RURAL AMERICA — So, I’m sitting at a table for four in a lovely Italian restaurant, a place owned by a guy originally from Ireland and, being a grandson of immigrants I’m all about mixing it up, lending my accent to yours and yours to mine.
On a wall over my shoulder hangs a 2-foot by 3-foot photo of a dapper Frank Sinatra and spectacularly beautiful Lauren Bacall. You may know the photo, Hollywood, circa 1957. Bacall waves a cigarette holder, blouse open to the navel in a classy, not sexual, way. No necklace, just a perfect neck missing all of the crepe-ness the rest of us enjoy, and I’m pretty sure she has noticed my own sartorial Midwestern diffidence, a black T-shirt advertising a nearby tattoo parlor.
Out on the sidewalk a street person walks by with an adorable dog and one has to believe, despite our good efforts, that this is a season wherein unhappiness and want roam the poor places. And, please, spare me the nightly stories on the local news about generous children deciding to help others with the money he/she received for the holidays. A true gift breathes quite easily without media coverage.
OK, that was a little snarky. Sorry. My anxiety level in the Age of Trump is palpable. Perhaps it’s my age; and maybe others are as anxious as I, never quite knowing what their elected officials are thinking, not trusting any of them, convinced that a new tax bill will help neither them nor the guy on the street whose little dog still haunts me like a Dickensian specter.
A long, long time ago I watched out my office window as a familiar street person made his daily rounds, checking all of the downtown cigarette trays, the ones wherein folks shoved cigarettes into two inches of sand before entering a building. About my age. Never did know his name but I began buying occasional packs of cigarettes for him. “God bless you man” was all I ever heard from him, but that was enough.
It wasn’t about him getting clean, living a healthy lifestyle, or getting a job. It was about a joy I too once relished, the joy of lighting up, inhaling deeply, and believing that a decent tomorrow was inevitable, despite evidence to the contrary, a tomorrow where one can offer a whole cigarette to a fellow passenger and, oh my gosh, it doesn’t really get any better than that.
If 2018 is anything like 2017, old white men will continue to rule the country — judicially, legislatively, and in the White House — and I don’t quite know what to do about it. Perhaps nothing. I’ll continue to send cryptic notes to my elected representatives, mostly because I love receiving condescending, semiliterate responses from the poor minion-staffers charged with answering the mail of constituent nut jobs like me.
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In the meantime the advent of a new year means it’s time to prepare for changes, all sorts of them. A few days ago I exchanged the cutter on my tractor for a snow blade, and put snow tires on my car. While these things don’t really prepare me for what’s to come, I feel better about it.
Eagles and red-tailed hawks are keeping their eyes on my woods and hollow, ever vigilant for tiny creatures skittering across the snow. For the past couple of winters a gorgeous red fox has been raising kits across the road, but I haven’t seen any of them for quite some time. Wherever they are I hope their new year is a good one, and that yours is as well.
• Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County