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
by Jessie Veeder

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.


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.


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.”


“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 … ”


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.


A chance to warm up


Well, I’ve bitched enough about the bone chilling weather lately, it’s time I’m finally able to praise this much appreciated January thaw.

I wasn’t sure if we were going to get one this time around, but I guess I can count on it again. And boy, did we need it, for the cattle and for the kids and for low North Dakota spirits everywhere.

I drove to town the other day and it was 41 degrees. It might as well have been 70. I went by the little donut shop and the two girls were outside shoveling in their t-shirts and sunglasses like they were in California. I guess I couldn’t blame them. I felt that way too.  I didn’t bother with my coat, in fact the sun shining in the window of my car made it too warm in there, so I opened up the window and listened to my tires splashing up slush on the pavement.

It’s because of January that I’ve never minded the mud.

We took advantage of the beautiful weekend and spent Saturday continuing work on my video for my song “Northern Lights.” Turns out dad doesn’t mind a third take of him walking up a steep snow bank in his snow shoes when its 35 above zero.


And I don’t mind standing there watching him either, thankful for things like snowshoes after watching the filmmaker sink up to his waist trying to situate the camera in a snowbank.

But after today the snow has cleared off the tops of the buttes and the 10 foot drifts have shrunk down to 8 feet drifts. And the snow on the table on my deck melted enough to remind me of the three casseroles and  two pies I set out there to chill on Thanksgiving.(So that’s where that glass bowl went!)

Ahhh, I love it. Really. I wouldn’t mind January in North Dakota if she always behaved this way. And by that I mean staying above the 0 mark on the thermometer and chilling on the whole wind thing.

But knowing that’s not in her nature, so we take what we can get. On Sunday my little sister and I took turns taking Edie on sledding runs down the icy road in our yard.


(Don’t worry, we weren’t going as fast as the screams would have you think…)

As you can imagine, she loved it.

She loves the cold actually. It’s weird. You take her outside, the cold air hits her face and she comes alive, squealing and laughing, waving her arms and legs, squishing up her face in delight.

I plop her in a snowbank and she flings snow up in the air like she’s splashing in a swimming pool, not giving a care in the world about where the cold stuff lands on her face.


I swear, this kid was made for this place, it’s like she just sprang out of the slick clay one day and announced her arrival. She’s reminding me about the magic this place holds and I love her for it.

It’s all just an adventure.


Tomorrow’s Friday and we have the weekend ahead of us that we intend on filling with house construction projects and outdoor chores. Edie’s getting to the age where it’s fun to take her along. I bought her a pair of little boots and today, just as I was bundling her up to take her outside to test them out, Pops poked his head through the door and we piled in the pickup to go feed the cows.

“This is what you’ve always dreamed about,” he said as we watched Edie squeal at the cattle lining up behind the bale we rolled out for him.


Leave it to Pops to take the ordinary trials of a Thursday and turn it into a reminder of the simple things we live for.

Thanks Pops.

And thanks January sun for giving us a chance to warm up.


Snowman Weather

Ok, so we had weather earlier this weekend that allowed the sun to shine and finally break down the hard, cold white a bit. Just enough to get its thaw on, to create nice drips off of the eaves, to allow some of the road to show, to create a little mud, to even soak your clothes when you’re out in it…

…making a snowman.

Now I know you are not the kind of people to judge a grown woman who choses to use her precious free time walking out in the hills on a windy day while thinking to herself: “perfect consistency…and I have just the right outfit” only to plop down on a whim and begin the age-old ritual of turning and churning and transforming the sticky drifts of white that really are starting to get on your nerves into something a little cuter.

A little more bearable.

Because it was coming to the end of a month that is historically tough on most North Dakotans (at least those who have to start a car or bundle up to go outside at any point in the course of 31 days) and I was starting to feel house bound, cold, melancholy and pasty white. I needed this thaw to defrost my mood.

And I needed to make a snowman dammit.

So when the blue skies opened up, like they often do on winter days in ND, and brought with it the sun and temperatures in the low 30s, you couldn’t keep me inside if you put bolts on the doors.

Because I would have crawled out the damn windows or up the chimney or taken the roof off if I had to.

I needed to be in the warm sun, no matter the howling wind.

Well, nobody locked me in the house or sealed the windows up. In fact, no one was even around the place on Friday afternoon to witness this little childish endeavor. And that’s ok. I didn’t need spectators or a partner in crime to help me achieve a January level of bliss. I just needed the perfect spot, my mittens, and all of that snow.

So I stepped out into the glistening bright world, strapped on my snowshoes, and marched for the hills, sinking in heavy white, trudging and puffing and sweating my way to the perfect spot…

…where I plopped.

I plopped down on my hands and knees and gathered up the sticky, wet, previously untouched snow as the wind whipped through my neckerchief and turned my cheeks the brightest shade of red. I gathered and rolled and patted and fluffed and shaped each ball together, imagining all of the snowmen of my youth. Remembering how we used to roll the snowballs until they grew so large we couldn’t possibly move them another inch. And then we started all over again with the second, enlisting help from the bigger, stronger, boys on the playground or our dads or big brothers to hoist the second snowball up, and then the third.

I smiled as I remembered how we would raid our parent’s coat closest for the perfect scarf, the wool cap, the gloves we would hang on the end of the sticks we managed to dig out of the snow for Frosty’s arms.

We would track snow through the kitchen and stick our rosy faces into the refrigerator looking for a carrot, because the man must have a carrot nose.

And what about the eyes? Rocks if it the snow melted enough to find them. Or coal if we knew where that was hidden.

Buttons on his chest? Maybe grandpa’s vest or dad’s old feed jacket.

And sometimes the man made out of snow would have a smile. Sometimes we would make a U-shaped trail under his nose with a piece of licorice or rocks or the appropriate ingredient found in the fridge.

But if the smile could not literally be made, if we could not find the proper ingredient, it didn’t matter.

Because by the time that snowman was all put together into a huge, towering man in a great outfit he was sure to sit in front yards, on playgrounds and on hilltops for months to come, slowly shrinking out of his clothes and his nose while bringing smiles of pride to the faces of the kids who made him and those who happened to walk or drive on by.

We all got the point.

Snowmen make you happy.

And it turns out they still do. Even when you are a bit older and a bit more affected by the stress of the weather and the pressure of a life that must go on despite the cold.

Even when they are put together by a woman determined not to lose her spirit again.

Even when they are out of site for the rest of the world.

Even if they look exactly like you.

Winter love and warmth from the ranch this week.

Don’t blow away!