40 Years

Listen to my interview with my parents and learn what my mom thought when dad brought her to the ranch when there were still party lines and how dad’s night in county jail gave him clarity on the direction of his life. 

My parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary last week.

There aren’t many photos of their simple backyard wedding day around the ranch, just a few tucked inside old photo albums among snaps of cousin birthday parties, family in Christmas sweaters, Hereford cattle and my dad holding a string of fish he caught on their “honeymoon” to the big lake in the Badlands where my mom might have begun to realize what she was really getting into — it was going to be a no-real-frills existence with this man, not that the woman needed frills.

But she was up for it. I like to imagine that not much scared my mom back then. She had survived and left a problematic marriage well before she was out of her 20s. She packed up her hand-me-down furniture, clothes and dishes and called her sister and she was out of it, on her own with her young daughter in tow.

When she met my dad, she didn’t need him. She had her friends and family and her guts and she was working on finishing her social work degree. She taught ballet for extra cash, and aerobics, too. And knowing my dad, all of that was likely the appeal anyway, that she didn’t need him. That he could be who he was and she would take it or leave it. The woman wasn’t there to change anyone.

But it turns out he did change, maybe a bit, not for her but because of her. I’m privy to more of the scoop as I’ve taken Dad along for long road trips to music gigs throughout the years. On the miles of county roads and interstates, you get talking about things you might not otherwise get around to.

He told me the two had broken up at one point before their engagement and a few weeks later he found himself hitching a ride from a skeptical sheriff who didn’t fully believe his story about his broke-down pickup but let him spend the night in a county jail cell because there were no hotels in the town. And so he was sorta broke, sorta lonesome and sorta wondering what the heck he was doing. If he died that night, would anyone even know where he was?

He wanted her to know.

He laughs now thinking about it, but really, how do you decide to take the leap into committing to build a life with someone? Did Dad really need this sort of dramatic experience to make him see the light? Realistically, he probably only realized it was the light in hindsight. But it’s a good story with a good lesson I think, that you have choices. That when you are responsible for the life you build, it makes you one of the lucky ones.

In my experience witnessing my parents’ marriage throughout my lifetime, it’s been the sweet way they mix independence and individuality with support and care that’s always made me feel secure. Watching them, I never got the impression that you had to give a part of yourself up to be with someone.

And my young ballerina mother from the Red River Valley couldn’t have thrown herself into a more foreign situation — with the country churches and schools, the party line phones and that time she found a rattlesnake in the house when she was home alone with just my sister and me as a little baby—but I’ve never heard resentment once. They chose this life together and as the years went on, my mom figured out how she could best be herself in it, determined to bloom where she planted her life, understanding the important hold this place had on my father.

These days I’m getting to know them in a different season of their lives, one that looks like retirement (well, sort of) and grandchildren and the ability to do things they could have never done in the years spent raising kids and cattle and careers.

How lucky are we to continue to learn from them? I know they love one another by the way they let the other one be, as if to say, “I love you because I know you and we’ve got this.” And in the past 40 years, they’ve been dealt some pretty mountainous obstacles that took the ways in which they are very much the opposite to fully get through. No one tells you that can make all the difference. My parents have never shied away from the tough things.

But they’ve never argued on what they find moral and right. They’ve never disagreed on the way they both view giving and helping. They didn’t even disagree when my dad flat-out gave their minivan to a person who needed it more. And so I guess it’s the ways in which they are the same that really pack the power punch.

Anyway, in true no-frills fashion, we didn’t plan a big fancy anniversary party this year. Instead, my mom went fishing with my dad, this time on a nice pontoon. With magazines and wine. And that sounds just like them, doesn’t it?

