It has been warm here, too warm for the first couple of weeks of September, and I don’t much care for it. Autumn sits uneasily in the distance, on a far hill, probably dreaming of the good old days when we could count on the comings and goings of seasons. Soybean fields are turning a mellow yellow and the ditches and empty spaces are filled with showy goldenrod. Milkweed pods are on the verge of opening, sending their seeds into the wind.
Walnut trees are losing leaves, the first to do so, last to emerge in the spring, as producing their seeds is all consuming. Maple leaves are beginning to turn, deer are turning gray, monarch butterflies are gone until next year, cicadas have quieted and my step continues to slow. It’s the way of things and I try not to let it get me down.
Sunday I drove past a very small country church near here. It’s one of those places that has just the right look, sitting high on a ridge overlooking the countryside, complete with a cemetery. I was pleased to see the parking lot full of cars. Not sure why I was pleased as I haven’t been a church attendee since 1970. Maybe it’s the mad, mad world in which we live. Maybe down deep I believe we need something out there to lead us, something otherworldly, some core belief that will transcend the crap we see from our leaders every day, something that gives us hope.
World events out here are so far distant it sometimes feels like they don’t exist. If you go talk to the old guys and gals who gather at the McDonalds in town every morning my guess is that there is little talk of the daily killings in Yemen, or of whether we believe Iran is responsible for the bombing of Saudi Arabia. It’s OK. As my world gets smaller I don’t talk about these things either.
A couple of days ago I found myself chatting it up with a nurse in my doctor’s office (I’m fine, thanks for asking) and she told me she grew up in a town about 40 miles away, a town I remember from the 1960s, a town with a roller skating rink. On warm days the walls of the rink lifted up to the outside, allowing summer breezes to waft through, cooling off skaters moving counterclockwise, until the last skate was called, when we awkwardly stepped clockwise. It felt like we’d been transported back to 1928, before the crash, before things got serious, before we had to care about anything substantive.
I no longer roller skate but I still ice skate and I’ll go out a few times this coming winter. Usually I am more than half a century older than the other skaters in the fancy rinks. The fact that I’m the only elderly person on the ice should tell me something, but it doesn’t. All these years and I’ve learned nothing.
Getting old does have its advantages. My hearing is, at best, suspect and I often talk too loudly because of it. The once shy, quiet boy now speaks in a way wherein the entire room hears him. It can be a problem. But it also changes the world as it’s presented. Recently I heard a radio advertisement for a place called “Mill Valley Care Center” and I was sure they said “Hillbilly Care Center.” Oh man, sign me up. I’ll tune my guitar, pack my suitcase, and meet you there.
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Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.