This place is yours

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Family ranch is a special place, not just for the ones who live there now. 

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“This place, there’s just something about it that makes people feel like it’s their own. It’s special that way I think,” my husband said as he pulled his pickup off the highway and onto the gravel road that leads us home to the ranch. Our girls were sleeping in the back and the sky was turning dark in anticipation of a summer storm.

Last week, we said goodbye to a ranch full of relatives who came to celebrate the fact that Dad gets another birthday and catch us in the act of branding and working cattle. Aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends leaned on fences, pointed cameras, served roast beef or grabbed a job, each one with a memory of time spent here making an appearance in the stories on their lips.

When a place has a 100-year family history, the things that old barn has seen as it stands watch over it all could fill some colorful pages.

And if I had millions of words and time upon time, I don’t know if I could have said it better than my husband did that day as a man who wasn’t born to it, but respects it and the people it raised enough to be granted the gift and responsibility of a home here.

But we both know that it’s not ours alone, to keep or to claim. That’s something I learned at an early age from my grandparents, before they left us too soon. Open arms, open minds and a porch light that stays on just in case is the way it’s always been.

We’re just lucky enough to help be the keepers of a flame that has remained flickering because of the hard work and good hearts of the people who kept the cows fed and the bills paid through times much tougher than these.

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Great Grandpa Eddie who homesteaded the Veeder Ranch

So when the little old farm house started on fire on that black and starry Fourth of July six years ago, we said goodbye to an old structure with a crumbling foundation and built a new cabin in its spot by that barn. Because we needed to keep a house there for the people who love this place and those who may need to fall in love with it someday.

Because as much as the coulees and hilltops of this place are sacred to me, there are dozens upon dozens of others throughout the years who have climbed these hills for a breath or got lost in the draws on purpose, bucked off of horses or scooped up barn kittens in their arms, slid on cardboard boxes down the gumbo hills or sat for coffee around the table in my grandma’s tiny kitchen. This is their place.

And if you come over for a visit, or a ride, or a roast beef sandwich, it might just become your place, too. I hope it does. It likely will. Because it’s special that way I think.

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Great Grandpa Eddie in the door of his homestead shack

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

It isn’t always money that makes us rich

Even without much money, family can make us rich
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When we were young kids, my little sister came home from a weekend with her friend spent four-wheeling and boating on the big lake and asked my dad if we were poor.

Because somewhere between kicking up dust and riding the boat’s wake she realized what they had that we didn’t, and she wondered why.

Ah, comparison. It happened to my little sister earlier than it happened to me, but eventually we all outgrow our childish blinders to notice the things that make you comprehend we aren’t all created equal here.

I find myself struggling with this as I work on growing my children up in a world that strongly suggests that life is happier with more things in it. Bikes and cute clothes, an iPad with endless games, a toy-barn full of toy cows, a big sandbox, one of those lawn mowers that spits out bubbles as it goes and more space in the house to make a mess with it all.

Just this month I ordered my kids a big ol’ playset to go in the backyard, something that I never had as a kid, would have loved, but did just fine without. And knowing what needs to come of those four big boxes in my driveway, it looks like my girls might be off to college by the time we get the thing set up.

Then last week I stood under our big old barn reaching up toward a blue sky with an armful of the winter’s bale twine and a fresh cow pie squished under the heel of my boot. I was cleaning up the pens and tack room, sorting and organizing in an attempt get ready for the weekend’s branding.

 

 

 

I was sweaty and dirty and a little on edge from all of the mice running for their lives from under every grain bucket I moved and I was sort of cussing us for not keeping on top of the work out here and for not having nicer equipment, more organized outbuildings, well-kept fences and a bigger, nicer house that could accommodate all the family and friends we expected that weekend.

I looked up at that big old barn and the breeze blew the scent of that freshly squished cow pie to my lungs and I smiled.

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I don’t know how my dad answered my little sister that day, but if my children ever ask I’ll be sure to reply, “The list of things we won’t be able to give you could fill pages…

“But the scatter of those mice, the scent of the plum blossoms in the coulees in the spring, the ache of your muscles after a long day in a saddle, tangled-up hair and jeans that won’t come clean, forever knowing the sound quiet makes as day turns into night, the flicker of the fireflies and watching them glow so unafraid of the dark as we stand together on the deck of a home that, thank God, will never be big enough to hold all of the people we love, well children, I think we might actually be rich.”

