Stick Shift…Shit

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Why I blame my dad for my stick shift struggles
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

I have a confession to make.

In the years I spent growing up out here on the ranch as well as those being all grown up here on the ranch, I have never properly learned to drive a stick shift.

Oh, I can make it work. I can get from Point A to Point B if Point A is the house and Point B is the barnyard over the hill, the hay yard, or my parent’s house a mile down the gravel road, but that’s where my gear-finding, clutch-pushing confidence ends.

I know, I know. It’s embarrassing. Some things are just expected of you living out here among cows and barbed-wire fences. But I have a handicap.

And I could say I have no one to blame but myself, because I’m ultimately responsible for taking the initiative to master something I need to know, but forget it.

I blame my dad.

I blame my dad and all the old, impossible, gear sticky, seat-stuck-too-far-back, ancient and impossible pickups he enlisted to teach me to drive back in the day.

I mean, how’s a girl to grab a chance at finding the right gear when the gear indicator knob long ago popped off and rolled around on the floorboards before meeting its ultimate fate in some brush patch Dad was fencing one day in 1995?

Am I in reverse? The only way to find out is to release the clutch and hope I don’t kill it before rolling backwards while simultaneously hoping I’m not in first because there’s not much room for error in the 10 inches between the front of the pickup and the shop.

And that wasn’t the worst of it. There was one pickup he tried to teach me on that you literally had to push down a hill like a Flinstones car to get started. And once it turned over, well, you had to keep it gassed for fear of starting the whole ritual over again.

God forbid it quit at the bottom of a coulee somewhere.

Some of the biggest fights I had with my dad happened behind the wheel of his old pickups where he more than one chose the “just leave her to sort it out” method, and frankly, my pubescent tears of frustration just didn’t allow for that sort of sorting it out.

That’s the flashback I had yesterday when I suggested my husband run me through the workings of the hydraulic bale spear so I can feed cows on my own. I had left chicken baking in the oven, and we brought along the wiggly toddler who wants nothing more than for me to just scooch on out of there and let her take over.

Needless to say, I had a few distractions to blame for me killing it 37 times between my attempts at picking up and rolling the bales out.

But we were in Dad’s pickup, the one with the sticky gears, missing gear knob and seat that doesn’t move forward, so I blame him.

I will always blame him.

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The beasts, in their final resting place. RIP…RIP…

A goat and a Lincoln

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A country kid needs a town kid

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Door always open to home of old friend
by Jessie Veeder
2-16-17
http://www.inforum.com
Fargo Forum

I used to go to her house in the time between after school and basketball practice. I would eat graham crackers with cheese, and we would sit at the table in her family’s kitchen, her mom popping in to say hi and get the scoop on our day.

I was a country kid in junior high, and I had a few years and a few tests to pass before I got my driver’s license, so the chance to participate in after-school activities meant finding town friends who would save me from roaming the streets between the last bell and the starting practice whistle.

She was one of those friends for me. In the fragile time between elementary school and being ruled adult enough to leave home, she played a role in my adolescence that not only helped me survive it, but made me feel like my quirkiness (weirdness?) was not only accepted, but also appreciated.

I could make her laugh, and she made me feel safe in a friendship at a time in a young girl’s life when friendship is often volatile, fleeting and prone to drama.

(Except for that time in eighth grade when we got the rebellious idea to walk down to the local drug store to pick up a couple boxes of hair dye and disastrously turn her perfectly blonde hair blaze orange and mine a weird color of navy blue, our 20+ years of friendship has been pretty clear of drama.)

I can’t speak for her, but I feel so lucky and sort of surprised by it sometimes. As childhood friends go, our stories are linked in many ways, but in many more ways we are completely opposite.

As a teenager, she was focused, practical and matter-of-fact where I was uncertain about fitting in. I was messy and disheveled; my car was covered in scoria dust and full of pop bottles and dirty socks. I was creative and in my own head, tentatively tipping my toes in the wild edge of bad decisions. She made her bed every day, washed her car in the driveway on the weekends and showed confidence in who she was — solid, studious and pretty well-behaved — no matter who approved.

She was long and lean with coordinated limbs built for sports. I didn’t have an aggressive bone (or muscle) in my body. And while basketball, volleyball and track turned into her high school passions, I traded sports for music, rodeo and high school love.

So our schedules and interests didn’t allow us to easily spend every waking minute together the way many childhood friends are often defined, but I hope she looks back on those days and says I was there when she needed me.

