Veeder: Lonesome miles can’t weaken brothers’ bond
By Jessie Veeder
My guitar, my dad and I took a plane out of the oilfields of North Dakota last week and headed south to the bricked houses and white-fenced arenas north of Ft. Worth, Texas, where his brother lives.
We brought the rain with us and spent an evening at a downtown honky-tonk, listening to old-school country and watching cowboy hats float along the top of a sea of people tapping their toes and taking long drinks from brown bottles of beer.
The next morning we sipped coffee on the stone porch and watched the long horns graze in the small pasture by the barn while my cousin’s 3-year-old daughter pedaled her bike around us, threw the stick for the dog and tried to convince us she, too, could play the guitar “really good.”
And then at night we sat around, my cousin and I, listening to the stories bounce between brothers with the same striking nose and the same sort of memories of growing up in that little brown house next to that little red barn under the harsh sky and hard buttes of North Dakota.
It’s hundreds of miles apart, the North Dakota snow and the heat of Texas, but miles never seemed to matter much with these men, comfortable in a quiet bond with the same kind of blood pumping through their veins and the same kind of worries.
And so we were in the perfect moment, my cousin and I, where these two men who have spent the entirety of our lives working, providing and making ends meet, might sit still long enough with a glass of whiskey and tell us some things about where we all came from.
About how our grandpa lost his mother when he was just a young boy, how he worked as a kid as a ranch hand for the neighbors, how he had a head for math, but not much for an education.
How he was a good cowman and a good neighbor. How he wasn’t perfect, how he yelled a bit.
How he wore out the seat of his saddle.
And then there were stories about their mother, how she disciplined those boys, waiting at home for them with a lesson no matter how long they hid from the consequences in the trees.
They said she made good buns and there was always a hot meal waiting.
They said she took care of people.
And they said they never knew that house was so small, that there was plenty of space for a wrestling match on the living room floor between the old television and their dad’s easy chair.
My cousin and I, we held our breath a bit, prompting when we felt the need, asking questions and sitting back, knowing from experience that a train of thought could get easily distracted, that her baby could cry or the phone could ring and our glimpse into the making of these two men would be cut short.
I listened to my uncle talk, and I heard the faint Southern drawl created from the years spent shaking hands, roping steers and raising children under a warmer sun. His skin is brown, and his limbs are trim and strong. I think he looks like Texas.
My father stretches out the vowels of words that hang in the back of his throat, the way the neighbors do, the way we all do up here where our ancestors broke up the ground. His face is weathered like his hands from the cold wind and hot sun, and I sit between the two brothers and wonder what kind of plans they made standing at the top of those rocks overlooking a landscape that raised them.
And now, in the third act of their lives, my father is a man who came home and my uncle is a man who left. I can’t help but wonder how it could be that all those lonesome miles between the oil fields of North Dakota and the brick houses of north Texas, could make all and none of the difference.
Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City. Readers can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.