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These roads

October 19, 2010. Road to the Fields

October 19, 2010. Road to the Fields

Coming Home: Kicking up dust on the road of life

We live on gravel roads that stretch like ribbons along pasture land dotted with black cattle. As we kick up dust beneath our pickup tires heading out to a chore or to meet up with a neighbor, we take for granted how these roads were built and why they’re here.

Because these days we’re in a rush, driving faster than we should past newly made plans and history– some hidden and some still standing, weathered wood on crumbling foundations.

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I remember a time when these roads were quiet. It was where my cousins and I would skip like characters from “The Wizard of Oz” down the middle of the scoria without a care. The only vehicle to meet us was our great uncle driving with his windows down or my mom looking to borrow some sugar from a neighbor.

If we were lucky it would be the Schwan’s man hauling the promise of orange push-up pops, and we would put the game on time-out and sit on the front porch trying to get to the bottom of the treat before it melted and dripped down our fingers.

We didn’t know that there would ever be anything here at the end of this road besides imagination and our grandmother’s cookies. We didn’t know that anything but our boots and old feed pickups would kick up dust on the road.

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to tell the story of this place as part of my living. And because of that, and because of the long winters and the new babies and the close calls with losing the important people we love, I sometimes lie in bed at night breathing while the vice grip on my heart tightens. Funny how the darkness falls and talks us into wondering how this place and the people in it can seem so eternal and so volatile at the same time.

Maybe because between the past and the future there are so many colors here, cut down the middle by this winding gravel road of home.

It makes me wonder what memories were held in the hearts of those people who have long ago returned to the earth. What would they think if they saw us driving our fancy cars to houses that sometimes feel too big to hold the love, if that even makes sense at all?

How far away I feel from that life some days even though I believe our goals haven’t changed — to do the best we can on a landscape where trees grow, calves are born, ground is tilled and minds are inventing ways to make the living easier.

Inside those old houses they ate, prayed, laughed and worried in the dark just as we do in our houses with too many screens and not enough vegetables while the wind blows and knocks on our windows, reminding us that this place is not ours solely and rightfully and individually.

One day we’ll abandon these houses in decision or death, and there will be new generations searching these roads for our story.

So we should tell it now, honest and true and leave to them what they need.

Old House Window

“This Road”-Jessie Veeder Live

Storms: Memories made and recalled

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Well, yesterday we took advantage of the benefits of the recent spring storm and spent the afternoon sledding at the neighbor’s. The sun was shining, melting the snow enough to make a nice little snow fort and a really weird looking snowman my husband built with Edie.

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This week we’ll see warmer temps, turning that snow to mud, because that’s the thing about spring storms, the pass through quickly, but the memories hang on tight.

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Coming Home; New storms whip up memories of old ones

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If you were anywhere in North Dakota last week, the weather was likely on your mind. You were talking about it over coffee, your TV turned to your favorite weather reporter, checking road reports and calling friends to ask what it was like over there in Bismarck, or Keene, or down by Hettinger. And then you brushed off your shovel, or, if you’re lucky, got that new fancy snowblower ready.

 

Yup, our quintessential North Dakota March storm landed, just like it does almost every year.

Out here we fed up the animals, stocked up on heavy whipping cream, snuggled the baby, shuffled around the house and periodically looked out the window to comment:

“Not as much as they predicted yet.”

“That rain’s gonna make things slick. Might lose power.”

“Boy, it’s coming down hard now.”

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When you’re safe and warm in your home, winter storms like these don’t leave as much of a scar on your memory, but it doesn’t always go that way. For all the miles between here and there in these rural places, you’ve likely been caught out in one of these blizzards at one point in your life. And if you have, there’s no better time to rehash it, compare it and dramatize it than when you’re waiting out another one.

Funny, I used to wonder how my old relatives could remember the exact dates for weather-related incidents — the blizzard of ’66 or the flood in August of ’87 — until I grew up and had a few dramatic weather experiences of my own.

Like the tornado that wiped out parts of southern Dickinson while we were obliviously looking out the windows of our house there, realizing we’ve never seen a sky that color or rain whip sideways that fiercely.

That was July 2009. I remember that.

