Guest Columnist

Summer rolls in with a cloud of dust

Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County.
Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County.

The last time I had a haircut was February and these days I look more than a little ragged; think Stephen Stills circa 1980. It also has been many days since I last shaved. I mean, really, why bother? It just doesn’t matter any longer and besides, it’s been more than a decade since I left the world of suits and ties, and I’m never going back. You couldn’t pay me enough to do it. I’m well suited to the role of spooky-old-man-wearing-tee-shirts-living-out-in-a-place-where-there-is-no-cellular-telephone-coverage.

The beginning of summer has been glorious; baby fawns, baby chipmunks and baby birds everywhere. Today, driving up my gravel road, listening to Sinatra, I had to slow down so that a bunch of tiny ground squirrels could head for cover. I love gravel roads, knowing that dust will rise up behind me, swirl around a bit, and settle on the weeds and meth labs in the ditches as I pass. Not exactly a legacy but I’ll take it.

Speaking of looking ragged, if you’re a fan of junkyards you may want to consider moving out near me where junkyards are everywhere. If there is a junkyard heaven this may be it. Give it some serious thought. Do you enjoy looking out your windows and seeing junk cars, rusted farm implements, old tires, rusted barbed wire, and old tractor parts? Zoning? You ask about zoning? Clearly you don’t live in rural America. There is no zoning for ‘farmers’ so come on out, buy a few acres, fill those acres with glorious junk, allow your horses and cows to wander among the growing rust, and sit back and enjoy.

Allow me to change the subject and tell you a bit about my family. A long time ago I had a grandfather I adored. He came to America in 1913 at the age of 23 from a small town south of Munich near Germany’s border with Austria. I don’t know why he left Germany. Being stupid, and self-involved I never asked. When his daughter, my mother, died some 30 years ago I inherited the family ‘papers,’ including court documents that showed he abused my grandmother, physically and mentally, and then had her committed to an insane asylum, where she lived the final 17 years of her life. In those days men had all of the power. A signature on the right legal form and voila, a troubled wife is gone.

And then a few years back my aunt and uncle told me a story about my grandfather that finally ended my infatuation with a man people said I resembled. My grandfather, aunt, and uncle lived in suburban Chicago and the three of them drove in to city on occasion and sometimes my obviously disgusted grandfather could be heard angrily muttering from the back seat, “Schwartze, Schwartze.” Blacks, blacks. He didn’t even like ‘seeing’ African-Americans, let alone knowing they lived in Chicago. You see, my grandfather was a racist and had he stayed in Germany I’ve no doubt he would have been a willing Nazi. That’s a bit of my family history and yours may not be much different; fortunately we can still do something about it. We can stand up, fight for justice, tell our stories, raise our voices, and never let the other guy’s band play us off.

OK, I’ll shut up now; my cats Pippa and Portia are yawning. It’s time for bed. Be well.

Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press

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