It’s back to school time, sort of. Depending upon where you live and who your politicians are it might be stay at home time. Anyway, a week ago I was traveling the big highway to the east and I passed three cars with out-of-county plates, a mini caravan. The third car was driven by a young woman; the second by a middle-aged woman, and the first was driven by a middle-aged man.
I smiled, recognizing that this was a young woman going off to college and she needed three cars to get all of her gear to her dormitory. I envy her adventure. It deserves a Coltrane tune, smooth saxophone riff soaring across the summer sky. Though I do wonder how anyone so young can have so many belongings.
This time of year, a half-century ago I too was off to college for my freshman year. I wasn’t a top-notch student but managed to get in to a nice, harmless school here in Iowa. A high school classmate who owned a car, a military green Ford Fairlane, drove me to school. My nine-year old sister cried when I left, and it was a fine send off.
Anyway, I had a cardboard suitcase filled with all of my worldly belongings: clothing, toiletries, a Webster’s dictionary which had been my Christmas gift from my mom, and that was it. Throw in a ditty bag filled with confidence and nothing else was needed. This was before computers and iPhones, if you can imagine such a time.
At some point in the year my mother gave me the radio she kept on a shelf in her kitchen, a gray plastic job with two dials. It was all I required. I still have it, a weirdly important heirloom that will pass on to no one. It rests silently on a shelf in my basement and seeing it still makes me smile and causes me to think of my beautiful mother, gone some 30 years now.
Life for many out here continues to deteriorate. A couple of Mondays ago a windstorm like no other, called a derecho, brought prolonged 100 mph winds to our state, flattening millions of acres of corn and soybeans, tearing roofs off homes and businesses, wrecking grain bins, toppling thousands of trees, and leaving hundreds of thousands without power. Oddly, the term derecho came from a chemist named Gustavus Hinrichs who coined it in the 1880s while teaching at the University of Iowa.
When the winds hit people fortunate enough to own homes grabbed flashlights and headed for their basements and storm cellars, reenacting scenes right out of the classic black and white Wizard of Oz and, like Dorothy Gale (a perfect name) when they emerged they saw a changed, damaged world. Dorothy entered a world she neither knew nor understood. Cruel forces worked against her every step of the way, the awful Miss Gulch, a fortuneteller who lied to her about her Auntie Em, a wicked witch, a wizard who was a phony and, oh-my-gosh, flying monkeys but, with help along the way, she persevered.
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Out here we have many great obstacles to overcome, unearthly storms, racial strife, poverty, a sinking economy, high unemployment, and politicians not truly caring about those who aren’t getting much help along the way. I’ll take flying monkeys any day.
Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.