10132019-ullrich

Kurt Ullrich

RURAL AMERICA — Late into the night, I can hear the sounds of big machinery, combines picking corn that continues to stand tall in the fields around here.

As this agricultural task is accomplished, more and more red-tailed hawks have taken to fence posts and highway signs, watching for mice, voles, and other small creatures as they scramble across now open fields.

I’ve noted a few dead hawks by the road, a testament to one’s blindness when hungry. There’s a lesson in there somewhere but I’ll leave it to poets and philosophers to unpack.

Eagles have returned from wherever it is they hang out during the warm months, St. Tropez I hope. They sit high in the trees, miles from a major waterway where the living is easy: Instead, they feed on dead creatures. When a deer dies in my hollow, usually due to a poor shot by a hunter (oh, don’t get me started), eagles show up en masse, and it’s a glorious sight.

During daylight hours, I can hear gunshots in the distance and, after more than 20 years out here, I still find the sounds disconcerting. My father served in World War II, after which he never wanted to see a rifle again. I didn’t push him for details. And now he’s long gone.

On the day ahead of Thanksgiving, I was in the Express Lane at a large grocery store in a town about 35 miles north of my place and there was one person in line ahead of me, an old guy, about my age. A friendly young checkout person smiled at him as she was passing his products over a scanner and she asked, “You have big Thanksgiving plans?” “No.” Then, “Traveling out of town?” “No.” “Oh, people coming to your house?” “No.” And finally, “Have a happy Thanksgiving!” as he left without another word.

She wasn’t being intrusive, just friendly. I imagine she could not have cared less about his plans for Thanksgiving but she saw it as a way to be both approachable and kind. I answered her questions when it was my turn and learned that she would be attending at least four Thanksgiving events, as her parents are divorced and her boyfriend wanted her to dine with his parents, something to which she looked forward.

Later, I celebrated by having a turkey potpie, satisfying, if not exactly traditional. And even later I turned on junk television, poured myself a much-too-large glass of scotch, and toasted a very sweet young woman toiling in a grocery store, her entire life ahead of her, a woman who is simply trying to make everyone’s day a little better, even if they don’t really appreciate her efforts.

November runs easily into December and I pretend it’s an arrival from the 1960s, replete with beautiful music in three-quarter time coming from my car’s AM radio, maybe Perry Como, Brenda Lee, Mel Torme, Nat King Cole and, of course, Andy Williams. Even as an old man, I look forward to 2020: this past year felt like we’ve all been doing a slow-and-gape on an endless political highway littered with horrific crashes.

On a happier note, have I told you of the wonderful smell of my Christmas tree? I had to drive many miles to another county to find a real tree, but it was worth it. If you wish to smell Christmas as it did when you were young, please, by all means, stop by. I welcome the company. There are no decorations on the tree yet, but I’m not sure it matters. There is plenty of time.

Ullrich is a free-lance writer who resides in rural Jackson County, Iowa. His book, “The Iowa State Fair,” is available from the University of Iowa Press.

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