I know I can say that for her. Because if there was a quality I’d like to steal from her (besides those long legs and lungs for long-distance running), it’s that I might be as fiercely loyal.

I’m thinking about her today because we got to spend some time together last weekend as we often do when I head to the big town where she lives with her husband raising two sports-crazed boys between the sidewalks.

Whenever I make a trip there for music or shopping I give her a call and her door— just like it’s always been — is open for her friend who usually rolls up later than planned in a dusty car, plastic bottles and spare mittens spilling out onto the driveway.

Not much has changed as we tallied the years, except we’ve gotten closer. I’m going to give her most of the credit there. My loner and introspective tendencies don’t always make for the best phone-call-maker and catcher-upper. It’s a weakness of mine that I’m humbly aware of, one that’s disconnected me from some of my favorite people. But she’s hung on to me in the ways only people who really understand one another tend to do.

And when I called last weekend to tell her we were going to swing by to say hi on our way to go furniture shopping, she offered to watch Edie to help save our sanity and ultimately feed graham crackers to the next generation of country kid waiting out her time in town.

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The moral of the old friendship story

Some old friendship keep you young. I’ve been lucky enough to grow up witnessing that phenomenon, one  adventure and mishap after another.

Here’s this week’s column.

The moral of the old friendship story
1-29-17
by Jessie Veeder
http://www.InForum.com

We were all sitting around in the living room visiting about weather, politics and how Edie managed to get her second bloody nose in two days in church that morning when Dad came sneaking sort of quietly through the door, slipping off his snow boots and wool cap before shuffling down the hall and sliding into the chair.

The last time we saw him he was at the top of the neighbors’ sledding hill, brushing the snow off of his Carharts after a lightning speed solo trip on the orange toboggan.

His best friend just came back from the shop with his chainsaw to cut down a dead tree that he thought was in the way of the epic run they were building.

All the kids had already gone in the house due to frozen cheeks and my little sister and I, exhausted from a half hour of trying to save Edie from the ideas she had about running, unassisted and unafraid, down the sledding hill, decided we would all be safer and happier in my living room.

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And so that’s where we left him — grampa Gene with his best friend, neighbor and grampa himself, Kelly — alone with two other dads, a slick sledding hill, a stack of sleds and no supervision.

“I bet if Gene and I took that orange sled down this hill together we could get going ’bout 150,” I heard Kelly say as he walked up the hill behind me.

And so I called Dad. I knew he wouldn’t want to miss out on a chance to go 150.

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I should have known better, but neighbor Kelly is notorious for building epic escapades in the middle of an ordinary Sunday afternoon.

And in the winter, the go-to adventure is always their sledding hill, which is as meticulously cared for as an Olympic rated luge track.

“So, did you and Kelly go 150?” I asked Dad, thinking his unusual silence was a little suspicious.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “It was plenty fast.”

He sort of half-laughed the way a kid does when he’s holding on to something funny but knows giving in will undoubtedly mean having to explain himself.

Which is exactly what happened as he entered the living room scene, with my mom, little sister and husband all staring at him, knowing there was more to the story.

“What,” I said.

He scratched his head where his hat had been, making his silver, scruffy hair stand up straight and gave it up.

“Oh, it … it was bad,” he puffed. “Kelly got hurt. I don’t know …”

“What? How? Where?”

“Well, his arm I think. Think he tore a tendon. I don’t know … We tried snowboarding.”

“Dad!”

“Yeah, well it’s not a challenge for those young guys; they just fly right down there. It’s more fun for us. To see how far we can go. Anyway. I hurt my shoulder … ”

“Your shoulder?!”

“Yeah, but he wiped out pretty bad at the bottom, don’t know how much hand shaking he’ll be doing these days … ”

“Might be the end of his curling career … ”

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And the conversation spun on from there about past near misses, heroic injuries and the epic 2-mile toboggan run from the hay field to the barnyard. One story blended into the next the way they do when you get an old guy rolling in memories with a friend who’s lived up the hill from him his entire life and can always be counted on to help with things like roundup, keys locked in cars, or kittens stuck behind refrigerators.

My favorite is the time he spent the evening at our house in the dark sitting on the floor in the living room while Dad sat in his easy chair, both holding BB guns pointed at the open cabinet under the sink waiting for the unwelcome pack rat they were hunting to make his next and final appearance, a really great scene in the wonderfully ordinary story of their long friendship.

“Well, if there’s a chance to go sledding I’m taking it,” Dad said when someone swung back around to ask how his shoulder was feeling.