On Marriage and Montana



Dear Husband,

Listen to the podcast where Jessie sits down with Chad to visit about marriage in the thick of it and to hear the audio version of the column. Subscribe on Anchor, Spotify or Apple Podcast

Last weekend when we were heading across the North Dakota, Montana borderline. Looking out the windows as the landscape turned from badlands to plains, we admired the green grass and marveled at how the big Yellowstone and Missouri rivers were pushing their banks to the limits at every turn. It’s that season. The snow melt from the mountains and the rains reminding us that there are very few ways to tame the water when it needs to rage. It’s out of the river’s control really. So many outside forces at play…

The night before we packed up our pickup camper with my guitars and boots, bedding and snacks, lawn chairs and coolers, you worked until dark tearing down an old garage at a neighbor’s place.

With heavy equipment and your muscles, you wanted to leave a clean slate in that yard before we dropped or daughters at their grandparents’ place and you drove with me to sit in the audience while I played songs for a mountain town, who, just days before, was on the edge of disaster as their creek flooded and took houses and streets with it.

But you wouldn’t have known it that weekend on the main streets of this small mountain town. The restaurants were full, the shops were stocked and the doors to the bars and venues were swung open so that you could hear musicians like me strumming guitars and singing songs about hope and loss and family and these untamable rivers and love, of course.

I drank tequila after the shows and you talked about ranching with anyone who asked because your hat and the way you lean so self-assured with one shoulder against the wall in the back gave you away.

Dear Husband, you were there with me so I suppose I don’t have to tell you all this, but I guess I want to remember the way you’ve always let me know that my dream is your dream too. And so you carry my guitar and you sell my albums in the back and you grab the things I forgot, the cord and the picks and the lists and you tell me good job even if maybe it wasn’t my best job.

Husband, we haven’t been away together, just the two of us, in a while. The kids and the ranch and the chores and the work fill our days and nights like the melting snow from the mountains floods the river and so we think we have no choice but to keep rushing, keep pushing, keep flowing harder to keep on our feet, to keep between the banks.  

The last time we slept next to this unruly creek at the edge of this mountain town we were in your dad’s old Ford pickup with a broken AC and a 1970’s pop-up camper in the box and I had never really been in the mountains so you were taking me there.

We were just kids then and I remember hoping that it could be like this forever, you in the driver’s seat, me singing along to the radio and helping us find our way. 20 years later, on the very same route, you turned our pickup off the interstate and told me you missed me and I cried. I cried because I knew it. I missed you too, in the kind of way that you’re right there but I can’t get to you. I cried because didn’t we know better?

That weekend I sang a love song I wrote before the kids came, when we were younger and building a life, not knowing then that the tools will always be out on the kitchen table, we just need to remember to pick them up. And I don’t have many love songs, I’m not sure why. I’ve been in love with you much longer than I haven’t in this life. On that stage, I realized that’s probably why. Sometimes we admire the big oak we’ve grown, but don’t thank the strong branches for the leaves and the shade and for hanging on to help weather the storms.

So Husband, we may be that great big river right now, running and rushing and picking things up along the way, but along the banks of that creek that weekend I made a quiet promise to myself not to wait for disaster. And I promise you I’m not waiting any longer for the sun to dry off of the mountaintops and force us to slow down. Can we promise to be a different kind of river?  Let’s find a flat meadow and spread out and slow down and be grateful anytime we can, but maybe most importantly when we think we can’t.

Dear Husband, I have plenty more love songs to write.

Love,

Your wife  

A spare toilet in a plastic world

Listen to this week’s column and Jessie’s conversation with her husband in this week’s Meanwhile Podcast.

I married a man who knows where he can get a surplus of washing machine motors in case of a clothes-washing emergency. I fell in love with a guy who has hauled a broken down three-wheeler to all five of the places we’ve moved with the intention of making the thing run when he has a spare moment (and he never really has a spare moment).

And, we’ve been over this before, but I want to remind you that I’m living with a person who has 75 Tupperware containers full of drill bits, little pieces of wire, nails and screws of various sizes, scraps of leather, broken saw blades, old speaker cords, empty shotgun shells, half-used rolls of tape, weird-shaped things made of metal, something that looks like an electrical box, loose change from years of emptying pockets and a partridge in a pear tree because he might need it someday.

