The pink road

There is a pink road that leads me to our house in the hills. I guess I always call it pink, but for those of you who are picky about color choices, you could refer to it as a salmon or a coral I suppose. Anyway, this pink road, or red road, or coral road is surfaced with a rock the locals call scoria. Scoria, or what the smarty pants geologists label clinker, is a form of natural brick formed in the landscape by strips of once burning lignite coal. (And that’s probably the only scientific fact you will hear from this woman for a long time, thank you very much Google).

Anyway, I always thought it was stunning–the vibrant road that winds its way through a landscape that changes from green, to yellow, to gold, to brown, to gray, to white and then back again.  And just like the landscape changes, so does the road it seems. In the spring it is at its best, perhaps because we missed it so much, buried under all of that snow for months. It slowly appears a vibrant, soaked deep maroon color digging its way out of the banks, emerging from under ice and puddles of mud. I splash around in it and, with windows rolled down, I zoom out of the yard and over the hills and off somewhere. As the sun warms up the world and the season changes to summer, the once soaked and cold road becomes hot under the rays and turns from deep red to a hazy pink as the rocks break up under the weight of our tires and our feet and the hooves of wild beasts. I drive slowly out of the yard, trying not to disturb it as a tail of dust stretches out behind me.

And then a summer storm passes through, and it looks like God took his favorite, sharp red crayon and drew a nice thin line right down the middle of the neon green grass and dark blue, rolling thunderheads off in the distance. Down through the cool draws and up on top of clover covered hilltops it bends and straightens, leaps and lands and stretches its arms, like the land is the road’s personal dance floor.

And I am the charter member of its fan club.

Because you may pass by it on your way to town, or to the lake, or to your relative’s farm, and not even glance at the subtle invitation to take a little trip with it. But I have will never refuse it again.

When I was really young, like four or five, I lived with my family in Grand Forks, ND. On my favorite weekends I would be lifted into my dad’s pickup by my little armpits and I would sit proudly alongside him as we made our way across the piece of pavement that stretched a good five or six hours across the great state and out to my grandparent’s ranch–our ranch. At four or five everything seems bigger and every travel adventure seems further and longer than it is in reality. When I was certain we had been in the pickup at least fifty-six hours, it was then I would start looking for the pink road that signified our arrival. With my nose smooshed to the window, I would watch for the white line to break and open itself up to the approach that welcomed me like an old friend.

“Are we there  yet?”

“How much longer?”

“When are we going to be there?”

And when we arrived on that stream of road, even at four or five I could breathe a sigh of relief, because even then, the road meant home to me.

But it also meant so much more. It meant comfort and adventure and family and my grandmother’s arms wrapped tight in a hug.

When we moved out here permanently as a family when I was in second grade, there was no more waiting and looking and asking when were we going to get there.

We had arrived.

And the road held my hand like an old friend as I wobbled on my first ten speed bike and followed it up the hill to my best friend’s house. It soaked up the blood from skinned knees and tears from lost dogs and hurt feelings. It created space between hurtful words exchanged among three very different and very frustrated sisters. It eaves dropped on my quiet, made up songs, scuffed my new shoes and laughed as the bottle calf chased us home from the barn after a feeding. It smiled sweetly as it lead me back to my mother after a couple short stints of running away. It welcomed me off of the school bus and happily took the brunt of my skid marks as I learned to drive.

And then slowly, the road began to change, taking on an entirely different meaning as I grew from a young girl to a teenager. Without me really noticing, it began to mean more to me going out than coming in. It meant escape, freedom, independence, civilization, relief and a chance at love. It didn’t recognize me anymore as I came and went in the mist of the early morning and the shadows of late nights. I didn’t frolic as much, but instead began to sneak and sulk and stomp.  I brought strangers home and they littered its ditches and the grass grew around my bicycle as I stepped on the gas to my new life and wasn’t so quiet about kicking up its dust.

But when the time came to leave, to really leave this place for a good long time, I closed the door to my bedroom, hugged my parents goodbye,  filled my trunk with memories and followed my old friend out into the world.

