Guest Columnist

Up on the mountain, reindeer medallions

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

Vegans, you may stop reading now because I have a Christmas admission to make: I have eaten reindeer, more specifically, reindeer medallions with a side of lingonberries. It was years ago at a restaurant on a mountaintop near Oslo, Norway, called “Frognerseteren,” a place I highly recommend, not for its reindeer medallions but for its location on a gorgeous snowy mountaintop. Anyway, while I felt quite guilty eating reindeer I have to tell you it was delicious. With that one meal my world opened just a little. I’m originally from Illinois but have spent most of my life here in Iowa, grand home of eating other creatures, specifically cattle, hogs, chickens, and turkeys, consequently eating reindeer wasn’t a stretch.

This can be such a lovely time of year, a time when we elderly hear songs from our unspent youth and believe me, it’s not that my childhood Christmases were so great but the music was terrific. I, perhaps wrongly, feel I grew up during the golden age of Christmas music: Perry Como, Nat King Cole, Brenda Lee, Karen Carpenter, Bing Crosby, Mel Torme, and Iowan Andy Williams. In fact, if some major network decides to rerun the Andy Williams Christmas specials I’ll be there, front row, stupid sweater, big smile, half in love with Williams’ French wife Claudine Longet, unquestionably clueless, happy.

And speaking of my youth, on my birthday a few days back I received an email from a high school classmate and attached was a PDF in which members of the class submitted short biographies about their lives since high school. This was done for the class reunion we didn’t have this past summer.

The first time I read through it I was totally cynical. I wasn’t really interested in the gaslighting, you know, how everyone’s children and grandchildren are terrific and awesome. And what is it about us that we want everyone to believe we’re brilliant and successful?

Then I read through the document again, noting that the real successes in my class just might be those who have come out on the other side of a difficult life, those who managed to survive Vietnam, those who spend their days in wheelchairs, those who have lost loved ones. Including children. And my heart aches for classmates who have passed on. How dare they? How dare they leave us in a world without them, a world that would welcome their return.

It has been quiet out here lately, for me and the creatures with whom I share the woods. The wildest thing I’ve seen out in a while is my little hyperactive kitten climbing the screens to catch and devour flies. At least she’s smart enough to chew them before swallowing. My beautiful little fly eater enjoys trashing stuff, thus there will be no Christmas tree in my dining room this year.

So the calendar pages continue to flip and this old man does his best to make sense of it all. It’s not something I’m good at, so I leave most of the thinking to poets and philosophers, especially in December, when happiness and sadness walk hand in hand toward January. May your holidays be brilliant.

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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.

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