OK, so I’ve set the scene so you won’t be surprised that when my uncle from Texas arrived in our yard earlier this spring and casually mentioned that he was going to take a trip to Dickinson that afternoon because his toilet was broken I turned on my heel, opened the garage door and offered him the extra one we’ve had sitting in there for months. It was still in the box and everything — all we had to do was remove the table saw sitting on top of it and it was all his. It was fancy (the box claimed you could flush like six golf balls down the thing), and my uncle was thrilled.

My husband’s hoarding qualities also recently saved our neighbor a trip to town after the big blizzards this April when he called to ask if he had an extra shear pin for his snowblower. Turns out he just picked up an extra 37 or so, you know, just in case.

And while most of the rest of the year I silently curse all the extra crap I have to walk over and around and move from surface to surface day to day, it was alarming the amount of pride I had in my husband when I was able to present my uncle with an unexpected, shiny new toilet.

It’s a generational gene that is planted in his soul. His dad is the one who sent an old washing machine he refurbished from the dump to college with Chad, and, along with it a few decent motors for the road. He was renting his first condo and by the time he moved to the next place, my husband and our friend had completely finished the basement, installed a new bathroom and redid all of the floors in the upper level. At the delicate age of 21, my husband had effectively dove into his legacy of leaving every place a little better for having him.

Yes, he comes by it honestly. His grandma, his dad’s mother, was a woman on the heels of the Great Depression and thrifty was a badge she wore with pride. She cut her paper plates in half and hung her paper towels to dry, shopped the section in the grocery store with the dented cans on discount and sent me a birthday card once with a little rip off of the edge and made sure to make a little arrow so she could tell me she got it on sale. She found treasure in things other people gave up on, scooped it up behind dumpsters and on curbsides and took it home to shine up and line up neatly on her shelves or on tables set up in that garage she opened every weekend to the neighborhood, offering the stuff a second chance at a new home.

And we laugh and tease about it now, but honestly, what a precious quality. In this world made of plastic, disposable, breakable things, things that are cheap but cost us so much, we need more Leonas in this world to take care. There was never a hard-earned dollar that she didn’t account for because she knew a time when the hard-earned dollar was hard to come by.

You can see evidence of that generation on this ranch as well while we slowly collect and clean up old equipment and rundown buildings. One of the last things to go is a shed with three garage doors that my grandpa used as a garage. Sitting on shelves are old coffee tins full of, you guessed it, drill bits, little pieces of wire, nails and screws of various sizes, scraps of leather, broken saw blades, old cords, empty shotgun shells, half-used rolls of tape, weird-shaped things made of metal, something that looks like an electrical box and long-retired welding supplies and tools to put the broken things back together.

And it reminds me, when my lawnmower breaks down on Sunday 30 miles from town or we need to pinch pennies while still getting the fences fixed, or if a neighbor comes knocking looking for a spare battery or bolt — or, you know, a toilet — that the man I married was born for this place. And if you need anything, just call…

The vows and working cows

The Vows and Working Cows
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Listen to this column and Jessie’s conversation with her husband on this week’s Meanwhile Podcast

Do you know what almost 16 years of marital bliss looks like? It looks like yelling at each other in the wind across the cow pasture because 1) you didn’t fully understand his plan 2) even if you did, the plan wouldn’t have worked and 3) you don’t and never will understand his hand-signaling for crying out loud and 4) turns out catching an orphan calf with you in the ATV and him on foot real quick before our daughter’s piano recital was not, in fact, going to be real quick.

My husband and I have known each other since we were kids. We have had so much fun together, lots of lovely moments, which really helps in the stupid idea times, like taking on a total house remodel in our 20s and not taking the time to go get a horse to get this calf in. And the hard times, like years of infertility, a sick parent and cancer. But working cows together? Well, it’s in a league of its own in the marriage department. There should be a line item in the vows about it. Like, “I vow to not hold anything you say or do against you when we are working cows if you promise to do the same for me. Amen.”

