To my baby girl on her first birthday…

Dear Baby Girl,

Last night I rocked you to sleep in your room, the lights were low and I hummed the tune it seems I’ve been instinctively humming in your ear since you arrived a year ago.

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If you asked me to recreate the melody without you in my arms I don’t think I could, but with your cheek resting on my shoulder and my cheek resting on the soft fluff of the hair on your head, the song comes to me easily, like a breath or a blink or a sigh.

Baby, the way you’ve taken to this world has surprised and delighted me.

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Yesterday evening I fed you blueberries for the first time, and you couldn’t pick those sweet treats up fast enough, eager for the new taste, pushing all other food aside, squealing and kicking those chunky little legs until I gave you more.

I fed you so many blueberries I’m surprised you didn’t turn blue, and it’s likely your next diaper will have me paying for that choice, but man, little one, were you having fun.

And I guess, so was I.

Because your fun is my fun.

Your happy is my happy.

I get that now. And it’s beautiful and terrifying all at once, but when I close my eyes to find my own sleep at night, when the worries of mommies and daddies start creaking and pushing to fill the quiet space left for sleep, those are the kind of moments and memories I summon up to fight them.

Before you, I didn’t have that kind of weapon.

Because, baby, a year ago those legs that you were kicking so eagerly in that highchair were stretching and kicking the inside my belly.

I leaned back in chairs or in bed and watched. I grabbed your daddy’s hand so you could kick him, too, and we wondered who you might look like, when you might arrive and how our lives will change.

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What I didn’t know is that once everything changed, it would continue to change, every moment and every day.

And I wasn’t prepared for the ache that gets tucked in with the joys of the milestones. I didn’t know what a month does to a child, bringing you new teeth, new words and new hair, longer legs, bigger smiles, tighter hugs and a louder voice.

And the thread that connected us so tightly in the beginning unravels a little bit more.

Nine months felt like years when my body grew you, baby.

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Twelve months feels like a blink and you’re standing on those little legs, with one hand on the couch and the other reaching toward your daddy in the hallway. You hadn’t seen him all day, you wanted him to pick you up so you could take his cap off and try to put it on your head, so you stretched for him, his words encouraging you to let go of the couch and walk.

“You can do it, you can do it!”

And so you did.

Three little steps, just like that. He lifted you up, and we all clapped together in the kitchen.

Baby, on Thanksgiving Day, we celebrated your first birthday complete with decorations, cake and the entire family.

Last year on Thanksgiving we brought you home from the hospital, just the three of us. We were nervous and raw, uncertain and the most thankful we’ve ever been.

I didn’t think I could be more thankful than that.

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But you’ve proven me wrong.

A year later and every day it’s something new. You say “momma” and “dada”, “hi” and “bye” and “uh, oh,” your favorite of all. You wave, blow kisses and truly think you can read books by yourself and all of these are things that one-year-olds do, nothing’s so out of the ordinary for a baby your age, except every new discovery, every new challenge you master shows us how you are so uniquely, simply and innocently you in this world.

And as easy as a breath or a blink, a sigh or that song I hum to you at night, we love you baby. Happy Birthday.

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Passing the Halloween torch

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It’s Halloween. And true to my nature I stayed up late last night gluing Edie’s gumball  machine costume together and cursing myself for waiting until the last minute, because, EEEK! I ran out of little pom-poms and I live a good hour and a half from the nearest 24 hour Walmart.

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Why couldn’t I just order her a costume from Amazon.com for crying out loud?

Why? Because it looked like an adorable and easy idea a month ago when I found it.

And I think I like to make stuff. Even if I procrastinate the shit out of the process.

Halloween has been one of my favorite holidays because of those two things, because I rarely make plan until the last minute and apparently I like the thrill of creativity under pressure.

Some of my best work has come a good hour or two before our last minute plan to attend a Halloween party.

White Trash.

Bacon and Eggs/Before and After

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But it’s been a few years since we’ve hit up a bender of a Halloween party. Last year I could have gone as a blimp and I wouldn’t have needed a costume.

This year I spent the weekend obsessing over staining the house. And in case you’re wondering, it didn’t go well. I mean, #1:  Who in their right minds designs a house that needs to be re-stained every few years? And #2: Who makes that house so tall even their tallest ladder can’t reach the top?

It’s a Halloween worthy nightmare that will last our entire lives. (Or at least until we make enough money to buy ourselves out of DIYing…)

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This is the short side of the house, so who needs a ladder?  I call it Redneck Renovation (Innovation?)

