It has been the gentlest of days here, a warm breeze pushed out of the southwest, gray clouds portending rain sliced across a mostly-cerulean sky, and wild raspberries and mulberries in my woods were at their peak. Later, after the addition of a pinch of sugar, these berries will garnish vanilla ice cream.
As I picked them I performed one of my strange annual rituals, crushing mulberries in a slash-mark across my cheekbones, like I once did more than 60 years ago. Back then I wanted to look the part of a fierce warrior when my mates and I played “cowboys and Indians.” There is no doubt I looked as pathetic then as I do now. Men and boys can be so stupid.
Anyway, as I was in the hollow all I could think about was an equation that I don’t understand, one that manages to involve mass murder, anger, guns and women. That’s correct, women.
A young man is rejected or ignored by a schoolmate and he cannot abide such a thing, so he takes guns and shoots up his school.
A man is told by the courts to quit harassing a woman and the story ends up in a newspaper, so he takes guns and shoots up the newspaper office.
A few years ago an angry landowner near here felt he wasn’t being treated fairly by a government property assessor so he took a gun to the courthouse to shoot her. That’s right, her. Had the official been male I doubt any of it would have taken place. Fortunately his shots missed and he ended up dead at the scene.
Many years ago I worked in a government office in a city and one of our jobs was to keep track of who owned real estate in the county. For too long a man often came in to my office to protest what he felt was an unconstitutional taking of his property. In addition to coming in to the city to see me he also wrote letters, extraordinary missives with an anger and vitriol that must have been difficult to manage.
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And he had eyes that scared hell out of me. In my desk was a file folder wherein I kept track of all of his correspondence and his visits, and the good folks with whom I worked knew that if I was murdered they should go to that file. Here’s the thing, the guy’s wife had divorced him and the property went to her, thus his name was off the property. In his speaking and in his letters he accused her of all manner of vile things, from they way she treated him to the way she raised their children. He felt bested by a woman. After a few years I was relieved to see his obituary.
So why is it that men still cannot imagine women as equals? And why do so many men believe that all women find them attractive? Where did we go wrong?
Back in the house I read about the successes of a couple of remarkable young women in their late 20s, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Abby Finkenauer of Iowa, each of whom has a very good shot at representing their states in Congress after the November elections. In this day and age it shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it is. And I feel better for it. So should you.
Later on I’ll pull the midsummer mulberries and raspberries from my refrigerator and savor every bite because, despite this screwed up world, it will remind me of the gentlest of days.
• Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book, “The Iowa State Fair,” is available from the University of Iowa Press.