And I remember the blizzard of October 2001, because it came out of nowhere and it took us two whole days to get back to the university from a concert in Bismarck. We were completely unprepared and stuck on the interstate for hours with our exit in sight, but no bathroom. And man, I had to go so badly I considered hard the consequences of a ranchgirl-ditch-pee, but changed my mind when I opened the door and got pummeled in the face with freezing snow. Never mind the audience of cars lined up behind us, I didn’t much care for a frostbit butt.

No, there’s nothing like Mother Nature to keep you humble, insignificant and sleeping in your car at the gas station off I-94 in Mott after making it all the way from Green Bay in record time, but running into a blizzard in your home state that made it impossible to get home that night in blinding snow and two-wheel drive. It was spring of 2006. I remember that.

But I hope you only remember this spring storm for the warm smell of knoephla on your stove and the card games you played when you lost power. I hope that was all the drama to be had, except, of course, what you told in your stories.

Now, hurry up spring!

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Love. An explanation.

Mom and dad on wedding day

What is love? It depends on who you ask.
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My dad once told me that he didn’t believe that there was just one person for everyone. I was sitting shotgun in the pickup as he drove us somewhere. He likely asked me about my boyfriend, and I think I responded with a sort of fed up answer.

I was in that transition from teenager to adult, heading off to college and thinking I might be in love. And I was wondering if I should break it off, because that’s what most people do. And at that age, what most people do sort of means something.

“Think about this,” he said. “What would it be like for you if you couldn’t talk to him tomorrow?”

From there he explained his theory on love and how he believed it was more about timing and choices and kindness than it was about destiny. And it wasn’t romantic really, but hearing that there were more people out there I could love, or who could love me, helped take the pressure off, even if the teenage poet in me didn’t appreciate the practicality of it at the time.

Anyway, it turns out that particular relationship did work for me. My husband and I became one of those couples who found each other as teenagers and hung on tight, not because of big romantic gestures or a dramatic series of events, but because, I think, neither one of us could imagine not being able to talk to each other every day. And although it’d be more passionate to say we were destined to be together, the truth is, in the end, it was a choice.

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Last month, I asked a group of preschoolers to define love. I wanted a few cute quotes in the name of Valentine’s Day for the parenting magazine I edit. I don’t know what I expected, but it got me wondering how I would respond if someone pulled me away from my Lego tower and asked me.

One little boy summed it up perfectly when he told me, confidently, that he shows his mom he loves her by “cooking her turkey.”

I smiled as I wrote down his answer, thinking how refreshing it is to hear such an uncomplicated take on what we grown-ups come to muddy up along the way.

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Then I thought of my mom sitting by my dad’s bedside day after day after day while he was in the ICU and unable to speak, not knowing if she would get to talk to him tomorrow, the choice no longer hers to own.

There will be a time when my girls will need me to talk to them about head and heart, and I hope I’ll be able to remember what it felt like that day in the pickup, to be a teenager on the edge of a wide open life, reminded that love looks less like Prince Charming and more like turkey dinner turned into turkey sandwiches turned into a lifetime of conversation with the someone you can’t bear to lose.

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Long ago and just down the road in a land without Internet…

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How the progression of time and technology collide and converge

Long ago, before the invention of the Internet, I would spend winter evenings sitting on the worn-out pink carpet on my bedroom floor, pressing record on a cassette player/radio trying to catch my favorite song so I could play it back, over and over again, and commit it to memory.

Before that most of the music I learned by standing on the stage in the lunchroom/gym/music room of our little country school as our music teacher plunked out the tune to “The Old Gray Mare” on his piano.

And then, at home, my dad would play his guitar at the end of the day and I would sing along to Harry Chapin or Nancy Griffith songs. Sometimes he would teach me a special part and, as I got older, I would bring him new songs I found on the radio.

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A few years later I started learning them on my own guitar, pressing pause and play and pause and play so I could write down the lyrics, going through the entire process again and again as I worked to figure out the chord progression, writing it all down on lined notebook paper.

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I’m thinking about this today because I’m in the process of moving things out of my office to make room for the new baby. I’ve saved these old lined notebooks, the ones with the handwritten words and chords to my favorite songs in the nooks and crannies of my shelving units, closets and drawers.

And it’s not like it’s at all organized, these archives of my musical history, but if you pull it all out you can see the progression of the time and technology that occurred during my youth, the words and chords from ’90s country songs transforming from an 11-year-old’s handwriting into neatly typed, transcribed and printed transcripts. And it reminds me how I was there, on the edge of adulthood when the world started opening up wider, connecting us to one another from the other side of a computer screen.