From the corner of my rearview mirror, I smiled a bit as the road waved at me from the hill top, always the last to say to say goodbye.

And the first to welcome me back.

So I am thinking about the road today because I think I owe it an apology. Because I feel a bit like an old friend who hasn’t picked up the phone to say hello for ages and then suddenly stops in for dinner, without warning. I want to bring it a casserole in Lutheran Lady fashion in an attempt to make amends and let it know that I am older now. That I understand.

Because I realize, in this moment, that I have learned something from this road after all of those years of watching it dance. See, the road never cut through a hill or plowed down the trees. It moved with the curve of the land and under the rhythm of our feet and trusted that it would meet up in the right way with something–a fork, a bend, an endless horizon–in the end.

The road trusted so much in the path it was taking that it changed color and texture to blend and bend and take the heat of our tires and our words and our plans to leave. It understood that just like the landscape changes, so do the seasons of the human spirit. And even as I spit on and kicked its stones and turned my wheel off of its path, my entire life the road was just trying to tell me to follow my feet.

So I am thankful today. Thankful for the road. Because after changing my shoes a few dozen times, knocking down doors, banging my head against the wall, digging holes in the dirt, speeding lazily along the interstate and sticking out like a water tower on the horizon, in all of my despair and frustration I closed my eyes tight and saw the road, waving like it did so many years ago.

And I finally stopped stomping and looked down to find my feet dancing on pink stones.

Listen to “This Road”-Jessie Veeder Live at Outlaws

This Road

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My love–better than a party hat.

It’s my birthday month. Yes, around here I give myself an entire month. Whether or not those around me comply with daily cakes, party hats and steak dinners, I take this time as occasion to celebrate and attribute every guilty pleasure (new shoes, one more margarita, leaving the dishes for tomorrow, over sleeping,…you get the idea) to the fact that I was born sometime in this month, and I deserve it, dammit.

August is kinda a big deal really, because it is also my anniversary month and the time of year, historically, when I seem to make my big life decisions. You know, like saying “I do” and committing the rest of my life to someone. Moving across the state of North Dakota. Moving across the great big state of Montana. Deciding to get a dog. Deciding to be born. Deciding to get a tattoo. Oh, and deciding to purchase our first house. Which, in case you haven’t heard, after nearly two years of complete renovation, frustration, tears, a couple pats on the back, one million trips to the hardware store and lumberyard, a bazillion sawdust particles stuck up my nose and in my hair, three dozen stubbed toes, hammered fingers, scrapes, bonks and at least one incident of a head stuck in a ladder, we have finally finished!

Holy shit.

So on this second day of August, I am feeling a bit like the freaky quiet, calm and perfect temperature after a big storm. Like, now what? I mean, we are going to sell the thing so we can build a new one out at the ranch, so that’s what’s next really. Lot’s more work.  But, this has been quite the trip. And I recognize this feeling because it resembles what our life has been like together. See, we have been on the cycle of “work your ass off, suffer a bit, make some sacrifices, cry for a second and then suck it up until we’re done. Then move on. It will be worth it. Just move on.” Because in nearly four years of marriage we have moved all of our earthly possessions and changed our lives entirely five times. And we have done this all in an attempt to find ourselves in a life we have both dreamed of since we were children.

I might add here that I have known this man who I call mine since my first trek to the town school when I was about eleven years old. I walked into the big school, full of nerves and anxiety and I am sure all decked out in an animal applique t-shirt, ready to show off my sweet saxophone skills (or at least fake it, which it turns out I often did in my band days). I’m not sure if I mentioned it before, but I went to elementary school in the country, about 15 miles from town. I had three kids in my class. I was the only dork who played a horn. I was a one woman band and I sucked. This town trip was a big, scary deal.

Anyway, it turns out the love of my life was a dork too. But one of those cool dorks who happened to play the saxophone, but also kicked butt at football, beat up the bully, could do a backflip and had sweet karate skills and no one asked questions. Yes, this wonder boy sat two seats away from me and was everything, including a bit of a pain in the ass in class if I remember correctly. I think I was scared of him actually and I am pretty sure he threw spitballs and got sent to the principal’s office the first time I ever met him.  Hey, I never said he was perfect.

