116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Driving north on the wide, hissing highway east of here I noted what looked to be a beautiful, snow-covered mountain range to the east. I had to look twice. It was a sky-blue day, with the exception of the "mountains," I've been on trains approaching the Alps in Austria and this is what it looked and felt like, except that in this case it was low clouds on the horizon. I'm no climatologist however it appeared the clouds were picking up moisture from the big river that runs south to New Orleans. It would have been perfect if the "Allegretto" movement from Beethoven's "7th Symphony" was murmuring in the background while a cluster of cumulus clouds made itself known to me.
Instead, my car speakers were blasting out a group called Pentatonix doing what they do, singing a cappella. They were singing a song that was new to me and it was absolutely stunning. Later when I looked it up, I was reminded of how far out the mainstream I am when it comes to popular culture. The song was "Let It Go" from the movie "Frozen," a tune virtually everyone in the world, except me, knows well.
Years ago, when trivia contests were all the rage, my wife and I were often asked to join trivia teams. I suppose they assumed we were relatively smart. After a short time, the invitations stopped coming, because most of the questions were about an area of expertise about which we knew virtually nothing: popular culture. Early on someone asked, "Do you guys even own a television?" There is no real point to all of this, but know that if you and I are talking and you make a reference to "Seinfeld," "The Big Bang Theory," "Pulp Fiction," or "Star Wars" I won't understand.
Other things: A message on my drug containers is the same on every single one; "Take one tablet by mouth every day." So exactly where do the pharmaceutical people think I might accidentally put it? Just asking.
As usual, Luna has availed herself of my lap as I type. A cold wind is blowing from the north, rustling tall grass in front of my place, and my friend Jameson has once again been welcomed into my home. A murder of about 100 crows has been hanging out in the tall grass for about a week now, taking turns dropping to a spot, feeding off of something. I hesitate to check it out. The older I get the more I don't wish to witness dead creatures.
Jameson places me at my Swedish grandmother's home in suburban Chicago a long time ago, a place to which my family traveled every year at Christmas. Invariably her kitchen table was strewn with open liquor bottles, mostly whiskey. My whiskey journey began just a few years back and now, every time I open a bottle, I'm a child again, walking with my brothers and cousins through a haze of cigarette smoke and 80-proof conviviality.
I'm not quite sure what Christmas means to me these days. I mostly keep the memories in a near-at-hand drawer, opening it when I need to. As many of you know, my best friend died on Christmas Eve a couple of years ago and it's been difficult. Last year a beautiful couple, one of whom was one of my wife's high school classmates, invited me to join them, along with their children and grandchildren, for a laugh-filled, let's-not-talk-politics Christmas Eve, and it was just right. The years continue to run, leaving spirits in our homes, and I welcome them.
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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