“Did I ever tell you about the time I met Garrison Keillor?” I wrote on a friend’s Facebook wall.
I had responded to an article my friend posted, one written by the iconic humorist and storyteller himself.
In his article, Keillor described the bygone days of writing when authors typed manuscripts on paper and sent them away in fat manila envelopes for publication or rejection. Mr. Keillor bemoaned the current practice in which anyone can sit on the other side of a computer screen, type words, and declare one’s self a writer.
You know, people like me.
I first met Garrison Keillor as a young newlywed. Back in the day when our household income consisted of bimonthly checks barely north of five hundred dollars, A Prairie Home Companion provided a cheap date night for the beloved Swede and me.
On occasion we listened together with our friends Steve and Nancy, another newlywed couple who, like us, sometimes scrounged through the change in their car’s ashtray just to buy milk. If we’d budgeted carefully we were able to splurge on a $9.99 bottle of Charter Oak Red wine, one produced by a local Connecticut winery and which we considered to be not half bad.
Steve and Nancy both descended from strong Nordic stock and, together with my Swedish husband and me, we reveled in Keillor’s tales of Norwegian bachelor farmers and Lutheran covered hot-dish suppers. Although raised on classic rock from the seventies, we grew to appreciate the music of his weekly bluegrass and folk artists.
And we learned that Powder Milk Biscuits, heavens they were tasty.
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We tuned in each week on the refurbished stereo receiver the Swede had purchased with earnings from his summer job in a sewage treatment plant the year before we were married. If it weren’t such a cliché I’d say something about us being poor, but happy.
Ten years later when we had a few more nickels to rub together, I gave the Swede a collection of Keillor’s tapes as an anniversary gift. I thought it a fitting way to commemorate our early years together.
Our increased fortunes at that time allowed us to purchase a used Volvo station wagon—a sturdy, reliable vehicle designed by Swedish engineers—in which to haul our kids and their belongings to things like school, soccer practice, and the public library. Or so we thought.
Although I had descended from the house and lineage of Donaldson, evidently the car viewed my dark brown hair with suspicion and questioned the authenticity of my Swedish roots. It conspired against me, rising up in mutiny and forcing me to replace nearly every highly expensive part manufactured in Sweden, but for its windshield wiper blades.
Unable to appease the Volvo’s evil spirits, or exorcise its demons, we finally traded it in or sold it for scrap, I can’t quite recall which.
Some months later, I realized I must have left one of the Swede’s Lake Wobegon tapes in the car’s player, the one which contained a favorite story of ours of Pete Peterson’s Memorial Duck Blind and the building of giant decoys.
Shortly afterward I noticed The Hartford Courant, the nation’s oldest-continually published newspaper and paper of record here in Connecticut, was hosting a writing conference. Garrison Keillor was scheduled as keynote speaker.
I signed up thinking I might possibly, someday, maybe be going to write something.
Keillor arrived on stage dressed in a dark, conservative suit and tie, having taken the train from New York City. But for the shiny red sneakers he wore, Garrison could have passed for a Republican.
After Keillor spoke I waited in line to meet him, asking him to sign the CD I had purchased to replace the tape left behind in my car. Stammering as I stood before him in the entirety of my five-feet, eleven inches plus heels, I relayed the tale of my missing Lake Wobegon tape carried off by the evil Volvo.
And I’ll never forget the words he spoke to me:
“My, my, my, you’re one long, cool drink-of-water,” he said.
Now those words, or some similar, seem to have landed Mr. Keillor in a bit of hot water recently.
But it is precisely this astute power of perception which, I believe, contributed to Mr. Keillor’s success as a storyteller.
At one time I had pictures of me standing next to Mr. Keillor, evidence of our meeting, but those disappeared a couple of hard drive crashes ago. I do, however, have his autograph on the inside cover of the replacement Lake Wobegon CD. It reads:
For Swede, have mercy.
American Federation of Ducks
I’ve been reminiscing about those sweet days of listening to Prairie Home on the radio. A girl can learn a thing or two about storytelling by listening to the likes of Mr. Keillor. Perhaps I’ll even splurge and treat myself to a $9.99 bottle of wine.
And that’s the news from this side of the computer screen.
This an edited version of a post which first appeared in March, 2013 on my previous blog: Out of My Alleged Mind.