« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Jessie Veeder, Published July 06 2012

Veeder: A huge loss and the need to move on

Monday, in the middle of a summer night below a nearly full moon and among crickets singing their song into the darkness, I stood on the edge of the barnyard watching helplessly as flames threatened to destroy a house that has been a fixture of memories on this landscape for well over 50 years.

In one endless moment our quiet world at the end of the pink road turned into flashing lights and sirens, big trucks and neighborhood men pulling on fire suits and yelling down the chain of command.

Among the blur of urgency that resulted from the smell of smoke in the walls of an old house 30 miles from the nearest town, I scooped up my father’s old guitar, books full of years of poetry and music, photographs of a wedding to a man I’ve loved since I was 12 years old and albums filled with memories of a good life in a wild place – pieces of me I couldn’t bear to see dissolve in the heat of a disaster we were powerless to stop.

Then smoke rolled from the walls and turned into flames just as our neighbor, the first of the volunteer firemen, arrived calling out on his radio for the men of our rural community to kick up dust on the country roads, to push the pedal down, to get here quickly to save their neighbor’s house.

In a rush they arrived in ranch pickups and behind the wheel of fire trucks. And in the panic of a once calm country night local bankers, farmers, business owners and truck drivers transformed into heroes in black and yellow suits.

As they pulled out hoses and broke through the windows and the basement wall, I stood on the gravel road that lead me home time and time again as a reel of memories flashed through my mind.

I’m 5 and eating orange popsicles on my grandmother’s porch.

I’m in my best Easter dress hunting for eggs, ruining my clothes in the gumbo hills.

I’m at the kids’ table as my aunts and uncles pass around my grandmother’s cranberry sauce, sitting too close in the tiny kitchen filled with heat from the oven.

I’m 22 and my new husband is carrying me over the threshold and through the very door where my neighbor was now standing, gripping the hose and drenching the flames that threatened the house my grandfather built.

The house where my father grew up.

The house where my grandmother spoiled us.

The first house we called home as a married couple.

Our future included plans to move into a new house over the hill, but we intended to keep this one intact, the four walls an invitation for friends and family to come and visit and re-live their memories here.

We weren’t ready to let it go.

We had a plan.

Someone else had different plans.

Plans to let our families drop everything to hug us and tell us they’re glad we’re OK.

Plans to let our neighbors make us dinner and offer their time.

Plans to let my childhood friend help sort through the damage and retrieve invaluable things – like the old rocking horse my father used to ride.

When the smoke cleared we were the lucky ones. Our firefighting neighbors worked until the early morning hours to save that little house so that we were able to walk through that door, bury our noses in the smoke-laced fabric and make a decision on whether we should keep our favorite sweater, our dining room table or a forgotten photograph.

I can’t imagine the feelings of those left standing at the edge of their driveways, watching it all burn to the ground, stripped naked and left out in the world with only one another as shelter from life’s storms.

So today I am thankful to kick through the rubble, to sort my clothes on the lawn, to save that rocking horse and understand that we can never lose everything.

Because we are worry and love, community and friends, sentiment and replaceable things.

We are us, we are exhausted, we have a life to build out here and summer is only so long.

We’re moving on.

Jessie Veeder 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. Readers can reach her at .