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Jessie Veeder, Published January 31 2014

Coming Home: Stretch of road brings back memories

We’re traveling this week, my husband and I, across the big state of Montana, then down through Idaho before heading into the cowboy town of Elko, Nev.

I’m writing from inside the walls of our vehicle as the sagebrush-covered cliffs of Montana whiz by my windows revealing mile after mile of scattered farmsteads with neat houses and weathered barns, the winding Yellowstone River and black cattle that look like ants munching at the base of blue mountains.

We just passed Rosebud, a tiny town where we once broke down as teenagers on our way back from a ski trip we took with friends in a big brown 1980 Vandura, the kind with a little kitchenette and a table, chairs in the back so you can play card games while you cruise at top speeds of 60 mph toward adventure.

The kind that seemed like a fun idea until you have to stop at every town to fill up with gas, and then along a quiet stretch of interstate to change another flat. Another flat, which means we already used our spare.

So the boys had to make their way across the road to the Rosebud Community Center in search for a place that might do tires. But first they had to help move tables and chairs in preparation for the impending Rosebud Fiddling Jamboree before being sent down the street a ways to a “guy who does tires.”

A scruffy, slow-moving giant in overalls stepped out of a house surrounded by cars that hadn’t been driven in years, rusty equipment, spare parts and, yes, piles of tires in the back. A guy who thought he might have something. A guy who took the bead of the tire off the rim with a few swings of a sledgehammer, making quite the impression on a group of teenage boys who were well aware they make a machine for that.

People like this exist. Places like this, places that still host Fiddling Jamborees, exist.

Traveling reminds us of this.

And we were just stupid kids then, learning lessons from the miles between home and gone and discovering what we won’t allow our own children to do when they grow up.

Like drive a 20-year-old Vandura across Montana in the middle of winter.

Or maybe we should.

Because the best memories come from a bit of risk, laughter and a heart beating faster.

I look over at my husband behind the wheel of our practical car, the morning sun revealing specks of gray in the hair under his cap, and I remember this drive with him years ago, back before I wore this ring.

He had borrowed his dad’s 1989 Ford pickup, the one with the blue stripe along the side and the 1977 pop-up camper in the back. The one that would take me on my first trip to the mountains of Yellowstone.

It was his idea, this little adventure, his way of showing me something beautiful. So we loaded up the coolers, some camping gear and sunflower seeds and we headed west into the sweltering summer.

And halfway through Montana the radio DJ informed us it was 108 degrees, as if we didn’t already know, the open windows our only form of air conditioning. I’d stick my hand out and feel the bugs and hoppers splat against my skin. I’d reach in the cooler and put ice cubes down my shirt as we pushed past sunflowers in the ditches, threatening to jump in that Yellowstone River before we made it to the cool, clear streams of the mountains.

It might have been here, on this Montana interstate, somewhere between our memories of Rosebud and the adventure he planned for us that I decided I really loved him. That I would marry this guy if he asked someday.

“Look,” he says, pulling my head out of these memories and my pen away from paper. I look up to see a bald eagle, soaring and dipping along the ridge of rocks beside us. I watch it hang there in the air before we leave it behind, and I know I will remember this when we’re together on this road again.

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.