Anyway, I’ve never spent a Halloween with our baby, so I’m planning on doing what we can do for the holiday with an almost-one-year-old. I’ll find mom’s witch hat and we’ll head to town this afternoon to hang in her store and hand out candy. Then I’ll make the rounds, say hi to some neighbors, show her off and likely, spend most of my time putting the bubble gum hat back on her head.

Don’t worry, they’ll be pictures tomorrow, you know you can count on it:)

Oh, and if you don’t yet, follow me on Instagram for photos on life out here.

And because this baby and my Halloween crafting project makes me nostalgic, here’s this week’s column on the memories I have of trick-or-treating along the country roads.

Coming Home: Princess of the frozen tundra passes the Halloween torch
by Jessie Veeder
10-30-16
Forum Communications

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I was a princess once.

It was a long time ago in a faraway, mysterious frozen tundra called North Dakota. I was beautiful. My crown was made of glittery pipe cleaner, my dress a hand-me-down from my fair mother, shoulder pads for dramatic effect, taken in at the waist with 37 safety pins, and it swept (drug) on the ground ever-so elegantly, collecting fallen leaves, dirty snow and candy wrappers the way every magnificent princess ballgown should.

I addressed my kingdom in a short, 1990s camcorder clip featuring a stunning and dramatic speech littered with impediments because I was a princess who couldn’t quite say my “R’s” correctly. And before I headed out the door to survey my territory, I pulled on my baby blue, puffy winter coat and well-worn snow boots, even though I fully intended on a mink shawl and glass slippers, because it was Halloween in North Dakota, and when it comes to parents, there are some arguments even a princess can’t win.

Yes, I was a princess once.

And then I was a clown in a hand-me-down, red and white, homemade zip-up suit and hat, complete with rosy cheeks.

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And once I was Pippi Longstocking, and I made my braids stick straight out and wore my dad’s lace-up work boots. And long ago, I was a ghost with spiders in my hair, then an old woman in a lace dress taken from my great-grandmother,

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and an alien with neon-green hair and a tinsel dress that my mom wore in a 1970s production of “The Wizard of Oz” in which she played the Tin Man.

Yes, ’tis the season for goblins and mermaids and 7,000 Ninja Turtles and “Frozen” characters to start gearing up for an evening of a make-believe parade down city sidewalks and doing the things that children do on a holiday that was invented to keep us young and full of imagination.

But my Halloween memories don’t include those sidewalks, because we didn’t have many on the miles of gravel roads connecting us to our “next-door neighbors.” Our trick-or-treating rituals looked more like dressing up in homemade costumes my best friend and I had been planning and perfecting for weeks, standing in front of dad’s deer horns hanging on the wall to pose for a photo next to my little sister who was dressed as a pumpkin and then piling into the minivan with the neighbor girls while our dads drove us through the 10-mile loop so we could unload and load up again at all seven houses.

One year my best friend went as a picnic table, to-scale and complete with at least two table settings, so you can about imagine how that car ride went.

But we didn’t care; you could have piled six more kids in that minivan, and we would have never wished for a sidewalk or streetlights. We were convinced us country kids had the best Halloweens. Because at that time, we were some of the few, we were special, and our neighbors were expecting us. So at each of those seven or so houses, we loaded up on handfuls of candy, treat bags complete with pencils or pinwheels, full-sized candy bars, bags of popcorn and a chance to take our time, show off some tricks and model our costumes, strutting and showing off what we worked so hard to put together.

And at the end of it all, we all we unloaded at the final house, dragging pieces of our costumes behind us, disheveled and tired and ready to dump our pillowcases full of treats on the carpet to sort through while our parents visited in the kitchen.

Today, in my kitchen, the supplies for Edie’s Halloween costume sit in a box on my countertop, and I just realized the torch has been officially passed as I turn from back-seat princess to minivan driver. But my friend up the road has four kids, so if we want to ride together like we did in the old days, we might need to see where we can get a small bus … especially if anyone plans on going as a picnic table this year.

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Making Memories. Making Pies.

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It’s a beautiful morning at the ranch, the wind is calm and the golden trees are sparkling in the sun, the baby is napping, the windows are open and I’m so happy to be home after six days on the music road.

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I’ve designated this day to unpacking and putting away all that was drug out in the name of traveling across the state with a ten-month old and my mother…which means we most definitely brought home way more than we left home with…

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Like maybe a few more outfits. And at least one new pair of shoes for each of us.

And maybe a giraffe suit for Little Sister?

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We sure have a fun and exhausting time when we’re out traipsing around the countryside. But we don’t get much napping in. And we don’t stick to a bedtime. And we try to cram as much fun as we can in between the gigs.

