Veeder: Real cowboys still exist
Lynn Linseth was inducted into the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame last weekend on a partly cloudy afternoon on top of a big hill overlooking the Badlands.
He stood tall and lean under his black cowboy hat, his dark eyes sort of twinkling like they always have as he greeted his friends and family with a handshake and hug, and proceeded to launch into a smart-mouthed comment that puts you at ease.
He's comfortable enough in crowds, but maybe not crowds gathered in the name of his accomplishments. I imagined he'd rather be behind the chutes at a rodeo, shooting the breeze with the cowboys as they prepare to ride one of his bucking horses for eight seconds.
That's the sort of thing that found him here in his mid-'70s, behind the podium telling a story about a group of cowboys who pulled a prank on a hotel manager years ago that involved muddy boot prints on ceiling tiles before ending the tale with, "Well, anyway, thanks so much for this."
The crowd cheered and Lynn looked patiently toward the line of cameras as they snapped his photo next to a rodeo queen.
Lynn Linseth is a marvel around these parts, known for his quick wit and well-lived-in life. Born to Norwegian immigrant parents on a homestead just 3 miles north of the ranch, Lynn is the 10th of a family of 12 children and my grandmother's little brother.
My father's uncle.
I was too young to get to know Lynn while my grandmother was alive, but I would have liked to witness how she might have adored this man who was likely responsible for much of the silver in her hair, the same way I imagine she adored all seven of her wild and handsome brothers.
I do have a memory of a morning when I was a little girl sitting at my grandmother's table, watching her pour her brother a hot cup of coffee while they visited about the weather, the old tractor or the cattle. I remember studying Lynn's face, his dark eyes and tanned skin, and understanding then how we were connected by blood.
I remember how that fascinated me -- that I was so small and he was so tall, and that maybe we didn't know much about one another, but we had that blood thing and I knew he loved me.
And when that house, my grandmother's house, burned down last summer, Lynn came into the yard with his big brother Jim, two of the only three remaining siblings, under their hats and the hot sun looking to see how they might help clean up the place.
I listened as they told stories on one another and that same fascination poured over me like a cool splash from the creek running through this place we all know so well.
When you come home you don't just come home to a place, you come home to its people. That afternoon in the middle of a job that seemed hopeless, I listened to those stories and studied the faces of my father and his two uncles standing on the dirt where my grandparents once made their home, where I was making my home, and it occurred to me that their legacy out here under those hats, under this sky, was becoming mine.
I felt the same way last weekend watching Lynn stand next to his brother, my father and uncle, my aunt and my mother, my husband and me, facing the Badlands and making plans to meet for a burger.
Because when it comes to family we all want to believe a little part of us is legendary. That's what Lynn is to me and to the rest of those who came to the Badlands to celebrate his accomplishments last weekend.
As we listened to his story, we held tight to our own about Lynn who drove too fast, Lynn who raised the bucking horse that won them their first buckle, Lynn who got Pops his first job, and Lynn, the man sitting in his sister's kitchen making a young girl believe that real cowboys do exist, and he is one of her own.
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.