But neither was I, and it turns out that worked out for us. The fact that I been happily hiding out on 3,000 acres of ranch land before I met him and the fact that I hadn’t learned the filtration process of self-expression to fit in and survive in his world seemed to make him notice me. He said he actually liked my crazy hair, weird shirts and yes, the fact that I trip a lot. In fact, the first time he called me (which, now that I think of it, was in August) I had just returned from an trip to the lake with my dad and sister, which resulted in a graceful jump down a small cliff that tore my ankle to shreds. I was crying and feeling sorry for myself because it surely meant my promising basketball career was over, but I took his call. I talked to the wonder boy, who even then in the first pure, private exchanges in what we didn’t know was a blooming, lifetime love, he calmed me. He made me feel put back together, even though my foot was throbbing and I was sure moments before, it was hanging on by a thread. He made me take a deep breath and smile. And that’s where it began.

With breathing.

I distinctly remember, when we were about 17 or 18, in one of his Sunday trips to the ranch to see me (and I think my Dad too, because they were pretty good friends even back then) we sat outside and talked about our futures, very innocently, like young people do. I talked about living back at the ranch, having my family here, writing, singing and carrying on like the same girl I was that day, on into womanhood, as a wife, as a mother, as a poet and animal lover. And he listened and told me about how he used to want to be a mountain man and trapper and live out in the wilderness of Alaska alone. But, he thought that all had changed now. And the next day he brought me a sketch of his dream house and said, if I’d let him, he’d build it for me out here someday.

So, I’m not sure how to define it here. This little journey we are on. I haven’t historically written much about the two of us in my music, in my poetry or my stories. I haven’t been able to tell anyone why, but I think it’s because I literally couldn’t find the words. Because my love didn’t fall down from the sky and hit me like a ton of bricks, or flutter in and out of my stomach like butterflies, or lift me up to highest highs only to drop me. My love, the love that I’m in, hasn’t been perfect. It’s been messy and full of plans that have been cancelled, nervous breakdowns, hysterical laughter followed by complete and utter anger and drained checking accounts. It has been full of long car rides, dog shit, the 24 hour flu, doctor’s appointments, burned dinners, empty underwear drawers because no one did the laundry, and, when we were younger, an unfortunate 45 minute jail stint. All of the good stuff.

No, my love hasn’t been easy, but it has been around. It has been with me since I understood how to feel it and has never left me in the middle of the night. My love has wrapped his arms around me when I felt like I lost everything, and he felt the same. My love fills my coffee cup on Sunday morning, fixes the things I break (and I break a lot of things) and never complained when I spent all of that time on the road. My love actually folds my underwear (in perfect squares) when we finally get around to the laundry. My love has been with me through 15 birthdays (and once, he even sewed me pants), high school graduation, college graduation, three albums, thousands of miles, dozens of roadblocks and five different jobs. And all of the time I have spent searching my soul, finding my strength and learning about who I am, he has known all along, has allowed me to embrace her, and reminded me to breathe.

So I am thinking maybe this story that began with a saxophone and right now is somewhere in the middle, or back at the beginning really, with a tiny house on the ranch,  could be a love story after all. Our story.  Because this August, as I find myself in another “start over” in the calm after the storm of tools and sawdust and boxes and our stuff scattered all around this place, I am beginning to realize that I am sitting in the middle of a backyard conversation between two young kids in love, dangling our feet over the side of the deck and making plans for a life. Today we are moving on, once again, into a world we have imagined and moved towards since that day in the yard. And it isn’t picture perfect, it isn’t quite there yet and it certainly isn’t going to be easy, but we have had a pretty great ride getting here. And after the dust has settled from the storm of our plans, I look up to realize that this wonder boy I have loved since I understood how to feel it has transformed, before my eyes, into the greatest man–a man who is making good on his promise to a wild haired girl from the sticks.

