116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
This year I will turn 70, and during the past couple of weeks I’ve been hanging out with men 20 and 30 years older than I and, oh my gosh, I have been in heaven. That’s correct, I said 30 years, as one of my friends is 100 years old, bearing down on 101.
Sitting down with old men is not a guarantee of interesting conversations, until you put them together, and I did that. If you’re looking for time travelers, look to the elderly. Put two of them together, throw in a few questions, then sit back and keep quiet. Your world will explode.
I am an ordinary, boring, vanilla human being, but my older friends? Not so much. One is a pharmacist who has been a driving force in my state for more than half a century, as a legislator and one who doesn’t suffer fools at all, let alone gladly.
Another is a former attorney who served his country as a U.S. Attorney, appointed by Lyndon B. Johnson. And that’s in addition to having fought in France in World War II and becoming a prisoner of war. A French Legion Honour Medal, first established by Napoleon Bonaparte, rests comfortably on his chest.
My third friend was drafted while still in high school by the Chicago White Sox. A pitcher with an unhittable curve ball and a wicked knuckleball, he decided that he’d rather spend his life with his sweetheart back home than traveling the country as a ballplayer. These are great men.
We talk and talk, knowing that perhaps this is, in the end, what it’s all about, generational questions among folks who are not us, folks who can go back ninety years or more recalling true love, love of their parents, love of their spouses, and love of their friends, most long gone, ghosts of history.
Out here life continues apace. Crop dusters can be seen in the area, small single-seat planes spraying toxic pesticides on fields. I don’t know enough science to know if crop dusting is a good idea, but I’m impressed by the pilots who engage in the profession, crazy people who have to avoid trees, electric lines, etc. then swoop over a field a dozen feet above the ground.
Purple bee balm plants have taken over my woods, sweet smells touching the nostrils of anyone moving past, which I do often. Most recently it was while I was mowing the field in front of my house. The delicious odor of bee balm was intoxicating. As I piloted my tractor with a rear cutter across the grassy field I sang songs by a talented but mostly forgotten group called “The Association.”
I only stopped singing when a dark shadow rode silently across the ground in front of me. A single turkey vulture circled overhead, which always makes me nervous, as I don’t like to think I’m near death. I’m pretty sure it was the same vulture who, a week ago, sat on a fence post watching me drive slowly past on the graveled road by my house. She looked at me and I looked at her, not in understanding but in mutual respect. You leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone.
The singing continued and I sang “Cherish,” “Windy,” “Along Comes Mary,” and, my favorite, “Never My Love.” It’s a wonderful song and I realized I was singing about my deceased wife, my sweet readers, and my old friends. “You ask me if there’ll come a time when I grow tired of you. Never, my love. Never, my love.”
Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.