I remember back in college, I was driving across the state with my boyfriend (now husband) reading out loud from a book to pass the time, and he said to me, “Jessie, one day you’ll be able to drive down the highway and surf the Internet.”

“No way!” said the young woman who just purchased her first cell phone, the smaller kind with the antenna that you pulled up instead of the kind with the magnet stuck to the roof of your car. I just couldn’t see a way …

And now I’m going to have to tell that story to my children, and they are going to say “They had cars when you were a kid?!” the same way I did to my dad.

“Yes, children, we had cars,” I’ll reply. “But we didn’t have the Internet! Those were the days!”

And then they’ll probably Google it just in case, just like they’ll Google “cassette tape” before they roll their eyes and show me for “like the 50th time!” how to use the smart TV that will always be far smarter than me…

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The Kitchen Table

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A new kitchen table arrived at our house last week. We ordered it custom made and waited a long time for its arrival, not taking lightly the weight such a furnishing decision has on the landscape of our lives, having spent our time in this house gathering around an antique piece that has been in our family for generations, and sitting in broken kitchen chairs handed down to us from my parents, which I have no doubt is a punishment in disguise when my arm gets pinched in the one my friend broke at that party I threw once as a teenager…a little run-down reminder of the bad decisions of my youth…

Anyway, we’ve lived most of our adult lives up until this point on the receiving end of hand-me-down furniture. It wasn’t until Edie arrived and I found myself spending considerably more of my time inside our little house that I decided to finally make an investment in such things. And so we bought a new couch and recliner and a custom made rocking chair that is too big and too bulky and not not at all what I expected or wanted, but there it sits because, dammit, it was expensive.

And then this table, this big heavy investment made of hickory with three leaves tucked inside that can expand it across the entire house. They delivered it and I held my breath, hoping it would fit knowing that everything these days seems to be built for mansions. And we don’t have a mansion, no, but this kitchen table was set to be the centerpiece of our house really. In our little cabin style, open flooring plan it’s where everything gets sorta dumped. Mail and pretzels, my camera bag and books. Husband’s game cameras and broad heads and hats. Edie’s markers and Play Dough and naked baby doll.

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Since becoming a work at home mom, that old kitchen table has become my desk. And since Edie’s become a pint-sized office assistant, it’s become her desk too.

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When friends come over it turns from appetizer table to supper table to game table. We walk around it, move it out of the way, abuse it, spill on it, don’t wipe it, clean it, shine it enough and if it could talk it would tell us that we don’t have it together. Not a bit. That we laugh loud, that we argue too much. That we shouldn’t leave the door open when we go in and out because the flies get in. And we should serve more vegetables maybe, but boy does that baby like strawberries, and maybe we should try cleaning them up before the fossilize on its surface.  It would say there’s lots of music here, and lots of plans being made and maybe we should have more company and make more pies and play more cards like they used to back when it was new…

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Coming Home: If kitchen tables could talk

It sits low, lower than the kitchen tables they make these days, its claw shaped feet at the bottom of the wooden pedestal look like they’re clutching the hardwood floor. Without its three leaves it’s perfectly round and could seat four for a card game. With its three leaves it seats six quite comfortably for a meal.

Years ago, in that little brown farmhouse over the hill, one of those six people was my dad as a curly haired kid, stabbing a pancake under the neon glow of the kitchen light serving its purpose before the sun rose, before heading out to milk the cows, before the bus rolled in down the red scoria road under the dark sky and crisp morning air that only farm kids know.

I pull all three of those leaves out now, cradling them in my arms as I head to the basement to lean them against the wall and out of the way to make room for our new kitchen table arriving that day, custom made and ready to serve us.

If only these kitchen tables could talk.

This old claw-foot table had a short life with us, but a long life under the elbows of generations of my family out here, belonging first, I think, to my great-grandmother Gudrun who arrived in America when she was only 17 and went on to raise 12 children just down the gravel road.

I doubt she brought many possessions with her. I doubt she had many to bring. And I’m not certain at what stage that claw-foot table entered her life, if it was brand new or refinished, but I imagine it was a big deal.