And in this month, and all of those to follow, my greatest  gift is him.

And that beats margaritas, a steak dinner and a party hat every day of the year.

Small spaces

It’s quite clear that I am enamored with all of this space around me–all of the grass and the sky and the pink road that stretches on for miles onto the horizon. I stand outside and feel like I could simply blow away with the leaves in this vast landscape, no more significant than a field mouse really.

But I am a completely different size in this house. In fact, I am actually quite significant, and so is my shoe population, unfortunately for my husband’s side of the closet. Just to give you a bit of a visual of what we are dealing with here, when you knock on the door, you can see directly into the bedroom (and if you take five steps, you will be inside of it). Closing the bedroom doors would be an option, except that they have windows–beautiful, but not so practical when you’re in the process of changing your shorts and the neighbor pops in for a chat. And if my husband and I were standing side by side in the living room and tried to perform the chicken dance the way it was meant, our elbows would be scraping the sides of the room, which rules out any kind of gymnastics performances. I haven’t nearly successfully completed the move of all our earthly possessions from our three bedroom, three bathroom home to our new humble abode and we have already nearly covered every moveable inch with stuff. And when you throw two people, and two dogs (one of them the size of a small teenage boy) into the mix, there is not much floor space to skip around in. And I do like to dance and sometimes kick a leg up while doing the dishes,  so that throws a bit of a kink in my style.

But I am not complaining. In fact I like living in smaller spaces, because, when it comes down to it it means less surface area to have to worry about dusting and scrubbing and vacuuming, and I’m really all for that. Anyway, I am sure, unless  you were born into the Hilton family or are waiting to be crowned the next king or queen of a country,  most of us have had the experience, or will have the gift of living in close quarters with someone we promised to have and hold no matter how many times we step on each others’ toes while brushing our teeth. In fact, I think it should be a requirement that all couples who are contemplating a life long commitment, live together in a one bedroom, one bathroom, one closet home. Because nothing spells love and commitment quite like holding your pee while your dearly beloved finishes his morning grooming ritual.

No, there is no hiding anything here really. Last night, we sat down in the living room for a lovely dinner of burned grilled chicken legs (I cooked), my husband sprawled out in his recliner, me and my plate dangerously close to his reclined stocking feet,  and I couldn’t get past the fact that my instant rice tasted a bit like a foot that had been crammed into a pair of work boots all day in 90 degree weather. Ugh, I think I can still smell it.

Although there is no hiding from the unfortunate stenches, there is also no hiding from each other. You wake up in the morning and as you move about the house, reaching for the coffee, your hand gently brushes his. You get ready for the day and you lean across his body for your comb and laugh as you watch him crane and distort his nose and mouth while he works to shave his face. He stands in the kitchen, cutting up onions for his famous and favorite soup and the smell of bay leaves and butter wrap around you and you can’t help but get up to do the same to him. The walls move in on you and you  move closer to one another. You are no longer swallowed up in the space between the multiple rooms you once used to get away from one another in an argument, but forced to look in the eye the emotions that have been provoked. The whispers in the dark sweep over you and the laughter rattles the foundation. There is no need to shout.

But when I am stubbing my toe on the coffee table for the thirteenth time that day or tripping over the damn dog in the middle of the floor, I can not believe this is where my five cousins, two sisters, two aunts, two uncles and my parents spent holiday weekends, cooking, eating, sleeping and, let’s be honest here, putting on interpretations of the “Wizard of Oz.” It seemed so much bigger when I was growing up. Interesting, considering that it was full of so much more than bodies, but of laughter and love and conversations, the smell of homemade bread, a house cat and a large Christmas Tree. Where did we all sleep? How did we manage to put on what I would consider successful and entertaining dance performances to Paula Abdul? How did we all fit around the kitchen table? And where did my grandmother keep all of her shoes for crying out loud?

