Guest Columnist

Driving life's highway, with a storm ahead

Roadside memorial. (Kurt Ullrich photo)
Roadside memorial. (Kurt Ullrich photo)
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Wheeling north on a four-lane, big rigs pass me, barreling toward god-knows-where, a windblown wobble each time one of them whooshes by, sucking my car toward them, but it’s OK because the beautiful Sarah Vaughan is on the radio, singing “All that I want is a chance to be glad,” lyrics from a 90 year-old Irving Berlin song called “If I Had You.” It’s something we all want.

I’m on my way to help work through all of the detailed stuff that accompanies moving a relative to an assisted living facility and oh my gosh this seems to be what America is all about these days, figuring out what to do with folks who are unable to figure it out on their own and, to our great shame, how to make money off the whole thing.

Here in Iowa the folks who pass the laws figured out, with the help of lobbyists, how to distribute hundreds of millions more Medicaid money to privately owned nursing homes. That sounds good, until it becomes clear that the nursing homes most likely to receive the extra funds are not the ones needing more money. How do these people sleep at night?

Thus far the federal government is stopping the state’s action on this. Reportedly many of the homes are owned by out-of-state corporations, corporations in Iowa to make money off grandpa’s stay in one of their homes.

The drive from my home is a couple of easy hours. All along the way cows graze in the far fields, their vision not picking up on fast-moving traffic the way it does when slower bicyclists and runners are in view. If cows knew their own future they’d surely trample fences and trot off, but they don’t know their future, any more than you and I do and it’s a little sad. Certainly the lovely man we’re moving in to assisted living didn’t know his future, and it’s likely just as well

Finally off the four-lane onto a slower, more sensible two-lane and within a couple of miles I encounter a large Christian cross at the top of a ditch, an otherworldly ribbon of fabric shawling in a strong spring breeze over the outstretched arms of the cross. It’s a memorial, a place where five children were killed in a horrific auto crash some years back, and jeez, somewhere parents and relatives must find it hard to live, difficult to have joy. I don’t really know. I’ve got my own issues.

So we run as quickly as we can before the storm, because we know damned well it’s coming, and it’s coming hard and fast, faster than any of us can fathom. In the meantime the good folks at the assisted living facility are perfectly lovely and it feels right, so we sign stuff.

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Back home I use a hand-grinder to sharpen the blades on my cutter, and I think about whether or not I’ll be put in a home by some well-meaning relative. Hard to know. In the meantime sparks from the grinder arc gracefully into the late spring air, turning cold before hitting the ground.

• 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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