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Mini Merch Slinger

So we’re tired.

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I predict Edie will take the rest of the week to catch up on all of the extra time she spent kicking and clapping and singing along with her eyes wide open until the bitter end of the day when we plopped down together on the hotel bed, or the bed in my grandparent’s house, or the bed of our gracious hosts, and finally gave into the night.

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Sound check…

I’m contemplating crawling into her crib with her right now and the two of us could stay there all day. If only we both fit.

But not until I share this week’s column with you, a little story about the best part of this season change, which is most certainly more time in the kitchen with family reminiscing and making new, sweet flavored memories.

And I may be no Martha Stewart, as you all know, but this was my biggest attempt yet, getting as close as this non-pastry-making-family can get to pie perfection, thanks to the notes left behind from our grandma Edie…and maybe a little encouraging from above.

Happy season change. May the cooler weather inspire you to cuddle up and settle down a bit. I know that’s my goal this upcoming October anyway.

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Coming Home: Connecting with gramma’s memory over a slice of apple pie
by Jessie Veeder
9-25-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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My mom keeps a small wooden box in her kitchen, tucked up in the cupboard next to her collection of cookbooks. On the front it reads “RECIPES” in the shaky, wood-burning technique of a young boy trying his hand at carpentry.

And the from-scratch buns she served with supper.

And the familiar casseroles that you could smell cooking as you walked up toward the tiny brown house from the barnyard after a ride on a cool fall evening.

Every once in awhile my mom will open that box on a search for a memory tied to our taste buds. She’ll sort through the small file of faded handwriting and index cards until she finds it, setting it on the counter while she gathers ingredients, measures stirs and puts the dish together the best way she remembers.

I’m thinking about it now because it’s sitting on my kitchen table, the one that used to sit in my grandmother’s kitchen all those years ago acting as a surface to roll out dough and pie crusts or a place to serve countless birthday cakes or her famous April Fool’s day coffee filter pancakes.

And so they’ve met again, that table and that box, which is currently sitting next to a pie pan covered in tinfoil.

Because last week we pulled the box out on a mission for guidance on what to do with the 50,000 pounds of apples my little sister inherited from the tree in the backyard of the house she bought a few years back.

“Maybe we should make applesauce or apple crisp,” we said as Little Sister plopped the fourth bag full of fruit on my kitchen counter, my mom sipping coffee and my big sister entertaining my nephew beside her.

I reached up in the cupboards to dust off a couple recipe books because we all agreed then that apples this nice deserve to be in a pie, and Googling “pie making” seemed too impersonal for such an heirloom-type task.

Then Mom remembered the recipe box.

And that Gramma Edie used to make the best apple pies.

It was a memory that was intimately hers and vaguely her daughters’. We were too young to remember the cinnamon spice or the sweetness of the apples or the way she would make extra crust to bake into pieces and sprinkle with sugar when the pies were done, but our mother did.

And most certainly so did our dad.

So we dove into the recipe with the unreasonable confidence of amateurs and spent the afternoon in my kitchen, peeling apples, bouncing the baby and rolling and re-rolling out gramma’s paradoxically named “No Fail Pie Crust,” laughing and cheering a victory cheer as we finally successfully transferred it to the top of the pie using four hands and three spatulas, certain this wasn’t our grandmother’s technique.

Wondering how she might have done it.

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Little Sister carved a heart in the top to make it look more presentable. We put the pie in the oven, set the timer and hoped for the best.

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We fed the baby and gave her a bath. We watched my nephew demonstrate his ninja moves. We talked and poured a drink. We cleared the counter for supper. We put the baby to bed.

And then we pulled the pie from the oven. We marveled at our work. We decided it looked beautiful, that we might declare it a huge success, but first we should see what Dad thinks.

So we dished him up a piece. It crumbled into a pile on his plate, not pie shaped at all. But he closed his eyes and took a bite and declared it just the right amount of cinnamon, the apples not too hard, the crust like he remembered, not pretty but good.

We served ourselves and ate up around that old table. We thought of our grandma, wondered if she might have given us a little help and put the recipe back in the box right next to her memory and the new one we made.

And we closed the lid.

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Celebrity sightings…

Ok, here’s this week’s column on celebrity sightings…

And just for the record, mom swears it was Kenny G because he was carrying a horn…

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Here’s to celebrities. May we all be at our coolest when we run into them in a hotel lobby.

