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Veeder: Family lore lingers around the Sunday dinner table

WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- Most Sundays we get together with Mom and Dad for dinner. After a week of work and crazy schedules, one of us decides that someone should cook a decent meal, pour some wine and make us all sit down.

Veeder
Jessie Veeder

WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- Most Sundays we get together with Mom and Dad for dinner. After a week of work and crazy schedules, one of us decides that someone should cook a decent meal, pour some wine and make us all sit down.

There's something special about being in a room with people whom you know the best in the world and still being able to learn something about them. After talking about work and weather, usually we pick out the good memories to tell and retell.

Recently, Dad shared a story about his childhood that I'm sure I've heard dozens of times before. But it doesn't matter.

I want to exist in this 10-minute vignette of my father that somehow sums up everything he became here on this landscape.

I love the way he tells it, sitting at the end of the table, plate pushed forward, arms folded, coffee brewing for dessert. He looks to the ceiling as if he might catch a glimpse of that little boy, 4 years old with curly black hair riding bareback on a paint pony alongside his father. He throws his head back, squeezes his eyes shut and laughs.

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It's fall or summer, he can't remember, but I imagine the leaves were just starting to turn as the pair trotted out of the barnyard, the little boy on his father's trail moving east toward the reservation where the cattle graze in the summer.

He's not sure why his father took him along for an almost 7-mile one-way cross-country trip. He thinks now that it might have been a little extreme, but ask him then and it was all he wanted to do. Leave him behind? He would have tried to follow.

The pastures out east, even today, are some of the most isolated and untouched places out here. The rolling buttes rise and fall for miles between fences into creek bottoms with black mud and cattails. The oak groves, bordered by thorny bull berry brush and thistle, begin to blend into one another and look the same.

So there he was, a little boy clinging tight to that pony as it jumped over the creek and raced up side hills to keep up. And it was at the top of one of those rocky hills that he was told to stay and wait.

"Don't move," his father said as he made plans to check the tricky creek bottoms for cattle. "I'll come back for you."

So my father waited on his pony, wind flopping his hat and moving fluffy clouds over the buttes.

Dad searches for more recollection in his coffee cup and then rests his chin on his fist. He remembers he didn't move, he just scanned the hills and squinted into the oak trees. And while he was peering into that horizon, holding the reins of his pony, someone did come over that hill. But it wasn't his father. It was a girl with long black hair and legs dangling on each side of her bare-backed horse.

"Can you imagine what she thought?" my father chuckles at the memory of this girl, who he recalls was a teenager, but was probably only about 10 or 11 years old.

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She asked him if he was OK and if he was lost. He told her that he wasn't supposed to leave this spot. That his dad was coming back for him.

So she stayed with that little boy with curly hair on that hilltop, likely joining him in holding her breath and scanning the horizon for any sign of a cowboy hat.

He doesn't remember how long she sat with him. When you're 4 years old, 10 minutes can seem like hours.

But it doesn't matter. She stayed until that little boy had an escort through the valleys and over the creeks, back west to the barnyard and to his mother waiting with canned meat, biscuits and a report of the day's events.

So he told his mother his adventure, and for years to come this would be one of their family's stories shared over and over again at Sunday meals, about a little boy who found a girlfriend out east on the hilltop.

And as my father protested, they would throw back their heads, close their eyes and laugh.

Related Topics: FAMILY
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