Guest Columnist

Changing seasons, old sweaters and lost time

A couple holds hands while participating in a 2016 ugly sweater contest. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
A couple holds hands while participating in a 2016 ugly sweater contest. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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We’re well into the muck and melt of March, a difficult time of year for those of us who enjoy the outdoors, i.e. those of us not required to toil outdoors for a living. Seed catalogs have begun showing up in my mailbox, and I expect they will arrive for years to come because a long time ago I ordered a bushel basket full of daffodil bulbs, planting them in clusters on the edges of my woods so that decades after I’m gone someone will see them and wonder how in the world such beauty happened to be growing in this out-of-the-way place.

A near-constant wind prowls the hollow as I write this, a whooshing presence delivering notice that seasons are changing. A lone deer bounds across a field in front of my house and I long to throw on a warm sweater and run with her; and I have just the right sweater, a beautiful Icelandic wool number I picked up in Reykjavik 35 years ago. Hand-knit. Warm. Soft, almost water proof.

A UPS truck lumbered down the lane last week, bringing my latest gift to myself, a new ax, a fresh blade I’ll put to use in the never-been-plowed places. Watching the big brown truck I hummed the “Wells Fargo Wagon” song from Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man.” It’s such a sweet tune, tainted now by invoking the name of one of the most reprehensible financial institutions to ever do business in America. Welcome to a new world, my friends, where money-changers design their own temples.

When February turned to March I tore a page from a calendar that hangs from a magnet on my refrigerator. It’s one of those calendars wherein the daily squares are large enough to make notes; cat Portia’s veterinary appointment, my own dentist visit, an oil change for the old truck, all the mundane events that make up a life. Some months I want to fold the old page and keep it in a pocket for a while, just to remember, maybe stop time for a bit.

In 1938 Thornton Wilder warned us against such thinking, as anyone familiar with Act III of “Our Town” can tell you. But we persevere, hanging on to old things, photos, dad’s wartime letters home, mom’s high school diploma, like it all means something. I hope it does; I truly do. We oldsters work so hard to hang on to what ultimately is ephemeral, our fingertips clutching the edges of a past we may or may not remember accurately, or fondly.

Speaking of sweaters and lost time: Decades ago I had a favorite tan/beige sweater, one I wore often. I was wearing it one cold February night while watching national media coverage of the Iowa caucuses and I said something like, ‘Wow, the whole world is watching us here in Iowa.’ A pretty, blonde woman next to me said, ‘If that’s true you may want to ditch that sweater.’ She was right.

• Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.

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