There's a long hallway in a hospital, connecting two parts of the building with plain beige carpet and tall windows that let the light in from the street. All day, every day, nurses, doctors and employees rolling carts of covered chicken and Jello to be delivered to patients who may not want to eat but have to eat, walk these hallways as part of their routine, wearing their shoes and the carpet a little thinner with each step.
The first year my husband and I got married, we lived in the little house in the barnyard where my dad was raised, unloading all the earthly possessions a pair of 23-year-olds can acquire in the short and broke spans of our adult lives — hand-me-down lamps and quesadilla makers. By the time we emptied our car and unwrapped our presents there was barely any room left for walking. And so I did what any responsible 20-something newlywed with an uncertain future would do: I got my husband a puppy for his 24th birthday.
The first calf of the year was born on the Veeder Ranch last week. That afternoon I went out on a walk to clear my head and to climb to the top of a hill to see if there were any mommas off alone on a hillside or in the trees, a pretty sure sign of some birth action. But I didn't see a thing. So then, because it's been warm lately, I decided to scope out the hilltops for the first crocuses, confident that I knew just where to look because years of early spring crocus hunts on this place have taught me such useful things. But I struck out again.
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.
"One. Two. Threeee!!!" She yelled before she launched herself from the top of one big round hay bale and over the mud-filled gap to the next, landing safely on her knees before scrambling up to her feet to continue her race down the rest of the row of hay. I stood holding Edie on my hip, both of us laughing as we watched her three cousins run and leap, making an obstacle course out of the hay yard, their blonde hair escaping from ponytails and flying up toward the blue sky in the wind.
I unloaded my daughter and her backpack, and we left the car with the mechanic and sat down on the chairs in the lobby. It smelled like a combination of tire rubber and grease. The sun had warmed the snow enough to make it stick to the rubber soles of the muck boots everyone wears around here, leaving squeaky, muddy footprints to and from the door that dings when it opens...
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.
"She's not a baby anymore," I said to my husband as we were driving home from the big town; Edie was strapped in her car seat behind me, singing her own original refrain on repeat at the top of her lungs. "No, she's not," he replied. "She's the CEO of a household now." Well isn't that the truth, I thought as I laughed, her little song turning into mimicking giggles behind me.
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.
I was five years old when my little sister was born. I was at an age where only the big things stick with you as a memory moving forward, and her arrival was one of those big things. I remember the talks my family had about what we were going to name her if she was a girl or a boy. I remember my opinions on the choices. I remember my mom and her big belly at Christmastime.