When it comes to starting a life together, no one really mentions stuff like that. I’m not just talking about the annoying and surprising things, but the things that come with sharing a house, and plans, and dinner and children and new businesses and careers and remodels and a herd of cattle and six bottle calves in the barn.

Because, if we’re lucky, there’s a lot of life in between those “I do’s” and the whole “death parting us” thing. Not even our own wedding day went off without hitches. (If I recall, there was a cattle incident that day as well. Guess that’s what you get when you get married in the middle of a cow pasture.)

Yes, marriage officially joins us together, our love, yes, but also our mistakes and small tragedies, goofiness and bad ideas, opinions and forgetfulness and big plans in the works. You’re in it together. You get a witness. You get a built-in dinner date that sometimes is really late to dinner and it now you’re annoyed.

And it isn’t our anniversary or anything, but, after we chased that tiny calf across the pasture and down the road and into the next pasture and then into my little sister’s backyard where my husband finally dove in and caught a leg as I slid down a muddy gumbo hill in my muck boots after him and we finally got that calf onto the floor of the side-by-side and drove her to the barn, made her a bottle and got her to drink and wiped the sweat off of our faces, I couldn’t help but think that maybe the reason this will last until death parts us is that we don’t hold grudges.

Because (and this doesn’t always happen) we were laughing at the end of it. About the yelling part. About the dumb idea part. About the part where he’s terrible with a rope and knows it. About the ridiculous predicaments raising kids and cattle put us in. How is it that it’s equal parts easier and harder to do these things together? What a balancing act for a life that’s never balanced.

Because it’s all so annoying sometimes, and sometimes it’s his fault. Sometimes it’s mine. But I tell you what’s also annoying, that pickle jar that I can never open myself or the flat tire he’s out there fixing on the side of the road in the middle of a winter blizzard, proving that regardless of our shortcomings, life is easier with him around.

Ugh, it just has to work out. That’s something, isn’t it? As if the whole working out thing happens on its own because love will make it so. Love helps, but it doesn’t make you agree on the arrangement of the furniture. Love will not make him throw away that ratty state wrestling T-shirt, but it will make you change out of those sweatpants he hates every once in a while, you know, on special nights. And initially, love will send him running when he hears you scream in the other room, but there will come a time when he will wait for a follow-up noise, because love has made the man mistake a stray spider for a bloody mangled limb too many times. And, really, love makes it so you don’t really blame him.

And, just for the record, sometimes love is not patient. Sometimes it needs to get to town and she’s trying on her third dress of the evening.

And sometimes love is not as kind as it should be. Because love is human.

And no human is perfect. Not individually and surely not together. And especially not when working cows.

One of the helpers

He loves to help
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Here’s the scene: My little sister running up to me as I was about to pull the door shut on the passenger side of my car. Someone in the parking lot of the rodeo grounds blocked her big ol’ SUV in, so she couldn’t pull forward and she couldn’t pull backward, and Lord help her, with a 30-mile drive home, they were all on the brink of a meltdown.

My little sister isn’t known for her confidence behind the wheel, and with two little kids in the back seat who had been running around the rodeo grounds for three straight hours — three straight hours past their bedtime — she wasn’t looking forward to testing her skills that night.

Hence, her running toward me in the dark parking lot saying thank goodness Chad’s still here.

I did note that she didn’t ask me to drive her out of there. I mean, I only failed my driving test once, but I’m more than happy to pass those tasks along to my husband, if I even had a choice. He was walking over there and in the driver’s seat and out before she even finished explaining herself.

Our daughters were in the back seat and, of course, asked what Daddy was doing. I said he was helping. And one of them replied, “Yeah, Daddy loves to help.”

And that sorta stopped me there. Because there couldn’t be anything more true about the man except if they would have said, “Daddy likes to save things.” Which is also related to that helping statement. Helping. Saving. Restoring.