And I think that might be the moral of the story, and maybe of friendship in general, no matter how old and reckless you get.

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Time, memories and the magic of Christmas

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Well, it was a Christmas to remember for so many reasons.

The first was waking up on Christmas Day to a baby who decided that she’s ready to full-fledge walk.

And so we spent the weekend watching her wobble and bobble and dance and clap and experience her world on two feet.

Tomorrow she’ll be running.

Next week she’ll tell me she’s training for a marathon.

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And in between all of the present wrapping and unwrapping, eating, drinking and being merry, an epic winter blizzard of North Dakota proportions raged outside our doors, making us grateful to be together warm and cozy inside…

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only to send the boys out the spend the entire next day behind tractors and skid steers and shovels trying to open the roads and feed the cows and whittle away at the ten foot drifts that had piled against our houses, doors and pathways.

And then there was a Christmas ditch situation and a memorable the-baby-ate-too-many-blueberries-and-other-Christmas-treats bedtime projectile vomit episode that will go down in infamy.

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And now that the company has gone and the wind has died down and the sun is out, making the chest-deep snowdrift on my deck sparkle and shine, I have a moment while the baby snacks on Cheerios (and blueberries…what’s wrong with me?) to share last week’s column about the magic of Christmas, which, I’ve decided, lies in the simple and crazy precious memories we create without even realizing it.

Even when nothing goes as planned.

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Christmas reminds us of the magic of time
12-25-16
Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

I was too old to believe in Santa Clause when reality finally started tugging at my sleeves.

I tried to shoo the truth away as long as I could, not so eager to grow up and exist in a world surrounded by it because the truth never seemed quite as thrilling as the dreamed up.

I suppose I’ve always been one to hang on to the coattails of magic as long as it lets me, as long as it doesn’t grow too wild and reckless, sending me spinning and whipping off its haunches.

I think that’s what keeps me telling and retelling the best parts then, the ones from a childhood spent believing that maybe my horse could understand the words I spoke, my “secret spot” 12 feet off the road was actually secret and Santa Clause would exist as long as I found a way to never grow up.

I never wanted to grow up.

Of all of the memories I’ve collected as a kid in these hills, I remember that most clearly.

I was sensitive enough to the trials of adulthood to know that children had it best. I knew because I was listening from the other side of my closed bedroom door — hushed conversations in the kitchen while we were supposed to be sleeping, the stories of lost love coming from dad’s record player, the hugs from strangers at my grandparents’ funerals.

I knew what time did to people, and I wondered how I might make it miss me.

My grandpa died when I was six years old. His death brought our family back to the ranch for good, and it gave me another five years or so living down the road from my grandmother.

Actually, it gave us all that time with her, but I don’t own my family’s memories. I only have mine.

And I remember one summer evening lying in the patch of sun that lit up the carpet through the open window in my grandmother’s living room.

The TV was on, but it wasn’t as interesting to me as watching the way the dust caught the stream of light, turning it from invisible to visible.

My grandma had fallen asleep in her easy chair with a newspaper on her lap, her head tilted back, sort of snoring. She had a habit of holding a toothpick in the corner of her mouth, and I noticed as she took those deep, noisy breaths that her toothpick was still there, in danger, I was certain, of being sucked down her throat as she slept, unaware.

That’s the kind of kid I was, so comfortable and in love with the familiarity of my good and safe life, and a little too aware of its volatility, a little worried I was too lucky.

I sat up, eyes fixated on that toothpick, watching my grandmother’s lips purse and pop with each breath in and out, suddenly becoming distinctly aware of time.

I didn’t want to live in a world without her.

And I didn’t want to live in a world where time made me think it too cold for sledding or allowed me to walk by a swimming pool or a lake or the perfect puddle and not want to, (have to) jump in.

And so Christmas has come again, and the new year is right behind, bringing with it the recognition of time passed, new promises and reminders to miss the people who’ve left us here to admire the twinkling lights without them.

Now that I’ve succumbed to adulthood, I wish I could remember what it was like to truly believe in such an impossible thing like Santa Clause. My six-year-old self would be so disappointed in me.

But if I could, I would tell her a secret I’ve learned in the growing up we were so afraid of: I would say she was doing the right thing in holding on tight to her gratitude. Then I would tell her not to worry so much about time, because time gives us memories, memories we get to go back to whenever we want, but also, memories just waiting to be made.

And that, child, is the most magic you’ll find in this life.

Hold on tight to its tails.

