Oftentimes I forget; I forget what it was like to not have any money. I went through some years with no money but it was a long time ago, when I was young and able to hustle enough to get by. I was reminded of those days when pulling up to an ATM at my bank to withdraw some cash. The person who used the machine ahead of me left the receipt hanging out of the machine so I looked at it, and after withdrawing $60.00 from the account there was all of $1.61 remaining. My heart ached.
At almost 23 I was finally able to afford a car, sort of. It was 14 years old and had a blown engine, so my dad and I pulled the engine and dropped in another one. I still have the “Ernie Banks Louisville Slugger” bat we used for leverage getting the new engine in to place. The bat is very beat-up and, as such, priceless.
Before auto ownership I did something most have never done, hitchhiked. It was a different time then: believe me. I learned more out on the road than I ever learned in a classroom, which is, of course, a comment on my inability to pay attention or focus in class. Most of the good folks who picked me up just wanted someone to talk to, or someone who could take over driving while they napped a bit. Climbing in to the passenger seats of others you quickly learn to navigate the conversations of all manner of people, whether or not you agree with what they are saying. There are politicians who would have benefited from such an education.
Out here a murder of crows has been hanging around a ditch up by my mailbox. Love the phrase, murder of crows. Anyway, the murder is working on a carcass of some sort. Reportedly the smartest birds on earth, crows can mimic the voices of other animals and here’s the part that appeals to me: they use the same nest every year regularly maintaining them just like those of us in old houses. In addition, crows decorate their nests with small, bright, shiny objects. HGTV is missing a great home show here.
For decades I’ve watched red-tailed hawks holding forth in the woods behind my house and this year for the first time I’ve seen Cooper’s hawks, black and gray beauties helping to keep the mouse population down. In school I disliked science in general and biology in particular but wild critters have given me a view of life never imagined in a room where I dreaded the Bunsen burners and Petri dishes in the back.
We’re shuffling into the muck and melt of March, barely lifting our feet. On some days a cool breeze drifts across the land out here, letting me know in no uncertain terms that winter still is here and that spring may not come at all.
A visit to an ATM brought so much back to me and even today I will pick up the rare hitchhiker. And it causes me to think of a time almost 50 years ago when I spent much of my youth relying on others, a time when every once in a while a young woman with summer in her hair, driving a nice car purchased for her by her father, pulled up next to me on the side of the road, lowered her window, smiled, and said, “Hop in.”
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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.