The man is a fixer-upper, and not in the way in which he needs fixing necessarily (I mean, nobody’s perfect). But if there’s something to fix, call him and he’ll see what he can do about it. Same goes with pulling things out of ditches, ravines or, in the case of me and the four-wheeler, just really deep mud I should have avoided entirely.

And if you need it lifted, he can lift it. And if he can’t, he’ll make a contraption that will help him lift it, because my noodle arms and I certainly can’t be trusted to help him pull the giant fridge up your narrow basement steps. He’ll just do it himself, thank you. It’s much quicker and less whiny that way.

It occurs to me now that perhaps I shouldn’t broadcast this in statewide newspapers, because it’s like if you’re the guy who has a pickup, then you’re the guy who moves all your friends. But Chad has always been the guy who has a pickup, and access to a flatbed or horse trailer, so yeah, he’s the guy who moves all the things. (Same goes with roofing projects it seems, but anyway…)

Which means he’s probably also the guy who has had the world’s most engine trouble and flat tires. Because we never said these trailers or pickups were in the best working condition. But never mind that. The man probably has a jack and a couple spare tires, at least seven tarp straps, a toolbox full of fluids and tools, and a chain or two in case he drives by someone who needs a tow once he’s back in business.

The time I got stuck in our driveway. Was three years ago and Edie still reminds me…

Now that I think about it, the man has made a business out of it actually, at long last — Rafter S Contracting, for all the stuff that needs fixing or flipping.

Anyway, where was I going with this? Let me get back on track. I think why I started was to tell you that my husband is leveling up his helping qualifications by training as an EMT. Because, as he put it, as a first responder, he didn’t like the feeling of helplessness at a scene. If there’s something more to be done, well, let’s go ahead and do it. Let’s figure it out.

A community, a thriving community, exists because of people with this mindset. People’s lives are literally saved because people exist with this mindset. This is a hands-down truth that we see every day.

Chad helping my sister that night, and Chad (and his classmates from our community) going to EMT training two nights a week and some weekends for months on end, reminds me of our responsibility here. And it pushes me to think of what I should be doing to make this a better, a safer, more compassionate place to live. That question, shouldn’t it be the thesis of our lives?

“He loves to help.” Well, what a thing to show our children…

This shirt

This Shirt
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I came across one of my husband’s old T-shirts while folding laundry last week. It was there in the basket with underwear and worn jeans and socks that somehow never match up right, the gray shirt with the blue collar I bought him when we were just kids.

That blue collar is frayed now, and there’s a rust stain under the word “Nike.” A little hole is forming at the seam of one arm and it won’t be long before I can hold it up and see right through it. Twenty-some years of wear on a man in work and play will do that. Ten thousand trips through the washing machine will do that.

Funny how an everyday chore can suddenly transport a person. I lifted it up and smoothed the wrinkles out on my lap and suddenly I was that 16-year-old girl again, in the mall in the big town, looking up at a wall full of men’s shirts, summoning all that I knew about the boy I liked so that I could make the right decision.

I chose the one on the very top row of course, and so I had to ask a clerk to get it down so I could bring it to the register to pay for it. I spent $25 of my hometown department store earnings on a boy for his 17th birthday.

I didn’t know at the time the long-term relationships men come to develop with their favorite T-shirts. If I dug through my husband’s drawers right now, I would find at least 15 to 20 relics of past wrestling tournaments, FFA and football championships, little pieces of his history telling the story on faded lettering and logos on the back of a T-shirt.

Here he is at sixteen. He still has this shirt…

I recently bought my husband a new shirt at the local Western store. We were going to take family pictures and I wanted the color to be right. And there I was again, looking at the wall of options, long-sleeved and short-sleeved, plaid and patterned and plain, snap buttons and embroidery.

This time I knew at a glance which ones he would wear, which ones look like him, and which ones to pass up. And it occurred to me then, when I brought that shirt home and hung it in his closet, next to his worn-out work shirt and jeans folded at the knee, that the act of successfully picking out someone’s clothes couldn’t be more personal.

