We were all sitting around in the living room visiting about weather, politics and how Edie managed to get her second bloody nose in two days in church that morning when he came sneaking sort of quietly through the door, slipping off his snow boots and wool cap before shuffling down the hall and sliding into the chair. The last time we saw him he was at the top of the neighbors' sledding hill, brushing the snow off of his Carharts after a lightning speed solo trip on the orange toboggan.
Northerners. We like to boast that we're hardy and resilient and can stand up against the biting, sub-zero, blizzardy cold without much consequence besides a bad case of hat head. We can handle our feet and our pickup tires on icy paths, and we know how to hunker down and make it through on hot dish and hot soup. We like to say this place isn't for the faint of heart.
WATFORD CITY, N.D. — Every farm or ranch needs an old horse, an animal with a long story of seeing it all so that he can be trusted with the smallest rider or the most inexperienced visitor who wants to see the place on horseback, a request that can be sort of nerve-wracking if you don't have a trustworthy grandpa or gramma in the pen. Because an old horse can make up in experience what your rider lacks. He won't shy from that weird-shaped rock on the hill because he's seen it a thousand times.
Outside, up out of our driveway next to the gravel county road, a couple pyramids of hay bales are stacked up nice and neat, waiting to be unrolled on the cold hard ground for the cows that we will be feeding this winter.
I just put the baby down for the night. I rocked her a little longer after she fell asleep in my arms, kissed her head and sat with her in the quiet darkness of her room before I laid her down in her crib.
WATFORD CITY, N.D.—"When you get married, marry someone with money," he said to our 13-year-old niece, sitting innocently at the kitchen counter, holding the baby and feeding her Cheerios. "Or just be rich yourself. That would be better." "But wait, don't just marry for money," I chimed in. "Make sure he's nice, too." "Yeah, she's right," he said. "Be rich. Or marry someone nice and rich."
It was late August, and it had been hot for weeks, the kind of heat you remember as a kid, where popsicles melt on sticks in the heavy air that sends the flies gathering at horses' bellies and driving them to bob their heads and swish their tails in the trees. We were sweating it out in the little house in the barnyard where my grandparents used to live, three years into our marriage and three months into unpacking our lives back home at the ranch where I was raised. And it was only six years ago, but we were just kids, really, with plans big enough to keep us busy.
WATFORD CITY—It rained all day yesterday. Big sheets of water fell from the sky, straight down and then sideways, giant drops making puddles in places puddles rarely exist in the dry autumn months around here. If I were a kid I would have grabbed my slicker and boots and stood out in it just to know what it feels like. I would have followed the creek up the coulee to watch it fill and flow. I would have monitored the tiny waterfalls, tested the stamina of my waterproof boots, likely going in too deep and soaking my socks.
I woke up this morning in Minnesota, holding on to a baby who is only 10 months old but appears to be getting her one-year molars already. I found out because she had her first little fever that lasted too long for my taste, so we headed to the doctor. And Edie smiled through the entire checkup, our doc looking in her ears, her eyes, her mouth and, holy smokes, she wasn't expecting it, this child is getting four more teeth. So that explained it.
WATFORD CITY, N.D.—My mom keeps a small wooden box in her kitchen, tucked up in the cupboard next to her collection of cookbooks. On the front it reads "RECIPES" in the shaky, wood-burning technique of a young boy trying his hand at carpentry. And inside is an assortment of recipe cards, of course, notes from a kitchen and a cook who left us all too soon, taking with her her famous homemade plum sauce. And the from-scratch buns she served with supper.