I read Garrison Keillor to understand my mother. If you are not familiar with Mr. Keillor, he is the radio star of Prairie Home Companion – a chronicle of the lives of the noble and depressed citizens of Lake Wobegon. The books and stories are of course engaging, well written and well told. But not everyone loves the show. Appreciation of Keillor’s humor is geographically dependent. Those who escaped the mid-west think his work is very funny. Those who currently live in Iowa, South Dakota or Wisconsin; not so much.
My mother, who at 18 left South Dakota in a hurry, loves Prairie Home Companion. She thinks Keillor is hilarious. My grandmother, who grew up in Sioux Falls and never left, did not think the man was one bit funny. And were you really thinking of wearing that dress?
I read his work both for the sheer pleasure of good writing and because I consider his stories the best manual in print to explain how my mother was raised and an insight to her propensities and attitudes.
Ours was not a celebratory household. Triumphs were not acknowledged. The support was quiet: my parents uncomplainingly attended all the plays and band concerts I ever participated in; the dubious results of all the lessons and practices geared to produced a “well rounded” child. If I did well at any of these endeavors, they quietly pointed out that I squeaked on the high note, I batted my eyes too often, I missed a step in the last sequence. I was quite surprised to hear from my friends that after a concert they were treated to ice cream, they earned five dollars for every A, a glass was raised in a dinner toast.
So thank you Garrison Keillor who wrote: “If you did the right thing, you weren’t praised for it, you weren’t allowed to feel good about it, because there was no such thing as success. Success was just the postponement of disaster.”
All this time I thought it was me.