How many plans were made there, passing the bread, the top worn slowly by cups of coffee finding their way up to worried or laughing mouths and down again. How many dishes were passed between the hands of relatives and neighbors? How many prayers sent up of gratefulness or despair? God is great … God is good …

I’ve said those prayers there too, feeling the roughness of my uncle’s working hand in mine, the other hand squeezing my cousin’s, too hard the way kids do, anxious to move on to the Jello salad dessert my grandma always forgot in the fridge in the bustle of preparing a big holiday meal.

Years later my oldest cousin had it in her home for some time, after our grandparents died and the people left behind have to make decisions about how important these things are to us. My aunt counted that table at the top of the list and kept it useful and in the family, holding on in resourcefulness and nostalgia, the way we were all raised here it seems.

I wipe off the sticky, fifth generation fingerprints one last time and take notice of it again. Worn and beautiful it sits, now free of all the papers and place settings, quaint and clutching the ground the way it does, hanging onto the memories and the beauty of the generations the way only old and precious things can.

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And now a poem shared with me from Thelma after she read this column in the paper

PERHAPS THE WORLD ENDS HERE
by Joy Harjo from her book The Woman Who Fell from the Sky
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. it has been since creation, and it will go on.
 
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
 
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
 
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
 
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
 
The table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
 
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
 
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
 
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
 
Perhaps the world will end here at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
Work from home mom

Comfort found in the rain drops

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It’s raining this morning. The windows to my bedroom are open and I woke to the sound of it trickling from the sky in the darkness, the bathroom light on and my husband already up, downstairs, brewing coffee and getting our baby dressed for her day at daycare.

Although it took me a while to realize. That’s usually my job. I get her up and properly snuggled and dressed so he can take her down the road with him. But I blinked my eyes open to listen to the rain, and then I heard them on the baby monitor sitting on my nightstand, the clicking and swishing and chattering of our morning ritual.

“Blankie?” She said.

“Yes baby,” he said.

And I thought, “how sweet,” and that I could just lay here under these covers, under this roof, listening to the sound of the rain and their chatter as I drifted back to sleep.

But then I remembered her hair’s probably a huge mess, some standing straight up, some sticking straight out and the rest down in her eyes and she will need her ponytail, and her dad, with his big, calloused fingers, gets nervous about ponytails.

So I swung my legs over the bed and shuffled down the stairs, rubbing my eyes and sneaking up on them as they entered the hallway.

“Oh good, just in time!,” he smiled, handing me our daughter with one arm while carefully placing the tiny pink elastic hair tie in my hand. She laid her head on my shoulder and we sat together in the chair, putting on her finishing touches for the day, her shoes, her flowered jacket and, yes, her little ponytail before her dad swooped her up and down the road in the rain.

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Eleven years married and this is what our life is now, a series of balancing and handoffs and what’s for supper? Did she eat? Did she bath? Did you see her latest trick? And some days this life feels more overwhelming and out of our control than others, with a crazy schedule and bills and bad news and bad weather and bad things happening to good people and we can’t do much about so much…

But this morning we all rose slowly together under the calm quiet of the morning, a team of a little family who has each other’s hands, and hearts and ponytails under the roof that is a our messy little sanctuary, under a sky that’s raining again…

Thank God it’s raining again.

Coming Home: The hope that lives in a rain shower
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Rainbow over east pasture

It rained last weekend. For the first time since spring arrived, the clouds rolled in during the early morning and they hung over the land all day like a sweet, life-giving blanket, sending waves of drenching water, turned to sprinkles, turned to mist turned back to heavy rain, on and off all day.

It rained. It really rained last weekend. And it didn’t matter if there was an outdoor event planned, or a camping trip, or a parade — we all welcomed it on our skin, remembering what it felt like to be given a promise that the dust will settle.

We’ve been waiting for this moisture for months, although the drought hasn’t affected us or hit us as hard as our neighbors to the south. Our hay crop is alright this year. We have enough grass. Our livelihoods don’t fully depend on the cattle we raise. We’ll be fine.

Others are not so lucky this time around.

And I can’t help but think of how the weather controls us as I stand with my face pressed to the screen door, letting the rain speckle my cheeks, watching it drip off of the deck railing, shiver the leaves on the trees, turn the garden dirt black and open my purple petunias up for a drink.

It’s magic really. I’ve been watering those flowers for months from the sink every day with Edie and her little green plastic watering can. And they were fine, if not a little sad and hopeless sitting there stuck in the hot sun in those pots.