I don’t know. I remember only faintly what it looked like in here, what photos she hung and where my grandfather’s easy chair sat. As I curse the closet space and shove my luggage under the bed of the very room my grandmother used to sleep in after a day of chores and raising three children, I wonder if she ever cursed the small stove or wished she had room for a bigger kitchen table. I imagine her life here, where her bed was placed and if the sun hit her face the same way it hits mine in the summer mornings and if she left the windows open at night like I do. I imagine her as a light hearted wife humming in the kitchen while plopping down pancakes for breakfast. Sometimes, when I’m outside,  I  swear I can hear her calling to the cattle or to her grandkids to come inside for supper. I compare her life to mine in this house, between these walls and how different this world must be from hers.

But seeing my tupperware shoved in the re-done cupboards, the laundry stacked up on the bed, the unopened cans waiting for me to rearrange the pantry and the work boots scattered in the entry way, I long to fill this house they way she filled it. I want people to sit close, eat my cooking and drink my bad coffee. I want our laughter and kitchen light to flood the farmyard late into the night and bounce off the buttes and make the landscape ring with life.

And some days, when I am scrubbing the floor or dusting the shelves, I feel like her. I feel her smile spread across my face, her kink in my back. And I wonder if this house held her the way it is holding me. I wonder if these walls closed in on them the way they have on us, urging us to break down, to touch, to hold on tight to each other.  I wonder if she stood in the kitchen making dinner for her husband and if he felt moved to come up behind her and gently kiss her cheek. I wonder if she danced in the living room. I wonder if she tripped over her coffee table and walked out into the landscape and opened her arms up wide and smiled as the big, blue sky swallowed her up.

What are we holding on to?

The Old Red Veeder barn where the reunion will take place.

So the Veeders are coming home. All of them. (Or as many of them who can fit in the time, take the drive, plan the flight and find it worth while).

It’s reunion season after all and that is what the Veeders intend to do. Reunite. Over casserole, bad lemonade, bars, jello salad and coffee and coffee and coffee.

My dad has been helping to plan this reunion for the past year. I mean of course. He is an important link in all of this as he has chosen, or has been charged with, or blessed, or just stupid enough to serve as the steward of this home place since his dad died nearly 20 years ago.

So, upon our official and gradual move from the city of Dickinson to our permanent residence at the ranch house, I have been helping a bit to get the place ready. Because, did I mention this house we have moved into has been vacant a good 10 years off and on? It turns out it needs some maintenance. (For those of you who have ever set up shop in an old house, I know you are nodding your head while recalling that lovely must-like scent.)  Anyway, I spent most of my day yesterday in the basement, cleaning out some goodies and numerous spider webs.

Now I must mention here, that I am no stranger to this place. I basically grew up here.  It wasn’t my childhood house, but it was my grandma’s home. Which meant that I spent many holidays, sleepovers, weekends and weekdays playing and reuniting with my cousins and aunts and uncles from across the country. It was our 600 square foot meeting place. Our stomping grounds.

The Veeder cousins with Grandma Edie during Easter at the Veeder House. I'm directly next to my grandma in the striped jumpsuit, always a good choice in the early 90s.

So there I was yesterday, in the depths of the basement, waist deep in boxes filled with other people’s stuff. Because over the years, this place has become the unofficial hiding spot for pottery, homemade doilies, ill-fitting clothing, and as it turns out, that sunflower latch-hook pillow I may have mentioned earlier. These boxes are full of the important things that people on both sides of my family, myself included, are just not quite ready to release their grip on. And this got me thinking. On the eve of family infiltrating the landscape, what, really, are we saving?

See, to me the act of organizing stuff in this particular basement was a little unnerving. Because this basement was the location of the wonderment of my youth. It is where my cousins and I performed faux marriage ceremonies, established the “Kitten Caboodle Club”  to help save stray cats all over the farm-yard, and played “don’t fall in the hot lava” (the flaming red, orange and yellow carpet may have served as inspiration). It is where I performed my first interpretive dance to “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” learned, with regret, that the Easter Bunny does not exist (and just to help me out, neither does Santa Clause), and was informed that some of us were moving far away to Texas. According to me (and I’ll speak for my sisters and my cousins) nothing that was currently in this room really belonged there.

Old butter, canning and milk jars found in the basement of the Veeder house.

