Guest Columnist

History is closer than we imagine

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

In Wilkesboro. North Carolina, a small part of the Civil War finally came to an end a week or so ago. Did you read about it? A woman named Irene Triplett, age 90, died, the last person to collect a Civil War Pension. How can that be, you ask?

When she was born in 1930 she was considered a ‘helpless child’ as she had cognitive impairments and her father, then quite elderly and wed to someone obviously decades younger, had fought in the Civil War so she qualified for a monthly pension $73.13 for life. I don’t have much to say about this except that history is never quite so far past as we imagine. Don’t let it pass you by without taking notice.

Over the weekend I drove the two-lane along the ridge to the nearest town, Springsteen and the E-Street boys on the radio. In town a guy said to me, “I wouldn’t have the guts to wear a shirt like that here. But I’m considering buying a Colin Kaepernick jersey.” I just laughed, told him I wouldn’t judge him, but I hoped he’d get the shirt, even if he just wore it at home. I’ve worn my Black Lives Matter shirt many times in the whiteness of nearby towns and, despite all the stereotypes of we hillbillies, have received nothing but compliments.

A quick stop at a grocery story for charcoal was uneventful, however I did note that very few older white guys wear face masks. An attempt to explain such folks is beyond my ability. Politics is unexplainably tucked in there somewhere. Strange world this.

Down in the hollow a couple of days ago I was cutting a tree with a bow saw when I heard a quiet bleating, almost a mewing nearby. Spindling toward me through the tall grass was a newborn fawn, likely curious, unsteady, probably the first human she’d seen, clearly unafraid, which is not a good thing. When she arrived within a few feet I spoke to her, suggesting she go find her mother. At that point the mewing stopped and she hunkered down in the grass, invisible. That’s my girl. I may not have the Rocky Mountains or the Atlantic Ocean for inspiration but I’ve got baby deer and it’s more than enough.

Up by the road ash trees I planted almost a quarter-century ago stand tall and resolute, bending just enough in the afternoon breeze. Walnut trees in the hollow have finally leafed out, first to drop in the fall and last to appear in late spring. Years ago my father stopped out here in May and pronounced the big walnut tree behind the house dead. I couldn’t convince him otherwise. I learned early on that he perceived himself to always be the smartest guy in any room, so we dropped it. A difficult man; married an angel.

On a recent hot day I was once again sitting with my old friend with Alzheimer’s, a woman who once had an exquisite, extensive vocabulary, in English and French. We were under the aforementioned walnut tree. Anyway, these days she chooses her words very carefully and only after thinking for a moment. On this particular day I mentioned that her skin was looking opaque, paper-thin. Laughing, I asked, “What’s that all about?” Not looking at me, staring in to the middle distance, she thought for a moment, and offered a perfect, comprehensive, brilliant response. From the depths of a place I cannot follow she said, “Old.” Nailed it.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

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

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.