And then it rained like it did and they grew new leaves, petals sprouted overnight, vines reached toward the sky and they were alive again, with one big gulp.

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I felt like those flowers, sluggish and worried about lightning strikes and fires, stuck inside in the afternoons with Edie, eating popsicles and both of us refusing to put on pants.

I remember hot summers like this from my childhood, the sharp, dry grasses scratching our bare legs as the buzz of the hoppers cut through the heat.

The dog days of summer had its own smells of dusty hay bales and sprinklers waking up the lawn. It tasted like water from the hose and sweat and push-up pops on Grandma’s front porch. It felt like the prick of a cactus after a misplaced seat and mosquito bites itched clean off the skin and sweaty horsehair sticking to your legs after a bareback ride to pick chokecherries.

But when it rained, it changed our world from dust to mud, from popsicles to warm soup, from itchy legs to soaked jeans, from grasshoppers to chickadees, from sprinklers to puddles.

And maybe it’s just how I was raised, but even as a kid, even on the days I planned on swimming in the big lake or meeting friends at the pool or riding my horse in the parade in town, I can’t remember ever being disappointed by a summer shower, knowing full well, maybe even then, that in those tiny drops, hope lives.

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Listen to my song, “Raining”
From the album “Nothing’s Forever”

Buy it on iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby or on jessieveedermusic.com

Memory’s sweet scent

Sweet Clover

My cousin from Texas is here visiting the ranch this week and she brought her three children with her. They spent this morning with us, playing with Edie’s toys (much to her dismay) running around outside and helping me dig radishes in the garden while my cousin and I tried to catch up between wiping noses and serving goldfish crackers.

Tonight they’ll come over for supper and I hope to take them up to the top of the hill we call Pots ‘n Pans the way we used to as kids, but with less emergency pee breaks and cactus in their butts, because there will be adult supervision…

This time of year makes me nostalgic for some of the magical times I had here as a kid. I know my cousin feels the same about this place, no matter how long she’s been away from here. That’s why she’s packed her three kids in a car to drive the million miles from Texas to North Dakota, for the memories.

And that’s what this week’s column is about…

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Sweet clover under my skin

I imagine everyone has some familiar scent that hits their lungs and brings them back to a time in childhood when they felt so deeply loved, so overwhelmingly safe, so much themselves. So free.

 

Maybe it’s your grandmother’s warm cookies from the oven or the smell of a diesel tractor plugging across a field. Maybe it’s your parent’s home or the fur on the back of your old cat or the salty air blowing across the ocean and onto vast beaches.

For me, it’s sweetclover.

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I wish I could pick the right words to describe the sweet, fresh scent that fills the air tonight and gives me comfort when I breathe it in, moving across the landscape, stepping high …

My first best memories are lying among it, rolling down hills on the ranch as the sun found its way to the horizon and my cousins, tan and sweaty, hair wild, would fling their bodies after me. We would find ourselves at the bottom in a pile of laughter, yellow petals sticking to our damp skin.

For us, the clover was a blanket, a canopy of childhood. A comfort. It was our bouquet when we performed wedding ceremonies on the pink road wearing our grandmother’s old dresses, an ingredient in our mud pies and our crown when we felt like playing kings and queens of the buttes. It was feed for our horses and a place to hide from the seeker, to rest after a race, to fall without fear of skinned knees. It was a promise of summer and a wave of color to welcome us home together.

It’s there all season, the seeds tucked neatly under the dirt, and still I’m surprised when I open the windows of the pickup after a late night drive and the fragrance finds its way to me.

And I’m taken back …

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I’m seven years old and my grandmother has our bunk beds made up in the basement and my cousins will be coming down the pink road soon. And when they get here, we’ll climb Pots and Pans and we’ll put on a wedding and look for kittens in the barn. We’ll play “The Wizard of Oz,” and I’ll be the Tin Man. We’ll chase each other on the hay bales in front of the barn and then hide from each other in the tall grass that scratches and brushes against our bare legs.

I wish I could bottle it up for the cold winter days that showed no sign of release. I wish I could build my house out of it, weave it inside my walls, plant it in my floor and lay down in it at night. I wish I could wrap those cousins, my family, in its soft petals and sweet stems and watch as they remember now, the kids we once were before time took us and made us think that we were anything less than free…

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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…