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Jessie Veeder, Published June 22 2012

Veeder: Holding on to what helps us remember

Two years ago my husband and I unpacked whatever earthly possessions we’d acquired during our first years of marriage and moved our life into the little farmhouse at the edge of the badlands where my father was raised.

Since then we’ve lived in 600 square feet of memories and possessions in need of repair while we made plans to build a new house over the hill.

Now we’re finally getting ready to make the move. And as I look around at the knickknacks, unread books and unreasonable number of shoes piled on the shelves around me, I’m reminded of the day we moved into this little house and the lesson I learned while cleaning out the basement.

Over the years this old house had become the unofficial hiding spot for pottery, homemade doilies and that sunflower latch-hook pillow I made in 4-H when I was 12. Stacked high to the ceiling were boxes of treasures that my family was not ready to release into the world. It had become a place that held what the family wanted to hold onto.

But when I moved in I was determined to get it organized and throw things away. But the act of making those decisions was a little unnerving because that basement was where my cousins and I once had sleepovers, performed mock wedding ceremonies and learned that the Easter Bunny didn’t exist.

I raised my hands in frustration and called my dad to come and help me purge this old house of other people’s memories so I could create my own.

He answered my cry for help and things started clearing out nicely. That is until he found a collection of his old albums and proceeded to go through them one by one. He flipped to the back of each Neil Young record and read the song titles out loud, recalling who he was when that music played through his speakers in this very basement.

I felt grateful for that moment with my father and wanted him to keep those albums so he could forever be transported back to when he was the fluffy-haired lead singer in his traveling band.

And I remember thinking, “Now what?”

When my grandmother died almost 20 years ago, our family took us through her home (the very house I later found myself cleaning out). Each cousin was told to pick a few things that held memories of her.

I took one of her lipsticks and a Norwegian doll. I’m sure I found a few other things, but I don’t remember. What I do remember was the stillness in the house that day and the smell of the green grass through the open windows.

At the time I didn’t care too much about that doll. What I wanted was her voice, her hands, her bread dough and homemade pickles. When I grew up I wanted to ask her things, compare our features and understand why I may have turned out like her.

I understood then that keeping her things on my shelf could not keep her with me, but when I moved into her house I had never felt closer to her.

Now I’m on the cusp of leaving it, and I’m a little nervous about my ability to keep the bricks and mortar intact, the windows clean and the floors swept while I set up my furniture just over the hill.

But what am I holding on to? Am I charging myself with keeping this place intact so that we don’t forget our lives here?

We can’t hold on to the flesh and bone, the voices, the pain and the triumph, but we can preserve a teapot. And that helps us remember that we came from something –something quite wonderful.

Below this house is the old homestead place. My great-grandmother planted a patch of yellow roses before she died suddenly in 1932. Her husband tended to those flowers during the summers after her death, making sure they had water and sunlight.

This week when I emerged from the basement flushed and searching for air, I thought about those roses and walked down to where her garden used to be. It turns out that after 80 years, those roses are holding on, too.

Jessie Veeder Scofield is a 28-year-old musician and writer. She lives near Watford City, N.D., with her husband, on the ranch where she grew up.