Guest Columnist

Summer sweat and a postponed reunion

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

Summer has arrived and I’m already sweating profusely. I am an old man and I am what cops call a heavy secretor, meaning I leave fingerprints on every thing I touch. The air conditioner kicks in and, man, there no better smell than ‘dead mouse’ wafting through the vents. I should have opened the furnace in the basement to check it before turning on the blower. I don’t blame the mouse of course; during the winter she looked for warmth and the furnace casing provided it.

Fifty years ago this month I graduated high school and I just received word that our reunion in September has been postponed for a year. I am lucky to be a graduate. In those days one had to pass a speech class to graduate. I was so shy I couldn’t begin to stand up in front of classmates and give a speech and compounding the problem was a bullying speech teacher who could have cared less about students not involved in speech and drama. I escaped with a ‘D,’ and a bad taste in my mouth. The bullies I witnessed were rarely fellow students but instead were teachers and coaches. I’d be happy to name names. As I’ve said in the past, years of therapy won’t help me.

It’s just before dark here and my black cat Pippa is sitting in the front window, watching the rain. Hers is a calming presence and I really appreciate her company. She is the coolest cat I’ve encountered, only showing anxiety when I vacuum, thus I seldom vacuum. It’s the least I can do for her.

My anxiety about COVID-19 remains intact and is, in fact, getting worse. We endure a president who thinks the danger has passed and in some of our states governors no longer announce the daily number of dead from the virus. Only good news will cross their lips and the numbers keep mounting and every day more people die, more than 100,000 now, corpse upon corpse, and I worry that we are merely throwing shadows at the disease.

Speaking of the dead, I have been battling legions of black ants in my kitchen so I purchased a vial of sticky liquid that attracts and kills them. I feel a little bad about it but there you are. And because the days are long I have been watching the progress. At first I wasn’t sure what I was seeing but then it became clear: ants don’t leave their dead on the battlefield; they carry the corpses away. Surely there is a lesson in their somewhere but I’ll leave it to the poets to figure out. I’m too tired.

My coyote friends are back, yipping and keening at dusk down in the hollow. Wild turkeys continue to strut up and down my lane. Two mourning doves are working their way across the drive, pecking at seeds blown to the pavement during a rain, and the deer are everywhere, though they seem smaller this year.

A few days back I was with my old friend with Alzheimer’s and she was walking ahead of me down a hallway to an outside door. Like anyone in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s her balance is iffy. Her muscles are strong but her brain sends mangled signals. Anyway, as she walked toward the door she suddenly fell backward toward me.

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I was able to catch her under her arms as she fell; it wasn’t Fred and Ginger but it was pretty darned good. As she fell, one foot went up in the air, like it had been choreographed and, as I straightened her up, she looked straight ahead, said nothing, and then smiled the same sweet smile I first saw in an old high school gymnasium more than fifty years ago. Be safe.

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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