Or on the trail…

Celebrity story the right fit for Western ND woman
by Jessie Veeder
9-11-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

My mom claims she saw Kenny G once in a hotel lobby in Fargo. It’s probably true. I mean, I think he was playing somewhere in the area that weekend, but then, it could have also just been a woman with long hair and a perm. It was the ’90s after all, and I think she only saw the back of his head.

Mom’s not much of a football fan, but she does appreciate a brush with fame as much as anybody, even if she can’t remember what team the guy played for.

Or his name.

Yes, it seems like we all have our signature celebrity-spotting story that we bust out at parties or for the 300th time at the family supper table, as if a run-in with a person of international credibility makes us a little more impressive ourselves.

Being a local musician, I’ve had my faIr share of meet and greets with famous performers throughout the years, most involving a backstage handshake, an obligatory photo and a hurry-up-and-get-your-stuff-off-the-stage nod because you’re the opening act.

But last weekend, my husband reminded me of the celebrity story I only tell if I’ve had one or two extra glasses of wine, rendering me ready for things like embarrassing confessions about an awkward college sophomore’s wardrobe malfunction in the wilderness with two professional cowboys as witness.

After a re-evaluation, I think enough time has passed now to revisit it here. I feel like it’s my duty, in the name of entertainment.

Anyway, out here in western North Dakota, we regard successful horse trainers and rodeo cowboys as celebrities. And during the summer of my sophomore year of college, I was invited to participate in a unique event where locals saddled up to ride and camp the Maah Daah Hey Trail through the Badlands with the famous Texas horse trainer Craig Cameron.

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Now, for those of you who don’t know, Craig is like the Kenny G of horse training, the NFL star quarterback of equine expertise, and I was invited along as an amateur journalist to document the experience for an equine magazine because, by some luck, the professional reporter scheduled for the gig was sick or giving birth or something.

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And so that’s how I found myself in the Badlands atop one of our more spirited horses, riding alongside a handsome Texas gentleman with a thick southern drawl and a skinny Texas cowboy butt and his professional bull rider friend with a thicker drawl and an even skinnier rear.

Now, the butt detail is a little morsel I would normally reserve for cocktails with my girlfriends. But it’s an important visual here because, while it was a minor detail I took note of as those cowboys unloaded their gear at the trailhead, it became extremely relevant when, on Day Two of the ride, I was face to face with those two skinny cowboys discussing pants sizes and wishing I would have packed cuter underwear.

Because the entire crew could see them, plaid and ratty and poking through the giant rip I tore in the rear of my jeans as I swung on my horse that morning.

Which would be embarrassing enough if I left it at that, except that I had already done the same thing the day before and, well, now I was out of jeans.

And so there I was, standing before two professional southern celebrity gentlemen as they so generously offered a solution to my wardrobe crisis, prairie wind blowing through my britches, wishing I wouldn’t have indulged in late-night Alfredo noodles every evening for supper my freshman year because, unless I wanted a weird case of saddle rash, I was going to have to squeeze my carb-loving badunkadunk into the famous Craig Cameron’s size 28 Wranglers and face the rest of the trail.

So that’s what I did.

And while it’s no Kenny G sighting in the hotel lobby, it seems my mortifying celebrity story, er, fits me just right.

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An old story

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Pops turned 60 on Tuesday.

A few weeks ago we had a big birthday party for him, complete with noodle salads and dessert, music on the porch, BYOB and a big board of embarrassing photos his sister drug out of the archives and presented.

My Aunt K. is the family historian. And now that she’s newly retired, she has the time to dedicated to embarrassing her brother just like in the olden days.

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Anyway, this week his brother is up from Texas and they are fixing fences, riding through cows and catching up.

I love it when family comes to the ranch. I especially love it when we’re around the supper table or chatting over drinks on the deck and old stories come up about the time when they were kids and their dad had a load of bulls on the truck in a cattle rack and forgot to latch the dump chain, successfully delivering the entire load of Charolais bulls on their butts in the yard.

“It was a pile of white bovine flesh,”* said Uncle W.

“And dad got out of the truck and started swearing and kicking at the chickens,” said Pops.

“And mom probly saw the whole thing from the kitchen window, but there was a back door on that house and she probly hightailed it outside to the garden…”

And there’s a million more where that came from.

But here’s one that Aunt K. told the night of the party about my dad as a little boy. I can’t remember how old now, but I imagine him seven or so, brown hair, brown skin, chubby cheeks and husky jeans.

He was riding in the car on the highway with his dad and spotted a road kill raccoon likely on its way to resembling a furry pancake due to its high traffic position on the road.

And he made his dad pull over so that the little seven-year-old version of my dad could scoop up that poor flattened soul and put it in a plastic bag.