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A Letter to the Real Santa

I’m working on my book today. The baby’s in daycare and the air outside is so cold that it burns my skin the minute I step out in it. It’s a perfect day to sit behind this computer to work to gather up memories and photographs and all the important things I think I’ve said about this life we’re living out here and who it is we think we were and who we are becoming.

It’s not an easy task. I’ve written too many words. I’ve had too much to say. I don’t know if it’s good or valuable or worth it or what.

I’m sort of sick of myself at this point.

And then I found this in the archives and, well, it seemed to lift the weight of it all a bit.

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Merry Christmas Season!

See ya in between the pages.

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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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Maybe it’s the rain

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I’ve been working on a  book this fall, a compilation of some of my favorite photos, columns, blogs, poems and recipes from the past six years I’ve spent documenting what it means to come back home again.

It’s been a fun, nostalgic, enlightening and difficult project to take on during a transitional time for us as a family, a time in which we’ve gone from two to three, from couple to parents, from dreamers to sort of dream-come-truers.

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Because I typically don’t spend much time looking back on what I’ve written,  I have to focus on what to write, thinking about what’s meaningful in the moment and what could be learned, I have had to sort of force myself to sit down in my spare moments and look back. And so I’ve been seeing our lives a little differently lately, thinking about how far we’ve come and how far we haven’t, how some things have changed completely and how some things haven’t changed at all and it’s from that place that I wrote last week’s column, that limbo between past and present, a reflection brought on by the rain.

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Rainy horse ride triggers memories of couple’s beginnings
by Jessie Veeder
10-23-16
InForum
http://www.inforum.com

It was late August, and it had been hot for weeks, the kind of heat you remember as a kid, where popsicles melt on sticks in the heavy air that sends the flies gathering at horses’ bellies and driving them to bob their heads and swish their tails in the trees.

We were sweating it out in the little house in the barnyard where my grandparents used to live, three years into our marriage and three months into unpacking our lives back home at the ranch where I was raised. And it was only six years ago, but we were just kids, really, with plans big enough to keep us busy.

But that day we resigned to the weather, keeping busy with tasks in a house that was sinking and shrinking with the weight of time.

And then the clouds rolled in, dark and as ominous as the lightning on the horizon, and we found ourselves standing, noses pressed to the screen door, watching the water form new rivers and waterfalls in the corrals.

The buttes in the horse pasture turned from rock to slick mud in a matter of minutes, and soon I found myself running behind my new husband through the mud, past the new barnyard river and scrambling up to the top of those buttes where we stood side by side before launching our bodies down the steep bank of that hill, sliding on the slippery, wet gumbo, just like we used to do as kids.

I’ve told this story before. You may remember it and how it ended in bruises, bloody scrapes and a heap of laughter spilling out into that dark, rainy night. I’m thinking about it now because last weekend I found myself out in the rain again with my husband. We were riding through an unfamiliar pasture looking for a couple stray cows. The day was still, but the sky kept spitting on us, a little mist followed by small, flying drops hitting our cheeks and gathering on our horses’ manes. It was a quiet rain, the kind that seems to clean up the landscape, making the colors richer against the gray sky. And I just kept looking at my husband on the back of his bay horse, his black hat and red scarf moving along the big landscape, and I started thinking about the times in my life where the rain made the moment.

I decided this was one of them.

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And it was perfect timing, I think, following behind him on trails where he broke branches for me or hollered my name from a hilltop. We were doing work, and we were living out a plan, rain or shine.

But that day, I preferred the rain, because I was starting to wonder if it is possible to spend the rest of my life here without losing the magic of this place. A few days before, I received a note from a man telling me that my life seemed romantic in a way that few people know and that I was lucky for it. I sort of felt like a fraud, wondering if I had lead him to a false conclusion. Settling into a new life as a mother and a new partnership as parents, no matter how much we wanted it, hasn’t been an easy and seamless transition. I’ve been struggling with it in ways I hadn’t expected.

I began to wonder if I was the same woman who slid down that gumbo hill with that young man six years ago.

We pushed up the bank of a wooded coulee, and I listened to the rain hitting the leaves and the branches break against the chest of my horse, and I thought about how I was taught to lean forward as a horse takes you through the trees so that you don’t catch one to the face and get pulled off.

It’s a lesson I reach back for when I’m in the thick of it, the same way I reach back for the girl who kissed a boy under that old oak tree in the field promising him forever, no matter the weather.

So maybe it’s the memories we make that keep this place magic.

Or maybe it’s just the rain.

Rain on buttes

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 🙂