Sunday Column: Traditions, heartbeats, one another…

img_9628.jpg When I was about 19 or so I wrote a song called “Heroes Proved.” I was knee deep in college and missing home, missing a slower paced life. Missing college. Missing a time when neighbors came over and sipped on coffee from a big mug and visited long enough to have a couple more refills.

It was a time I was certain all of the yard lights along the pink scoria road where I grew up were going to blink out one by one as stewards of the land grew old and moved to town, with no one in line to move in the old place, because there was nothing for them here.

I couldn’t be convinced then that just eleven years later I would be adding a yard light to the picture, staying up late building a life out here with plenty of prospects. Plenty to do.

House 1

And down the road and up the road, other families, other friends my age or younger are moving into old houses or building roads to new ones, putting up walls where they plan on raising their babies and having friends over for coffee or for a bon fire and drinks late into the night.

It’s a new world. It moved fast in those eleven or so years when I got my first cell phone and used it only for calls back home because it was cheaper than long distance.

I was in college before texting and leaving campus right as Facebook hit the scene. I was a child of a less digital age, an age when you asked your dad instead of Jeeves or Google. The world looked different without YouTube, three thousand channels on television and more information at our fingertips than we had in our parents’ set of 1993 Encycopedias on the shelf.

Now I’m not always nostalgic for a slower pace. In fact, I owe my career out here in the middle of the buttes to the accessibility that technology has allowed. I am able to have virtual coffee with all of you on a whim, share my music and photos from the ranch, get to know you through cyberspace. Write. Submit. Send emails. Get paid.

But some days I want to throw it all in the stock dam and go running wild into the trees, over to my friends’ house to pick chokecherries and make plans for a pie and a neighborhood party. Because a neighborhood party is more important than seventy billion followers on Twitter.

For all the connections we have to one another these days, Skype, Snapchat, Instagram, FaceTime, Facebook and who knows what else, some days I just miss my friends.

And some days I wonder if I’m the only one feeling this way as I use Snapchat, Instagram, FaceTime, Facebook and, *gasp* the telephone, to invite them all over, bring some drinks, bring some noodle salad and sit with us, tell us how you’ve been while we dish up some slush burgers on paper plates and tell stories while we talk with our hands, spill things and laugh about it all.

Because in all the ways we can connect with one another, I like this one the best.

Turns out I’m not the only one. Turns out the art of a good get together has not been lost, and some souls are spending time preserving the oldest traditions. I know this, because we’ve been invited, to sing so they sing along…

Down the road a couple hours a family has fixed up a barn specifically for dancing,



across the state communities have been celebrating centennials and milestones and summer with gatherings in parks and on the streets,

along the river in the big town a friend hosts a dinner at a farm…

And I sing on a horse drawn wagon…just because…

(Beth from Rhubarb and Venison hosts a dinner at Riverbound Farm near Mandan, ND)

Down my road my neighbor hosts a bonfire, in backyards and garages along neighborhood streets in town, people stop by to chat and have a beer…

In some of these cases social media, texting, Skype and telephone calls were all ways to get them there…in others, it was a whim, a neighbor missing a neighbor, a family hosting supper, an aunt needing to squeeze her niece, sisters needed to catch up, brothers off to site in their rifles or make plans for a bowhunting trip.

This week’s column is about these things we still hold on to, traditions, heartbeats, one another.


This week’s column is on sipping coffee from a big mug, talking and sticking around long enough for another cup…

Coming Home: Get to know your neighbors and strangers
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

Jessie’s column, Coming Home,  can be found weekly in newspapers across the state, including the Fargo Forum (Sundays), Grand Forks Herald, Bismarck Tribune and the Dickinson Press.

How to warm up.

It’s no secret, winters in North Dakota are long and cold. We always know they’re coming, but still they surprise us as we lean into November with brave faces and feed our bodies with soup and turkey and hot dishes (that’s Lutheran for casserole). We wait for the snow as we prepare our Thanksgiving meals and watch it fall as we wrap up presents, bring in Christmas trees, snuggle our families and ring in the New Year with champaign and a bit of dread, not necessarily about the year ahead, but the month we’re staring down.

No, the initial blast of holiday cheer can’t trick North Dakotans into thinking that winter is a party.

Oh no.


Because we still have January. And January is just the beginning really, marching in on us promising unpredictable, below zero temperatures, blinding blizzards, snow drifts, icy roads, and then usually a nice little thaw to tease us before it starts all over again.

January scares me. It always has. And I know it’s coming, I do, but for some reason I find myself worrying that I might not come out of the deep freeze with the rest of the furry animals tucked away tight for the winter.

I worry I’ll start eating hot dishes (Lutheran for casserole) and never stop.

I worry I’ll grow too comfortable with the extra padding on my rear-end and the bulky sweaters and the scarves that hug me and hide me from the elements and I will decide not to emerge with the warm sun.

I worry I might just turn into a hibernating bear-like creature who never shaves her legs or takes off her beanie and walks all hunched over and shivery if she ever decides to move at all.

This kind of paranoia is not healthy. Fear is not a good place to be. So this January, instead of bidding farewell to the holidays, packing out the gigantic Christmas tree and pulling on the wool socks with no intentions of removal, we decided to keep the party going.

We decided to leave the Christmas tree up. We decided to buy more groceries, turn on the oven, pull out the crock pots and paper plates and keep on eating.

We decided to dig out the schnapps.

And the snow pants.

We decided to call our friends and neighbors to see if they’d like to join us as we flung our bodies down the giant hill outside our window.

We decided to clear off the stock dam and turn it into a curling rink.

We decided to use icicles as stir sticks,

drink hot chocolate, sit close together on the couch,

play some games, tell some stories and sing a little.

I decided to make a chocolate cake.

From scratch.

We decided to build a fire and stand around it and then head inside to eat some more.

We decided to laugh in winter’s face.

Take that winter.

And that.

And this.

And this.

And that.





I think winter won there.

But I’m not scared anymore.

I just forgot for a moment what it is that really gets us through life in one piece. And it’s not just the special occasions that are put on a calendar reminding us to love one another, to be thankful and to celebrate.

No, it’s the every day and the way we chose to live it.

It’s the phone calls that we make that turn into plans to sit next to one another and eat dip and chocolate cake. It’s the way we bundle up against the cold and scream as we push each other down hills, remembering what it’s like to forget everything but the world you just climbed to the top of and flew down.

It’s remembering that sometimes we need someone to pull us up there.

It’s clearing a space for games and music.

It’s the invitation into one another’s homes, into our lives, to sleep on the couch or on the air mattress in the next bedroom and wake up for bacon and coffee and a recap of how someone nearly killed the pug in a sledding rollover.

Because we are made for so many things–work and worry, fear and bravery, singing and listening. Our lungs are made for breathing, yes, but they also work for screaming as snow sprays you in the face while you fly 25 miles per hour down a hill in a sled with your father and your friend.

How else would you find out a brain freeze can start on the outside of your head?

And our fingers are made for working and typing and pointing out things that are wrong with the world, but they also fit really nicely in mittens, as you pull each other up.

I mean, sure, it’s damn cold out there, but our legs are made for walking, hiking, climbing, jumping and standing on the top of things, we might as well use them properly.

See that’s the thing about us northerners. It’s not that we have found a spot in our hearts for the blinding snows of winters, the icy wind or temperatures that dip so far below zero that I don’t even want to mention it. It’s not that we ever get used to the deep freeze.

It’s just that we know, in the deepest of winters, on the coldest of January days, what to do to warm up.

Note: Only four sleds and two skinny little butts were injured in the making of this blog post.