“I know that animals get hit out here,” he explained to his father. “But it just isn’t right to let people keep running over him like that.”

And so his dad drove the tiny savior and the poor varmint his son scraped up back to the ranch where he received a proper burial.

And if that story doesn’t sum up what type of man he is, well then, I don’t know what else to tell you about the guy.

Except happy 60th dad. We love you.

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*the Bulls were fine :) 

Sunday Column: On a memory named Pooper

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It’s raining, the grass is getting greener and the calves are being born. I love this time of year where things are fresh and new and there’s nothing ahead of us but the promise of warmer weather (after a couple spring snow storms that leave us holding our breath of course).

The bottle calf in the barn has made me a little nostalgic and I’m having a flashback of a bottle calf my little sister and I took care of back when I was the boss and she didn’t care…

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Coming Home: Everything is better with some cows around
by Jessie Veeder
4-17-16
InForum
http://www.inforum.com 

Calving season is in full force here at the ranch, and this year it’s extra special for my husband and I because part of the new herd we’re building is our own.

And by better, by no stretch of the word does he mean easier. If I learned anything in my life it’s that better doesn’t always mean easier. (I’ve found this to be true in ranching and in motherhood.)

Anyway, it could be the green grass sprouting up on the hilltops or a little hope of warm rain in the forecast that sends us outside with the enthusiasm of a kindergartner with a new backpack on her first day of school, but I know it’s those cows grazing on the hilltop and the babies trying out their new legs beside them.

Last week, one of our best new cows gave birth to twins. I was in Bismarck with Mom and Edie at a singing job when I got a text with a photo from Dad telling me the news. My little sister, my mom and my husband all got the same message and I smiled at the realization that we’re living in an age where my dad sends group texts to his family about cows.

This morning one of those twin babies is waiting for me in the barn because, as it goes sometimes with animals, the cow didn’t recognize the second twin as hers.

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So I’m her momma now, a job I happily volunteered for because feeding babies is something I know how to do, and it’s not just due to my new role as a mom.

I have pretty vivid memories of all of the bottle calves we had when I was a kid growing up out here. One in particular left a big mark on my sister and I, mainly for the role that little calf played in our epic, sisterly fights.

I was 12 and so I pretty much knew everything, and my little sister was 7 and not as eager as she should have been at being bossed by me.

The calf, lovingly named Pooper, became our responsibility and part of our daily chores, which we eagerly took on in the beginning. Because, in the beginning, calves are adorable and have yet to grow into a 150-pound puppy on legs who has figured out two little girls are his only food source, and coincidentally has also figured out how to escape his pen in order to chase them down the road after the empty bottle, tongue out, bellering, head down in feeding position in case he caught up to one.

And he always caught up to one; it just was never this one. Because I employed the age-old advice: Want to survive a bear attack? Just be faster than the guy you brought with you.

Turns out my little sister never forgave me for it. Last weekend I took her down to the barn to have a look at the new baby, and she started getting the cold sweats. Instead of seeing an innocent newborn creature, Alex was having flashbacks of snowpants full of slobber, swift head butts to her rear and unanswered cries for help directed at a big sister sprinting to the house half a mile away, leaving her to suffer a terrifying death by the tongue of a baby calf.

Apparently, the times we spent together feeding Pooper were the first times she heard me cuss like a sailor, knocking me off my very low pedestal. I know because she brings it up at family dinners, holidays and probably the toast she made at my wedding.

Needless to say, my little sister will find different ways to help with the cattle business. Like babysitting Edie.

And I don’t blame her. It’s not easy playing momma to a baby with a giant head and four wobbly legs, especially when you’re feeding her with one hand and trying to put the pacifier back into your human baby’s mouth with the other.

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Because everything is better with some cows around.

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Sunday Column: The Red Guitar

A couple weeks ago at a show, I met a man who suggested that I write a few columns about my guitars. He is in a band himself and had seen me play a few times, and had taken notice of my different guitars, and being a musician he knew there was likely a story behind them.

So this week I took him up on that suggestion (it was a good suggestion) and wrote about one of the most important guitars in my life.

Coming Home: From first memory to now, guitars hold an elusive sway
by Jessie Veeder
4-10-16
Forum Communications

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I love guitars. I love the way they look sitting in the corner of a house. I love how they feel in my hands; the new ones shiny with promise of the music that is to come, the old ones worn from years of picking.

Because you know how everyone has a first memory? That moment you look back on where you were the youngest version of yourself you knew. Maybe it’s only a few moments in time, but it was so powerful that you hang onto it hard and forever, whether you want to or not.