To know a man well is to know the belt he wears for work with the vintage buckle and the one he pulls out for a wedding or a night on the town. It’s to know the inseam of his pants and the size of his foot in his boots, and how the man can wear out a pair every six months in this rugged place, the same way the wind and the sun wears on his cheeks and that spot on his neck his hat won’t cover.

To know a man well is to know how his shirt tucks, and that the sleeves are never long enough, his shoulders too wide and broad — just like, I thought while folding that old shirt and putting it in his drawer, my love for him.

A New Song

A New Song

“If being closer to the ground, makes for softer falls, you have to be tough to stand tall.”

I was 17 years old, getting ready to move away from the ranch and out into the world when I wrote that line, feeling the pull of growing up looming over me like the nurse who calls your name and is now waiting in the doorway for you to follow her back for the diagnosis.

I knew that impending adulthood should more thrill than loom, and so there I was, behind my guitar, trying to convince myself…

“I don’t believe in fairy tales or staying young forever…”

My voice sounded higher, lighter, but surprisingly not timid and unsure like I know I felt in that studio in frigid Fargo where I recorded that song over Christmas break during college, when it seemed every other student was back home with the familiar. Almost 20 years ago.

I chose to stay away to create a piece of work that would mark the very frozen, determined and often lonesome four years I spent away at college, with long stretches of time spent traveling the Plains, singing for my supper. Wondering what to be when I grew up.

A Place to Belong-2005

My 2005 Release

It was avoidance in the form of work. It was the same thing I did the summer after my freshman year, knowing that if I went back to the ranch, I might never leave. So I stayed to be a grown-up.

And then I blinked and I’m grown up. And the grown-up version of me listened to those words tonight, staring into the path my headlights cut on Interstate 94 headed east to where the snow is piled high up past my knees.

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I just purchased $50 worth of face cream on an impulse to try to keep the evidence from 36 years of laughing, worrying, rolling my eyes and sleeping face-down with the pillow smashed over my head from truly showing and I was trying to keep my mind off of a rolling argument my husband and I have been having for a couple months now.

When I called him to check in, the puppy had just pooped on the carpet, and one of our young daughters had stepped in it. This was no time to try to work through it again.

I let him go and decided to seek refuge in a voice that used to be so familiar to me. I rarely listen to my music after it’s produced and out in the world, unless I have to relearn something. Which always baffles people — that I would have to relearn a piece of music I wrote myself, as if once it’s down, it’s etched in my memory.

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But it’s all so much more complicated than that, isn’t it?

Because we move on. We change, and along the way we pick our favorite stories to carry with us. My songs have been like that for me.

Jessie Veeder Music

I suppose sometimes relationships are like that, too. That’s why marriage can be so beautifully maddening. Because it’s a song you’re continually writing with someone who, sometimes, may be singing in a completely different key.

When I wrote those words at 17, I loved the boy who would become the man who, as I type, has likely fallen asleep in one of our kids’ beds, fully dressed, neckerchief and all, taking care of the things we love while I’m hundreds of miles away telling stories.

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Was this the fairy tale I wouldn’t let myself believe in? How could I have ever known what it would truly take to make the happily ever after that I muse and ponder and write about these days?

At least I knew then that I couldn’t know, and that’s the beauty of it all for me.

The new song? It has uncertainties, but they are changed now.

And it has more patience and apologies, good humor and messes and arguments in the kitchen.

Oh, and two daughters with the world before them, perfectly oblivious and twirling across the unswept floor.

And it sounds less like a child and more like a woman in a three-day ponytail standing next to a man in a wool cap who together believe fiercely in that fairy tale, not the one that sparkles and shines, but the one that holds on tight…

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Watch for the release of my new album, “Playin’ Favorites” that celebrates the songs that influenced me in the spring. 

And check out my music website,jessieveedermusic.com for a list of places I’ll be playing near you! 

Time to gather

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It’s fall. Shipping season.

The leaves have stripped from their branches, the horses are hairing up against the cold, the grass is golden and the cows and calves look like black dots on the hillsides.

