There’s a print of a painting hanging in a frame beside my bed that reminds me of my Grandpa Bill.
It’s a framed card actually, a watercolor of a rugged landscape, dark blue buttes forming a horizon against a gray and white sky. And below the buttes, in the foreground, the brush stroked green and beige, and then the artist, seemingly with the blunt end of his brush, came back to add a scattering of black dots.
I took the print off the wall tonight to take a closer look as I was crawling into bed, and the back of the frame came off to reveal the reverse side of that card and my grandpa’s handwriting.
“This scene looks much like the blue mountains from the hills above your place. Happy Birthday.”
And he was right. If you sit on the top of a hill on our ranch, you will likely see the live version of this scene — a moody sky casting sporadic golden light in the pastures where our cattle graze. And off in distance, as far as you can see, those buttes that cradle our neighbors 10 miles to the north shine blue on us and frame every scene of our lives out here.
My dad tells a story of when he was a little kid in elementary school. He was coloring a picture of Roy Rogers riding through the mountains on his horse, Trigger.
“Why are you coloring the mountains blue, Gene?” his teacher scolded. “Mountains aren’t blue.”
I always thought that was one of my dad’s sadder stories... But I don’t think Grandpa Bill had this sort of teacher in his life. And if he did, he didn’t pay her any mind.
And I like this little card with black dot cows because I like to imagine it’s the way my Grandpa Bill sees the world, like a painting waiting to be made and admired. And I’m so glad to know that about him.
When I was 11 or so, my dad’s mother, Gramma Edie, died on the ranch, leaving the little brown house in the farmyard down the road empty and lonesome. So in the fall and winter, my mom’s parents, during their early years of retirement, would move out here to breathe life into the place.
Grandpa traded his Minnesota dock shoes for boots and immersed himself in ranch life. He fixed fences, he rode along to move cattle, he updated that old farmhouse, hung his chaps and hat like a work of art on the entryway and took beautiful photographs, even trying his hand at painting the simple, old, everyday scenes of this place I might not have thought to find extraordinary if it wasn’t for him.
Eventually, my grandparents made the decision to settle into summers in Minnesota and winters in the Arizona sun. In fact, Grandpa Bill is likely reading this to Gramma as they have a cup of coffee and a doughnut hole on their deck.
And he’s probably noticing how the morning light creates a soft glow around his wife’s silver hair and thinking that it would make a lovely photograph or painting.
And every time I take the turn off the highway to head north, toward home, toward those blue buttes, I slow down a bit as I come up over the hill overlooking the gold pastures dotted with cattle and, because of Grandpa, I think the same thing.
Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.