Veeder: What they left behind – InForum

WATFORD CITY, ND — It’s a gloomy day, rain is falling, the sky is gray and the trees are bare of black branches. It’s Halloween season and suddenly I think of the old house that used to stand in a grove of trees behind the yard where I grew up.

It’s not uncommon here for a family to buy land from neighbors or inherit an old family homestead, so there aren’t many farms in this area that don’t come with an old structure on the property that provides plenty of ghost story material for the ranch kids to relate to Good night story.

So was the old house, tucked away on the other side of the barbed wire fence, on the side of a hill, surrounded by oak trees and what was left of Mrs B’s famous garden. Her hearty lilac bushes, apple orchard, wild asparagus and rhubarb are still thriving in the clearing she made in these trees all those mysterious years ago, before the family got up and left, leaving this garden uncultivated, the root cellar full and a house seemingly frozen in time.

What They Left Behind 1.jpg

Coming Home columnist Jessie Veeder shares memories and family stories about an old homestead that used to be on her family’s property near Watford City, North Dakota.

Contributed / Jessie Veeder

“What happened to you?” I would ponder one of our favorite subjects with my cousins ​​while our eyes grew heavy, hiding in bunk beds and sleeping bags strewn on the floor, growing up together, trying to figure out together what the passing of time really means and how a story could so undone stay.

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Grandma took some old clothes, old black smocks with mother-of-pearl buttons and lace collars, from the small bedroom closet in the old house. We pulled them over our heads to perform mock wedding ceremonies or attend fancy parties like the ones we saw on our moms’ soap operas, the fabric smelled of mothballs, dust and old forgotten things.

But no matter what character you were that day, you couldn’t help but think about who the real woman in those clothes once was. And who would leave her behind?

As is often the case with children, our curiosity outweighed our fear and we set out to collect samples of the life of this family that still existed between these walls.

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The abandoned homestead on Jessie Veeder’s family property near Watford City had a fully stocked root cellar.

Contributed / Jessie Veeder

And while I remember kitchen utensils neatly hung on hooks, canned beets and potatoes lined up on shelves, the table and chairs sat in the sunlight outside the window, waiting for a neighbor to drop by for a coffee, I also remember bedrooms , littered with old newspapers and magazines, the dates of the last years of occupancy, the fashions of the season, tales of drought and cattle prices, spread out between diary entries and old letters, a glimpse of a world that existed long before we were children at the Tennis shoes with neon laces dug through the rubble.

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And then I remember the dentures. Or maybe I’m just remembering the story my oldest cousin told about the dentures. It doesn’t matter now who was actually in it, it’s evolved to belong to everyone. A stroll through the old house, the creaking of a cupboard door and the discovery of a jug full of teeth that no one had noticed before.

“The place is haunted.” That was the consensus, especially when, on the next visit, the uninvited houseguests were greeted by a flurry of bats (or rather, a bat or two) at the door. Yes, the spirits of this mysterious couple have returned to the site. How else could you explain the blooming asparagus plants? The teeth?!

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Contributed / Jessie Veeder

And that was our story of the old house, an oddly fantastical pillar of our childhood adventures and a structure that eventually had to be burned down due to its crumbling floor beams and generally unsafe environment.

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I stood in my snowsuit and hat and watched the flames engulf the graying wood and shoot over the tops of the black oaks, and wondered how it could have happened; a life turned to old forgotten things, turned to ashes, turned to stories.

Maybe this is the scariest story of all.

But every fall the apples ripen in the old woman’s orchard, every spring her lilacs bloom, and every year their names cross our lips for what they left behind, and I wonder if we were right about the haunting thing after all .


Module photo by Jessie Veeder

Greetings from the ranch in western North Dakota and thanks for reading. If you are interested in more stories and reflections on life in the country, its characters, heartbreaks, triumphs, absurdities and what it means to live, love and be a parent in the middle of nowhere, see more of my Coming Homes below -Columns on. As always, I look forward to hearing from you! Contact us at jes[email protected]

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