That memory is a guitar to me, dancing in the basement of our old house while my dad played his red Guild and sang a song I don’t remember. But I do remember the brown shag carpet and how he wore his hair a little too long and how his wide, leathery fingers eclipsed the strings at the neck as he swayed back and forth and tapped his foot, just a little bit off of the rhythm of the song he was singing and picking — the same way he does today. And I remember wanting him to let me pluck the strings on my own, so I could make the music come from that mysterious instrument.

That red guitar.

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The guitar still remains a mystery to me, how six strings touched the right way can produce sounds that make you laugh and cry and tap your toes or sing words you didn’t even know you had in you.

It’s amazing that the sounds coming out of a body made of wood can be so different depending on who’s touching it. I’m in awe that a guitar can transform a campfire, a living room or a makeshift stage into a world where love is lost and found, real cowboys still exist, summer always stays.

Yes, the guitar remains elusive to me even though every person in my family, as a sort of right of passage, owns their own version of the instrument, tucked away in basements or propped up next to the piano or the living room couch. It’s a necessity. Whether or not you ever learn to play it, you need it there next to you in case you or a guest are ever so inclined.

I’ve had in my possession a number of guitars in my life, all given to me by my dad based on his judgment on what would be the best fit for me. From the old Taylor I play today to the green Takamine I got when I convinced my parents that the guitar was more my instrument than the saxophone I played in band class, so we traded it in, as my dad does with guitars and horses.

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I found out later that’s what happened with the red Guild. I showed interest in taking up an instrument for band class in fourth grade and so dad traded it for a saxophone.

Oh, if guitars could talk! I suppose I could say that for instruments of all kind, but I’m partial to the guitar. I think they’d have the best stories.

That red Guild found its way back to the ranch eventually, another of dad’s trades of an amp or a banjo, so that he could pass that guitar along to my little sister when she went to college. I liked to imagine her sitting behind it, so far away from the buttes of the ranch, closing her eyes, plucking the strings and hearing the sounds of home.

That Guild sits in its case propped up in the corner of the house she now shares with her husband, holding in it stories about her dad playing in bar bands and coffeehouses before she was born and memories of three little girls twirling, laughing and singing along in the basement of a little old house.

Yes, all of the guitars I’ve possessed have given me something — confidence, my first song, a stronger voice. But it’s the one I never owned, the one that gave me my first chord and let loose the music inside of me, that has been my greatest gift.

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Sunday Column: The boy on the hill

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Longtime blog readers might remember this story. I stumbled across it in the archives last week while I was revisiting some of my writing as I contemplate putting together a book.

Yes.  A book. Because I’m not sleeping anyway, so I might as well start another project.

Anyway, in those archives there’s lots about the weather and family and what the landscape looks like as it goes on changing every day.

And then there are little snippets of conversations, glimpses into our lives, past and present. These are my favorites.

Sunday Column: Family lore lingers around Sunday dinner table
by Jessie Veeder
3-20-16
Forum Communications
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Most Sundays we get together with Mom and Dad for dinner. After a week of work and crazy schedules, one of us decides that someone should cook a decent meal, pour some wine and make us all sit down.

Recently, Dad shared a story about his childhood that I’m sure I’ve heard dozens of times before. But it doesn’t matter.

I want to exist in this 10-minute vignette of my father that somehow sums up everything he became here on this landscape.

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I love the way he tells it, sitting at the end of the table, plate pushed forward, arms folded, coffee brewing for dessert. He looks to the ceiling as if he might catch a glimpse of that little boy, 4 years old with curly black hair riding bareback on a paint pony alongside his father. He throws his head back, squeezes his eyes shut and laughs.

It’s fall or summer, he can’t remember, but I imagine the leaves were just starting to turn as the pair trotted out of the barnyard, the little boy on his father’s trail moving east toward the reservation where the cattle graze in the summer.

He’s not sure why his father took him along for an almost 7-mile one-way cross-country trip. He thinks now that it might have been a little extreme, but ask him then and it was all he wanted to do. Leave him behind? He would have tried to follow.

The pastures out east, even today, are some of the most isolated and untouched places out here. The rolling buttes rise and fall for miles between fences into creek bottoms with black mud and cattails. The oak groves, bordered by thorny bull berry brush and thistle, begin to blend into one another and look the same.

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So there he was, a little boy clinging tight to that pony as it jumped over the creek and raced up side hills to keep up. And it was at the top of one of those rocky hills that he was told to stay and wait.

“Don’t move,” his father said as he made plans to check the tricky creek bottoms for cattle. “I’ll come back for you.”

