GK: Smoke on the horizon, all's well at home

The Column: 07.30.21

I saw a young woman lying stark naked in Central Park the other day and of course didn’t stare but noticed an older man, fully dressed, sitting near her so I figured he was with her and if she needed me she could’ve yelled, which she did not. Where there are people, you’ll find surprises, and sometimes you’ll see solo dancers or a man juggling flaming torches and now a naked woman. I am more moved by the sight of young parents, sometimes they seem detached from each other, one irked and the other anxious. Two brave venturers and it hurts to see them unhappy.

You never get over parenthood, it simply never ends. I was 70 when my mother died and she still worried about whether the stories I told on the radio were true. I went into the comedy line of work because my mom loved comedians and I wanted to please her but still she worried. I have friends whose grandchildren keep them awake at night, friends who gave up religion long ago but who still believe in prayer because what else is there? Your beloved granddaughter has schizophrenia and you, a former atheist, switch to agnosticism so you can say, “Dear God, please look down on Angelina who is living in a bad dream and show her Your love.”

I am not a good father. I never coached girls’ soccer, didn’t readaloud to my daughter, and didn’t explain about menstruation, and yet she loves me lavishly. Her mother was the tough cop, I was the cop who bought Dairy Queens. Instead of instilling an appreciation of Twain and Perelman and Nora Ephron in her, she and I hang out on the third-grade level of mucous and flatulence humor. And yet when she sees me after an absence, she throws her arms around me like little Heidi greeting her cranky grandpa.

This is why I don’t disagree with people who refer to me as a “person of privilege.” It is true that I worked in a scullery and for years arose at 4 a.m. to do a wake-up radio show, but the truth is that my daughter loves me openly and freely and for this and other reasons, I am a lucky guy. I once led three canoes of nine 14-year-olds across an enormous northern Minnesota lake in a thunderstorm, me an English major with no life-saving training, canoes with no life jackets, and we reached the opposite shore. No lives were lost. No parents threatened legal action.

I’ve had close calls. I’ve driven while intoxicated. I once locked myself out of a rental cabin in Utah while naked in a hot tub and walked around the neighborhood with only a blue plastic sheet from the woodpile for a covering and nobody called the cops. Both my grandfathers died at age 73, and I am 79 and feel terrific, thanks to modern medicine. I called my doctor one morning in alarm and said, “I have a large hard growth on the roof of my mouth.” He told me to come over. I did and opened my mouth. I was thinking cancer of the mouth and larynx, major surgery, loss of vocal chords, dealing with depression, perhaps approaching stopped cars in an intersection with a tin cup and a sign, “Former radio announcer now mute. Help me. Thank you.” He looked in my mouth and said, “That’s a torus palatinus. A lot of people have one. If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t a problem.” He didn’t charge me for the two minutes it took to clear up the problem.

Privileged? Yes indeed, and thank you, Lord. We are vaccinated, my love and I, and our COVID cave is perfectly comfortable. She sits across the breakfast table and reads from the paper about the mounting disasters of climate change, we eat one big meal a day, I work on my book, and now and then I tune in a ball game. We’ve been feasting on salads, which gives me salacious thoughts. What I want is for our girl to FaceTime us and be happy and tell about her day and say, “Make me laugh” and I’ll tell the penguin joke in a soprano voice and she laughs and then she looks around and notices something interesting happening and says, “Could I call you back later?” Six words that make me happy. She is okay and doesn’t need me. All I need to know.


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This Saturday, the featured show is from 1996 in Billings, Montana. Highlights include Ian Frazier reading from Great Plains and Wallace McRae reading cowboy poetry that includes “Blue and Lonesome”. Join us on our Facebook page at 5 PM CT this Saturday. If you are not a Facebook user, you can find our featured show on our website at www.garrisonkeillor.com.

In The Back Room this weekend:

*Video highlights from the July 2nd show at Big Top

*”A Warehouse of Maxims”