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One day last week: the best and worst clearly visible
The Column: 03.25.22
A dear friend came visiting last week with her three-year-old daughter and it was fascinating to see motherhood up close, having never been one myself. It is a conjoined relationship, a grown-up woman taking leave of the adult world to eat, sleep, talk, walk, with a tiny hand clasping her leg. I was an absentee father, ambitious to pursue my own purposes and as a result, when my daughter calls, her first question is, “Where is my mom?” She loves me but she doesn’t count on me. I watch my friend mothering her three-year-old and I admire this, as I would admire someone levitate in midair.
My friend had no time to watch Judge Jackson’s Senate confirmation hearings, but I watched, and the question that never got asked was, “How did you ever pursue this remarkable legal career while raising two daughters?” She sat with great poise and calmly listened to Republican senators who wanted to toss the terms “child pornography” and “sex offender” as many times as humanly possible — senators who are lawyers themselves and know perfectly well the sleazeball game they were playing.
When her parents were born, segregation was lawful in America, and here was a Black woman of unquestioned qualifications nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, and against that heroic background, Senators Cruz, Cotton, Hawley, Graham, and Cornyn performed shameless acts in broad daylight before millions of people. These men should not be allowed to eat in public restaurants. They should go to the drive-up window and eat in the parking lot.
I’m an old man now and my ambition is all burned away and I lead a rather small life in New York City far from my home in Minnesota, because my wife loves walking in the city, going to theater, concerts, art museums, and she can get on the subway and see America. In Minnesota, people prefer automobiles. I owe her this for having raised our girl. It’s just as simple as that.
Minnesota is the land of slow talkers and so when I sit down to dinner with New Yorkers, I think of intelligent things to say about two minutes too late, and I sit quietly, hands folded, and probably get a reputation as a dimwit, but it doesn’t matter. This is one good reason for getting old. You are ignored and it’s perfectly okay. My goal is to avoid receiving a lifetime achievement award, a symbolic death sentence, and to stay in the game, thank you very much. Thanks to personal cowardice, I skipped contact sports and so I don’t have lower back problems, plus which my wife feels tenderly toward me, and spring is here and I am grateful for independence from a job, a schedule, an organization chart, meetings chaired by a pretentious numbskull talking about incentivization. Instead I sit in the sun and write a limerick:
In August I'm turning fourscore And before I go out the door As a non sequitur One more dance with her And I'll mix us a nice metaphor.
I sit at the table, reading about war in Europe, glaciers melting, a tornado in New Orleans, and playground bullies in the U.S. Senate trying to torment someone and get her to take a swing at them, and back in Minneapolis teachers are on strike for increased wages and smaller class sizes and the state looks at a $7.7 billion budget surplus and the kids sit home and what is a working mother to do? I put the paper down and I listen to a Chopin étude and this piano piece restores some sense to the world. I listen to it and recall my own recent encounters with competence and compassion, the dental hygienist, the kindness of the ophthalmologist’s assistant on the phone, the woman on Columbus Avenue who told me my shoelace was untied, and my friend and her child walk into the room, the tiny hand clasping the mother’s pantleg, and sanity is restored.
This is where we absorbed whatever kindness and decency we possess, holding onto our mother as she goes about. Apparently you don’t learn it in law school. Probably by the time you go off to the first grade, you have some manners or you’re a kicker and biter and need reconstructive training. I’m sorry if the senators’ mothers were hardened streetwalkers or burlesque dancers in carnival tent shows, but why avenge yourself on a woman whose devotion to the law makes you look small? To put it bluntly, you are not a credit to your race or gender and I personally resent it. That is all. Class dismissed.
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