I raised up my hands in frustration (and consequently swiped up a cob-web).

Then my dad came over and we found, under the bed, a collection of his old albums and we went through them one by one. With each Neil Young and Emmylou Harris and Bruce Springsteen record  came flooding back to my father a memory, an image, of who he was at the time he played it, over and over and over. He flipped to the back and read off, out-loud, the titles of the songs. Not surprisingly, many of them were familiar to me, because many of them he sings to this day. It was an exhilarating experience for him, to show someone else something that meant so much to him, to have his memory sparked enough to tell a few stories. We laid them all out on the bunk bed where I used to sleep. We laid all of them out.

But now what? I mean, I was working on cleaning this place out, to make room for the next batch of things I am not ready to release. What are we doing with these physical things and what does it say about the human condition that we insist on holding on so long? I mean, really, did my dad need to run hands over the covers of these albums to remember that he was once an afro donning, hippie-style ranch kid, in touch with his creativity and the front man and member of a traveling band? Do I really need to physically put on the mint green, 1960’s bridesmaid’s dress my grandma had in her dress-up drawer to remember that I once dramatically danced to Bette Midler in front of my entire extended family in the living room of this very house? I am not sure. I really am not sure.

I remember going through this house with my family, aunts, uncles and cousins after my grandmother died when I was

Veeder Cousins outside the Veeder house. Probably after one of our "Kitten Caboodle" meetings. Im am wearing the leotard and tights and carrying the blanket. That is a story for another day.

eleven. I remember there was an agreement that the grandkids each got a pair of her reading glasses (which she left all over her house, even though she usually had a pair strung around her neck) and we got to pick a few things that meant something to us individually. Something to remind us of her. I took one of her lipsticks. The kind that was blue or green and changed color on your lips. Mood lipstick I think they called it and it was always bright fuschia on her mouth. And also a Norwegean doll, who she referred to as “bestemor,” or “grandmother.” I am sure I found a couple other things, but I don’t remember. What I do remember was the stillness in the house that day– so quiet, even with all of us kids roaming around. I remember the smell of the grass softly seeping in through the open windows. I remember not giving a shit about her eyeglasses or her doll or her handkerchiefs. I wanted her voice, her laugh, her hands, her smell, her bread dough and homemade pickles. When I grew up, I wanted to ask her things and compare our features and understand why I may have turned out like her. And none of her things that I would put on my shelf could keep that from going away. Not when I lost her at eleven years old.

Wagon Wheel outside the Veeder House

The funny thing is, that here I am. In her house. Wanting so bad to keep the bricks and mortar in tact. Wanting to keep the windows clean and the floors swept. For her. For her family.

What am I holding on to?

My friend recently wrote that she too has been tempted to move back to her family farm to help make it “alive again.”

Maybe that’s what we’re doing here. All of the careful collections of things are set on shelves or in boxes to remind us about the spirit of the place, about ourselves. Because these relatives, my relatives, are not coming back for the noodle salad and family gossip. No. They are coming to touch the soil where my great-grandfather built his first home, to walk the hills they once rolled down as children, to stand on a familiar landmark, to breathe the air their great aunt sucked her last breath in, to visit the spot she once had a garden, to gather in the old barn. They are coming to remember and to celebrate the spirt of the place and the souls that rejoiced, wept and cussed here. Because we can’t hold on to the flesh and bone, the voices, the pain and the triumph, but we can preserve a tea-pot. And that helps us remember that we came from something. From something quite great.

Cornelia's Roses getting ready to bloom.

Which brings me to the roses.

I was told that  below our house is a patch of yellow roses that my great-grandmother planted before she died early and suddenly in 1932. Cornelia’s roses.  My great-grandfather, Eddy, tended to these flowers every day during the summers after her death, making sure they had water, sunshine, and were free of weeds.  Since his death I am not sure that anyone has hoed or weeded or fed those roses. Yesterday, after emerging from the basement flushed and searching for air, I walked down to where her garden used to be and found, that after over 80 years, those roses were holding on too.