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Jessie Veeder, Published June 01 2013

Coming Home: Chokecherry blooms signal special time

My dad turned 50-somethingorother last week.

On May 31st. It’s the perfect day for a man like this to be born, his arrival into the world coinciding with the arrival of the most beautiful things on the ranch: green grass and blue sky. Maybe that’s why he’s been in love with this rugged and sometimes unforgiving landscape all of his life, because he was born with the scent of chokecherry blossoms under his skin and that gets him through the winters and droughts and keeps him believing in the promise that things will always get better. Spring will always come.

My Pops is an eternal optimist. I think it might be because of those chokecherries.

Yes, Pops turned 50-somethingorother last week. If you ask him how old he is, he will tilt his head up a little and think about it, as if he can’t remember. Sometimes he can’t. Because he’s not really concerned with the business of age. It’s a cowboy thing I think. As long as his legs are moving and his arms are strong enough to finish the job, then he’s just the right age.

Old enough to have learned his lessons.

Young enough to remember them.

I joke with Pops about how his hair is turning white, a hereditary trait, like his nose, that he passed along to me. I look in the mirror and little pieces of him are reflected in my face: skin that turns brown in the sunshine, dark eyes and the laugh lines around them, unruly hair. A prominent nose.

That darn nose.

Yes, these are qualities I will keep with me my entire life, a reminder of the man who raised me, a man I’ve always been certain will never grow old. I can’t imagine it. It’s like coming to terms with the fact my little sister is no longer 12 years old, like time was supposed to stop ticking when I left home. Like things were supposed to stay the same and wait for me to return.

But I’m back now and I see that it isn’t true. I’m back and I’m living down the road from the people who raised me, my parents, and I’m trying to put my finger on what that means to me.

See, Hollywood gives us one scenario and it looks a lot like “Everybody Loves Raymond,” but that’s not it for us. My parents have too many things going on in their lives to be walking into our house unannounced to make comments on my cooking.

Because they’re busy people with a passion for life that’s inspiring really. I’m afraid if I would have stayed away I wouldn’t have had the chance to understand my mother’s creative spirit and learned that you don’t stop taking risks just because you’re getting older.

If I wouldn’t have unpacked my bags in the house where my father grew up I may not have been capable of grasping the magnitude of his ties to this place.

I think about this ranch without my father and it’s like taking out its heartbeat. Because I’m not sure we ever really outgrow our parents. And thinking about it today I imagine how much he might miss his on the days he’s out here fixing the fences his father wired, driving that old tractor they bought together and cutting the rhubarb his mother planted, the rhubarb that always seems to be ripe on his birthday.

Yes, my father was born 50-some years ago, a child of the buttes and grasses under a blue sky that promises rain in the spring. He dug his hands in this dirt, planted the tree outside my window and knows every creek bend in the coulees and granite rock on the hilltop.

On a day like his birthday, he says he wants nothing but his family together, his grandson especially.

And then he’ll sneak off into the pasture to catch a horse and take a ride. I’ll listen for the back door to creak and hope to catch him walking up the road to the barn.

Because it’s spring, the chokecherry trees are blooming and my dad has been waiting for this all year.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.