We’re getting ready to gather.

We’re fixing up corrals and fences, hauling hay off the fields, calling in the uncles and putting on our chaps and silk scarves and wool caps, gearing up like those horses for a season as unpredictable as it is predictable.

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On this ranch, we’re in the same transition period as our neighbors and friends. This is the season. We all know it well.

But I can’t help but notice how much this shift-over is mimicking our lives right now as I sit here trying to hash out my thoughts after another visit to the bank and the insurance agent and our small business development consultant. My husband meets me in town with the feed pickup, dressed in layers because he’s been fixing on the tractor. He smells like the men I grew up with, coming inside with the cold and the scent of diesel on their jackets, noses and cheeks flushed under unshaven faces.

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He looks sort of out of place in the seat of the beige bank office in his big boots and Carhart coat. We’re talking numbers and new business plans and what it’s going to take for him to make a living building garages and decks and tiling bathrooms and kitchens and refinishing barns and haying and feeding and raising cattle, all the things he’s always known, now officially declared as the plan. As his occupation. Carpenter. Rancher.

I’m his champion in my going-to-town clothes, the same way he’s been my champion in all of the weird leaps I’ve taken as an entrepreneur with a job title too long and unconventional for a business card. Now it looks like our cards might start looking the same.

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When we first got married, I remember a moment when we were driving down the road toward home after a long trip together somewhere, and we made ourselves a promise that if we were ever in a place that we didn’t quite feel ourselves, or if we noticed the other slipping or not laughing as much as we know them to, that we would stop right there and help each other figure a way out.

I’m not sure exactly how the pact came to be, but I remember the road whizzing by outside my passenger window and I remember the lump in my throat dissolving with the breath I took after we declared it.

My husband and I talk dreams and plans for this ranch and our work almost every day. I don’t know if that’s a thing that everyone does, but we do it.

We lie in bed after the kids are finally sleeping and we hash it out, or we sit together in the noise and interruptions of our house and we make mental lists. We stand in the dark of our kitchen after I get home late and we recap and scheme.

And sometimes I don’t feel like thinking about it because it overwhelms me, but I listen.

And sometimes he is distracted by a phone call or a crying kid, but he comes back to it, to help me find my place again.

Because it’s important. Because you can’t see 10 years down the line, you can’t reach out and touch the plans, those dreams we have. And so we speak them out loud into the space between us.

Because it’s a new season and we’re getting ready to gather…

Dear Husband on our 13th Anniversary

Next week we will be celebrating our 13th year of marriage. Thirteen doesn’t seem so lucky, but I’m only really superstitious about those sorts of things when things go wrong.

And what I’ve learned from 13 years of marriage is that the only thing you can count on, really, is things going wrong. And then, right again.

And what’s life but a series of triumphs, roadblocks, joy and heartache? But my favorite times with you, well, they’ve always been the millions and billions of heartbeats in between.

And so here were are, you and me and the kids and the dogs and the cows and the plans that seem to be going in a reasonable direction, until they aren’t. If we were sea people, we would say we’re good at readjusting our sails.

But we’re not sailors. We’re just two kids hell-bent on being landlocked in this rugged and unpredictable place, trying to belong here in our own way, in our own generation, knowing that even without the waves to take count, the wind can wear you down.

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Dear husband, last night I left you with the kids at suppertime so I could drive into a rainstorm and sing about our lives on a stage somewhere a few hours away. When I pulled out of the drive, my guitar and stories loaded up in the back seat, our daughters were standing naked in the mud puddles, dancing and splashing in the aftermath of a glorious late summer rain and you were laughing and waving and loving them. And I was loving you there with them.

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I love you. I always have.

A few days ago, our 3-year-old daughter asked me about my wedding. She wanted to know what I wore and if we danced and if I married her daddy. So I pulled out our wedding album and showed her photos and talked about that day in the cow pasture when you married me underneath the 100-year-old oak tree while our oldest daughter squealed and smiled and instructed her little sister to stop turning the pages so fast.

