116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
I have lived in rural Iowa for decades and I am still unused to the silence, which perhaps explains why my vacations are always in big cities. I enjoy the anonymity and the chaos and I can’t control any of it. There is comfort in that, then I’m back home walking from the garage to the house and the only sound is a single Canada goose winging overhead, honking and chatting and, since she is alone, I stop because it occurs to me she must be talking to me. I don’t speak “goose” but that’s OK, as I don’t speak French either, but I can enjoy the beauty of the sounds of both languages.
Later the wind howled through the trees, around the corners of my house, a cold sound telling me Pippa and Luna would appreciate a fire in the stove, so I oblige them. These are my companions. We don’t talk all that much but I cherish their company. In the past few weeks I’ve received mail addressed to me and to Luna. I’ve not told her as I’m sure it would go to her head.
When the availability of booster No. 2 was announced I drove some 40 miles to my pharmacy, listening to Springsteen the whole time. When I arrived I sat on a black plastic chair, next to a woman already seated on her own black plastic chair. We sat next to each other quietly in the way one does on a subway or bus. The problem is that I can only do that for so long before feeling compelled to talk. I expect that might be annoying to some, but I plow ahead anyway. “Your second booster shot?” I asked. “Yes, I have to wait 15 minutes before I can leave.”
She was younger than I, but not by much. “It’s important for me to get the booster. I work in a nursing home,” she offered. “God bless you for doing what you do,” I said, before telling her that I’d been a caregiver for a few years and never knew how difficult it could be. We pay athletes a gazillion dollars a year and we pay our caregivers almost nothing. She said, and I’m not making this up, “I’ve been at the home a long time and I don’t make much but I make enough to get by. That’s all I need.” She was clearly comfortable in her own skin, contented.
“My wife had Alzheimer’s and I was blessed to be able to take care of her until the end, in her own home,” I told her. “And I wouldn’t trade those days for anything.”
“Our nursing home has Alzheimer’s patients on occasion and sometimes they get a little agitated,” she continued. “They worry about their parents, who are mostly long gone, and about what will happen to them. I often say to them, ‘One day we’re all going to meet in heaven and we’ll take our mothers to lunch. That seems to help.’”
I liked the notion of that and could almost visualize such a gathering and told her so. Then a nurse came out to return the woman’s vaccination card and to let her know 15 minutes was up and she was good to go. The woman got up and, as she did, she touched my left knee ever so lightly, offered a huge smile and said, “I’ll see you in heaven.” Then she was gone.
Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.