Staff Columnist

Exult, be joyful, even as years pass and grass grows

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

It’s one of the hottest days in America since August of 1936, or some such depressive nonsense, but I’d rather not know these things because I’m out in the yard pushing my lawn mower, pretty sure I’m dying. Idiot, you’re thinking. Nobody should still be pushing a mower, let alone a guy who can see 70 from here.

I’ve been pushing lawn mowers for well over half a century, originally earning $1.50 per lawn. In winter I’d shovel snow from two-car driveways for $2.00. It was a different world. Expectations were high. My expectations were low, and I still fell short. One shouldn’t dwell on such things, so let us move on.

Occasionally, when necessary, I’ll drive to the nearest town wherein I will undoubtedly see men perched on riding lawn mowers. I used to be judgmental about those guys, smug in my assessments but these days I am envious of the riding crowd and I can easily see a riding mower in my not-too-distant future.

On this hot day pushing a mower my earplugs are in place and, as always, I am singing in full voice, belting out a song of which I only know the first two words, “Exsultate Jubilate” (exult, be joyful) written by my man Mozart some 285 years ago. Don’t know it? Google it, take a listen, as it is one of the great happy tunes. It’s in Latin, but don’t let that deter you and, if you’re looking for a recommendation, a version recorded by soprano Sylvia McNair is to die for.

I prefer Springsteen or Sly Stone but Mozart has much to offer. You like sad songs? Try Schubert’s “Der Liermann,” perhaps the saddest tune ever written. Again I’ll make a recommendation: listen to the version with Alfred Brendel on piano and Dietrich Fischer Dieskau doing the singing. My heart aches just thinking about it.

Exult, be joyful. It’s difficult these days. Wildfires are eating up large chunks of California and, while I wouldn’t normally care much about the plight of the beautiful people on the west coast, this one’s serious. Indonesia is trying to recover from earthquakes that have destroyed towns and killed dozens, flooding is occurring where such things aren’t supposed to happen, Chicagoans continue to shoot each other at an alarming rate, and the leader of our country has managed in a short time to insult virtually every other country on earth, including his own.

‘Don’t worry, be happy’ works for a few moments but then you see some jerk at a Starbucks cutting in line and you find yourself hoping his car catches fire out in the parking lot.

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Anyway, the mowing isn’t complete. Takes me a couple of hours these days, with numerous breaks for water. I don’t desire to be old. It just happened, and I try to exult, and be joyful. But it’s difficult.

Sitting in a plastic chair in front of my garage during one of my mowing breaks, I listen to John Lennon’s voice coming through the vintage JBL Monitors I put out in the garage every summer, and his voice soothes me with lyrics about brotherhood and living in peace, but then I laugh, because he knew, as well as anyone, that such things are only imaginary. Exult, be joyful. Indeed.

• 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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