Wedding TreeThere was a simple quote in that wedding album that I pulled as inspiration for the special day, when I was just turning 23 and thought I knew what I was up for. It read: “Love is enough.”

And it struck me at that moment in the living room surrounded by Barbies and baby doll strollers, half-drunk milk cups and things that cost money spread out on the floor that’s never properly vacuumed in this sweet and maddening little mess we’ve made, that I was wrong there. Love is not enough. I’m sorry, all you romantics out there, but it’s true.

In order for love to be enough to survive this life together, the affection can’t stand on its own. You have to expand it, to stretch and define it more broadly so that it also means kindness, especially when you don’t feel kind, which will morph itself into patience.

And then patience lends itself to selflessness and turns the other person’s joy into yours if you let it. And if you look at love as less of a feeling and more like a doing for the other, that’s how love turns to freedom, which is one of my favorite parts about love.

And my favorite part about loving you. Because you let me be me, even in the times that makes our love a bit lonely. But I don’t have to tell you that, dear husband, because you’re the one who showed me.

And I didn’t marry you because I simply loved you. I could have loved other men, I know. Although I never really tried. I found you and here we are, more tired than we’ve ever been and more human, too. Adding years and payments and lawn care and cattle and children who spill things and who will always need us and make us worry and wonder if we’re screwing it all up will do that to the definition of love. Make it more human.

Because the stakes are higher, the days are longer and the floor is stickier and the ground is muddier, but we’re still standing on it, which comes in handy when this prairie wind blows.

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The part not found in parenting books

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On pet fish and falling in love
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As a wife and a parent to two toddling humans, I find that I don’t have to look very hard if I want to feel like I’m doing something wrong.

There’s contradicting advice, opinions and experiences lurking in every day care pickup line and waiting on the other side of every click, swipe or ding. On any given day, I’m certain I’ve faltered far more than I’ve conquered, the feeling of desperation creeping in on me as I negotiate suppertime cooperation for a promise of a pet fish or no treats ever for the rest of your life.

In moments like these, I find myself wishing I were the mother I just knew I was going to be before I actually had children. But now that the current version of me has two little reality checks in tow, the one thing I’m trying to not lose sight of is the thing that got us into these “one-more-bite-of-lasagna” negotiations in the first place: our marriage.

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Last week a headline caught my eye: “Date nights could have saved my marriage.” A little twinge of panic shot up from my gut. I wanted to see the rest of the story, but I was terrified of discovering a familiar play-by-play. I wasn’t ready for that kind of reality check.

So I made a plan, one that favored the whole “work-life balance” myth, and I convinced my husband to attend an event I planned for the community. We called my parents to watch the kids and he met me at Paint Night Date Night, where I registered guests and then met him at our seats, drank a glass of Champagne and tried our hand at creating a unified painting of two tree branches reaching out toward each other under the moonlight.

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How fitting. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but just like the other couples in the room with us, we didn’t show up to become artists, but to carve out some time to sit side by side and do something other than fall asleep to Netflix.


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

And so I kept it going, and the next night I made arrangements to head to the big town to attend a community symphony event. It was a trip that was part work research, part construction supply shopping, part the perfect chance for an uninterrupted meal and part Sunday morning trip to urgent care because we have young kids and the little darlings like to cough directly into my eyeballs.

And I bet you know what I’m going to say here, but I’m going to say it anyway. Sometimes in the thick of being in love, it can be hard to remember what falling in love means. Being in love is the man sitting with me in the waiting room of a strange hospital and laughing at how my illnesses always seem to coincide with our romantic plans.

Being in love is an insurance card. Comfortable. A lot of times predictable. But falling in love is not knowing quite how the painting is going to turn out, or if you really wanted to try it in the first place, but taking a swig and dipping the brush anyway.

And I think the falling in love part should be in those parenting books. I mean, it won’t get the toddler to finish her lasagna, but it will at least help the two of you laugh about it when you’re out shopping for a pet fish.

 

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