every one of us is able to tell it. Because not every one of us were told–not all of us really know.

That’s the thing about humans, we may choose not to share every detail in words.

A child may never know how much he was wanted.

Or how he was a plan.

Or a surprise, a pleasant surprise.

A terrifying one.

A surprise that couldn’t be handled.

But I’ll tell you something about my friend and her husband, the couple who welcomed that beautiful baby into this cold little corner of North Dakota yesterday–yesterday they witnessed a miracle.

And they knew it.

Now their story is like everyone’s story in that it is their own. And I, as their friend down the road, am not qualified to tell it, to give justice to what it’s like to pray and worry and drive hundreds of miles to spend countless hours in doctors appointments explaining and re-explaining, planning and re-planning and spending time on procedures and money on drugs while hanging on to a hope, a hope that has hung on for years…

Five years to be exact.

That someday she will be a mother.

And he will be a father.

And they will hold their daughter, a daughter with a little splash of red hair, tiny pink cheeks, long fingers like hers and eyes like his in their arms in the brick hospital in the middle of winter on the edge of North Dakota.

Because even some of life’s most natural promises are not promised to everyone.

And then sometimes that promise does not come easy.

But when it does, well…

There are no words.

Last spring I was driving my pickup down a gravel road, coming out of the badlands and onto the highway. My friend with the curly hair like mine was my passenger and we were talking about our struggle to become mothers, another thing, besides the unruly hair, that we have in common.

My hope was dwindling, wavering and faltering after years of disappointment. Six pregnancies celebrated and then lost with nothing but an unsolved mystery, heartbreak and frustration left in their wake.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be a mother,” I told her. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take. It might be a sign it’s not meant for us.”

She sat there beside me then, a woman with the same hope of a family, but one who had not yet seen those two pink lines.

“I just know there’s a plan. I have faith. I can see it for us,” she said. “I can see it for you.”

Faith.

In my life I’ve had it and lost it…

Moving along that gravel road with my friend talking and holding on tight to her hope, I believed for her it would work out.

But I couldn’t hold that same belief for myself.

And then I got the phone call in the early morning hours of January 5th, the one with my dad’s voice on the other end of the line begging for help. The one that sent our whole life reeling with prayers and hope and desperate pleas that the man called dad, grampa, husband, Pops, brother, uncle, friend would live to hear us tell him we loved him a thousand more times.

The one that promised this man was not going to live.

But some of life’s promises are not promised to everyone.

I stood in that North Dakota wind outside of that hospital as they prepared my faltering father for a plane ride he might not survive. I watched that wind bend the trees down and cool the air and I struggled to catch the breath that I lost with the news…

I tried to imagine a world without my father…

Today my dad stopped by the house. He wore his blue jeans and boots, a checked wool vest and a cap he got free from a company he’s likely been working with now that he’s back working. I made him a  cup of coffee and we sat at the counter and visited a bit about the weather and plans we have for spring when the cows come back…the things I promised him we’d do when he was lying in that hospital bed for a week working on pulling through.

Yesterday I got off a plane that flew me high above the clouds, shoulder to shoulder with a hundred other people with heartbeats and stories who were flying too…

And then we came back to the earth safe and sound so that I could hold my friend’s baby in my arms where she wiggled and opened her tiny little mouth to cry a bit before I bounced her and shushed her and told her she’s ok.

She’s got all the love in the world around her and in this world where she now lives, sometimes, miracles happen…

I know, because I have faith…