So my father waited on his pony, wind flopping his hat and moving fluffy clouds over the buttes.

Dad searches for more recollection in his coffee cup and then rests his chin on his fist. He remembers he didn’t move, he just scanned the hills and squinted into the oak trees. And while he was peering into that horizon, holding the reins of his pony, someone did come over that hill. But it wasn’t his father. It was a girl with long black hair and legs dangling on each side of her bare-backed horse.

“Can you imagine what she thought?” my father chuckles at the memory of this girl, who he recalls was a teenager, but was probably only about 10 or 11 years old.

She asked him if he was OK and if he was lost. He told her that he wasn’t supposed to leave this spot. That his dad was coming back for him.

So she stayed with that little boy with curly hair on that hilltop, likely joining him in holding her breath and scanning the horizon for any sign of a cowboy hat.

He doesn’t remember how long she sat with him. When you’re 4 years old, 10 minutes can seem like hours.

But it doesn’t matter. She stayed until that little boy had an escort through the valleys and over the creeks, back west to the barnyard and to his mother waiting with canned meat, biscuits and a report of the day’s events.

So he told his mother his adventure, and for years to come this would be one of their family’s stories shared over and over again at Sunday meals, about a little boy who found a girlfriend out east on the hilltop.

And as my father protested, they would throw back their heads, close their eyes and laugh.

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Sunday Column: Haunted

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Another Halloween has come and gone and, although I this year didn’t find me traipsing around to parties dressed as my favorite farm animal, it did get me thinking, for some reason, about the origin of this all.

The art of the spook.

Mysterious things left behind.

And the definition of haunting.

Because out here we’re surrounded by a history that has left behind artifacts for us to contemplate, old abandoned farm houses, out buildings or shacks that many midwesterners have standing on their properties, out in fields or cow pastures, little snippets of stories of who used to live there hanging in the air as dinner table discussion or campfire ghost stories, leaving us to wonder who was here before.

So this week I dug back in my memory to reflect on an old homestead that used to sit up behind the house where I grew up…and all of the things we leave behind….

Screen shot 2015-11-02 at 12.49.51 PMComing Home: Items left behind in abandoned houses create
ghost stories for us country kids
by Jessie Veeder
11-1-15
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It’s a gloomy day, the rain is falling, the sky is gray and the trees are stripped from black branches. It’s Halloween season and all of the sudden I’m reminded of the old house that used to sit up in a grove of trees behind the yard where I grew up.

It’s not so uncommon around here for a family to purchase land from neighbors or inherit an old family homestead, so there aren’t many farmsteads around these parts that didn’t come with an old structure lingering on the property, providing ranch kids with plenty of bedtime ghost story material.

And so it went with the old house that stood tucked back on the other side of the barbed wire fence, against a slope of a hill, surrounded by oak trees and the remnants of Mrs. B’s famous garden. Her hearty lilac bushes, her grove of apple trees, her wild asparagus and rhubarb still thrived in the clearing she made in those trees all those mysterious years ago before the family up and left, leaving that garden untended, the root cellar full and a house seemingly frozen in time.

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“What happened to them?” I would contemplate with my cousins, one of our favorite subjects as our eyes grew heavy, tucked in bunk beds and sleeping bags scattered on the floor, together growing up, together trying to figure out what the passing of time really means and how a story could be left so undone.

Gramma took some old dresses, vintage black smocks with pearl buttons and lace collars, from the small bedroom closet of the old house. We would pull them over our heads to perform pretend wedding ceremonies or attend fancy parties like we saw on our mothers’ soap operas, the fabric smelling like mothballs, dust and old forgotten things.

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But no matter what character you were that day, you couldn’t help but think about who the real woman in those dresses once was.

And who would leave them behind?

So, as it goes with kids, our curiosity outweighed our fear and we went on a mission to collect samples of this family’s life that still existed between those walls.

And while I remember kitchen utensils hanging neatly on hooks, canned beets and potatoes lined up on shelves, the table and chairs sitting in the sunlight against the window, waiting for a neighbor to stop over for coffee, I also remember bedrooms scattered with old newspapers and magazines, the dates revealing the last years of occupancy, the fashion of the season, stories of drought and cattle prices sprawled out among diary entries and old letters, a glimpse into a world that existed long before us kids sifting through the rubble in tennis shoes with neon laces.

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And then I remember the dentures. Or maybe I just remember the story my oldest cousin told about the dentures. It doesn’t matter now who was actually there to witness it, it evolved to belong to everyone. An expedition to the old house, a creak of a cupboard door, a jar full of teeth that nobody noticed before.

