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.
Last week I had a couple meetings I scheduled in the late afternoon. I do this on days I don't have Edie in daycare, strategically overlapping the beginning of my workday with the end of my husband's. Because we live 30 miles and a good 45 minutes from town, the planning can be a little tricky and usually involves a quick stop and drop at Gramma's store so Edie can destroy the place before her daddy picks her up.
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 he 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.
Northerners. We like to boast that we're hardy and resilient and can stand up against the biting, sub-zero, blizzardy cold without much consequence besides a bad case of hat head. We can handle our feet and our pickup tires on icy paths, and we know how to hunker down and make it through on hot dish and hot soup. We like to say this place isn't for the faint of heart.
WATFORD CITY, N.D. — Every farm or ranch needs an old horse, an animal with a long story of seeing it all so that he can be trusted with the smallest rider or the most inexperienced visitor who wants to see the place on horseback, a request that can be sort of nerve-wracking if you don't have a trustworthy grandpa or gramma in the pen. Because an old horse can make up in experience what your rider lacks. He won't shy from that weird-shaped rock on the hill because he's seen it a thousand times.
My gramma Edie used to keep a diary of her life here at the Veeder Ranch. They weren't particularly thorough, and most were written in tiny scrawl on pocket calendars with most every entry detailing accounts of the weather, work, cattle and who stopped by the place for a cup of coffee or to borrow something. It makes me wonder today, as I sit staring at the chest-deep snow drift that has piled up against my glass living room doors, how she might have documented the snow-pocalypse Christmas blizzard of 2016 if she were still alive today. I imagine it like this:
WATFORD CITY, N.D. — I was too old to believe in Santa Claus 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.
When I was dreaming of having a baby of our own for all those years, I ran through how it might look in our house at Christmas: cozy and warm tucked in the trees, hot cider on the stove, a fire crackling in the fireplace, our baby crawling playfully around the fresh-cut cedar we found together on the ranch under a blue sky and after a little impromptu snowball fight. And that tree we cut would fill the house with its wild scent and twinkle throughout the long nights, reminding me when I was a kid and Christmas was magic.
I was downstairs trying my best to finish up a deadline I'd been working on submitting all day. It was the Monday after a long Thanksgiving break spent with family and food scattered around the house for days. The baby was so worn out from the excitement of it all that she decided to stop sleeping and pop her first molar, and I was ready to get back into the swing of things.