“The place is haunted.” That was the consensus, especially when, at the next visit, the unwelcome house guests were greeted at the door by a flurry of bats (or, more likely, a bat or two). Yes, the spirits of that mysterious couple came back to the place. How else could you explain the thriving asparagus plants? The teeth?!

And so that was our story of the old house, a mysteriously fantastic pillar of our childhood adventures and a structure that had to eventually be burned down due to its disintegrating floor joists and general unsafe environment.

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I stood in my snowsuit and beanie and watched the flames engulf the graying wood and shoot up over the tops of the black oak trees and wondered how it all eventually came down to this … a life turned into old forgotten things, turned into ashes, turned into stories.

Maybe that’s the scariest tale of them all.

But each fall the apples in the old woman’s orchard ripen, each spring her lilacs bloom and each year their names come to our lips because of what they left behind, making me wonder if we were right about the haunting thing after all.

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Sunday Column: The good ‘ol fashioned coffee break…

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In this time of texting, messaging, emailing, Instagramming, Tweeting, Facebooking, Pinteresting, Parascoping and all of the other digital ways I haven’t learned about yet that allow us to communicate with the entire world with a click of a button, sometimes it just really nice to have a friend that will drive 30 miles out of her way (with soup) for a good ‘ol fashioned visit.
Because of all of the things we might invent to bring us closer, nothing compares to the original–sitting close and hearing each other laugh out loud.

Coming Home: Impromptu visits still important in modern, hectic life

by Jessie Veeder
10-12-15


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Last week, a friend drove from town with her young son and a pot of soup to our house in the middle of nowhere on a mission to have a lunch date.

It was a regular Monday afternoon, and I was working from home. When I work from home, I don’t get things like “lunch dates.”

Because I can’t just pop out to my favorite sandwich place to meet a friend.

No.

Out here, my lunch date is watching the cows walk by the yard on their way to the dam to water as I sit down in front of my computer with a summer sausage sandwich I threw together in haste.

So needless to say, it was nice to have company, a cheerful face with a red-headed toddler in tow to liven up this empty midday house a bit.

It was a simple gesture, one that had us chatting about mommyhood and our growing town, the nice fall weather and the story about how my husband and I got the pickup stuck smack in the middle of a muddy road the night before and had to be pulled out. Because it’s been raining, and this is still a wild and inconveniently unpredictable place sometimes, despite and because of oil industry action.

And this wild place doesn’t typically lend itself to town friends making the long trip out just for a quick visit and a bowl of soup. Usually it’s the other way around, and then when we get to town, we make sure to stop at the bank, get some groceries, grab a piece for the broken water tank at Tractor Supply and generally try to fit in what we can before heading back home.

But my friend’s visit got me thinking about lunch dates and coffee breaks and how we’re spending our suppertime and our downtime. If you look at it all together, those little in-between moments, the pauses in the work and the regular routine, add up to some of the really good (and dare I say best) parts of our lives.

What are we doing with those little moments? Who are we spending them with?

Now, I remember a lot of things about growing up out here — the freedom to roam about and play in the hills, riding horses and chasing cows, big birthday parties and family gatherings — but what holds unexpectedly warm memories for me are the coffee visits.

As a kid, of course, I wasn’t there for the coffee. I would tag along with my parents up the hill to the neighbors’ for a chance to play with my friends on their tire swing before coming in for a glass of Kool-Aid and catching pieces of conversation and laughter coming from the adults sitting around the counter.

From them we learned about humor and gossip and what it sounds like to offer up help, concern and well-intended advice. We learned how to weave a story and get to the punch line, we learned what trust looked like, and we learned that you should keep cookies or bars around, especially on the weekends, in case someone stops by.

And in all of those lessons learned over Kool-Aid and coffee, I can’t help but wonder now, in this fast-paced world I’ve found myself in, did I hold on tight enough to the lesson of simple time spent together? Messy house or clean. Work done or work looming. Who cares if you’re caught in your ugly cleaning sweatpants on a Saturday morning?

I feel like in the hectic schedule we’ve made for ourselves, riddled with deadlines and ranch work and housework, I might have slowly lost the art and importance of the impromptu visit.

With a baby on the way, somehow my friend’s visit, with her toddler and his backpack full of toy cars in tow, reminded me of the importance of doors open, coffee on and simply swinging by, no matter how far down that highway a neighbor is.

Because this busy life we’ve created isn’t just about tasks and goals, but about feeding our souls with a homemade cookie and a little conversation to remind us we’re in it together.

So keep the coffee on, friends, we’re coming over.

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