Have long enjoyed your musings. I live a few hundred yards from the villa Thomas Hardy built for himself when he became rich (he also designed it). When he died the principal pallbearers at his funeral in Westminster Abbey were the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Different times and different country … better times I would say when it comes to honouring a great writer on behalf of the nation.
I can’t think of any author whose funeral Joe Biden and Donald Trump would both attend, but I also can’t think of any author who would want them both there, carrying the coffin. The big national funeral is rather limited to politicians now. As for Hardy, I intend to go back and read him. My wife read him when she was a teenager and loved his work and I should read him now if I want to understand her better, which I do.
Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? I don’t know how often you and your wife have friends over for dinner, but I struggle with how to politely let my guests know that it’s time for them to go home. After about 3 hours (at the most), I can’t wait for them to leave. It has nothing to do with how much I like them; I just get tired of visiting. Some people just don’t pick up on my social cues.
I’m an introvert but I’m old enough to know to be sociable and engage with people and I also know the feeling of social weariness. My wife and I don’t entertain for business, never did, only friends and family, which avoids a lot of awkwardness, and with people I like a lot, it’s possible to stand up and say to my wife, “We should let these good people go home and resume their lives.” People laugh but they get the idea. But you need to respect the fact that it may be your warm hospitality that has kept them so long. In Minnesota you can disperse your guests by offering them coffee. We don’t do after-dinner coffee here. The offer tells a Minnesotan that the evening is likely to go on indefinitely and they reach for their car keys.
The greatest generation, the quietest generation, may not have declined to discuss their war experiences solely out of deference to the dead. I had wondered for decades about the near-universal silence, until I read that the advice troops were given when they were mustered out included, “Don’t talk about the war; civilians won’t understand.” So perhaps they kept quiet because they were asked to. Neither my library nor the Internet will disgorge the book in question, but I feel certain I don’t read much disreputable history.
My high school phy-ed teacher Stan Nelson never talked about the war, having been a Navy lieutenant and observation officer aboard a landing craft at Normandy on D-Day. My dad never talked about it either, having been stationed in New York where he sorted mail at the post office and was billeted at a hotel at 38th and Broadway. I talked to a neighbor the other day who served in the Marines during Vietnam and I confessed to him that I was a draft dodger and refused induction and got away with it and he didn’t recoil in disgust. He hadn’t gone to Vietnam, though he was prepared to. He said, “The Marines were the first in and the first out.” He’d had a good career, raised a family, and now is a volunteer EMT. A good man. We each have our story and when the occasion is right, we come out with it.
Dear GK —
A note on Posts to the Host June 7th:
Is it not worth your sojourn to Denmark simply to be able to throw into any exchange at random — “I wouldn’t know; I was in Copenhagen working on a novel”?
Or this: “Copenhagen, ah, yes.” (while enacting a five-mile stare). “I once spent time writing there.”
These stories, especially when they’re true, lend credibility to communicators in these tumultuous times.
Tricia, I have a friend name Tricia and she and I have very good conversations and hardly ever about Copenhagen, and as for tumultuous times, I’m too old to notice. But I love that sign-off, “Yours cordially,” it reminds me of letters I used to get.
Dear Mr. GK,
I wonder if you can help me understand the punishing, cruel nature behind a law that would make a woman who loses her pregnancy pay a fine, file paperwork, and arrange a funeral or a cremation for the lost contents of her womb. It is an agonizing experience to miscarry a wanted pregnancy. I lost three, decades ago, the memory of which still brings me to tears today. The burden of fulfilling the demands of such a law on top of my grief would have been life-destroying for me.
The doctors assured me I had done nothing wrong, that my body had spontaneously aborted each of the three pregnancies because they were not viable, and yet I felt tremendous guilt and shame with each loss. My feelings were deep and depressive, robbing life of joy until I had a dream that offered an explanation that I could grasp. In the dream, my son came to me as a point of light, announced that he was sorry for my pain, but that he had needed to be conceived but not born to fulfill his life’s God-given purpose. He called me Mother and said he loved me and was grateful to me for giving him the life he needed to have. That dream changed everything for me and I could finally give up the shame and guilt that had ground me down for many long years. I had been a mother all along who had unknowingly played an important role in helping my son achieve his life’s purpose. And presumably the other losses, too. The feeling now is grief at my losses, but with understanding that we humans can’t possibly understand all there is to know in God’s complex world.
So why painfully complicate life for others with laws that don’t respect that God has plans we know nothing about? For that matter, God presumably created LGBTQ+ people and people of color and people with disabilities or brown eyes and double chins, too. We are all God’s children, are we not? Then why provoke pain and suffering on others whose bodies are different and/or work differently from yours? I just do not understand this.
You often offer real wisdom in what you write, Mr. GK. Can you help me understand this, too?
Judith, you understand this far far beyond what I can bring to it and I thank you for writing. I pray for your peace now and that you can coast along on these paradise summer days and be at ease in the world.
Mr. Keillor —
You’ve been instructing me in the fine art of storytelling, and by extension preaching, for a long time (and I took the opportunity to thank you previously, by note, when you came through Newark, Ohio, a few years back).
Now I’m preaching only occasionally, as I have some family caregiving that takes priority more Sundays than not, but I can fill pulpits for churches and colleagues with a bit of notice and planning. For years I followed the lectionary often, if not religiously. Doing supply preaching, that’s not always the best guide, and while I always ask, “what needs addressing in your congregation?” most often the contact person says, “Oh, whatever you want to preach on is fine.”
I am a minister of the Gospel, and “good news” is my usual emphasis, with Jesus as my central
illustration of what good news looks like … but from your place in the pews, if you had a fill-in preacher, what would you say is the theme or focus that you’d most want to hear? As a one-off preacher, I think I have an opportunity to address implications of the Gospel that a parson who has to come back the next week might have to handle a bit differently, and I’m curious as to where you as a parishioner might want some light cast.
I always prepare and have notes for my sermons, but generally have not carried them into the pulpit with me, and if in mid-narrative the current shifts, I’ve learned to paddle and steer accordingly with your example in mind.
I am an intolerant man two-thirds of the way back, scribbling in the bulletin during the sermon, and not proud of it. I grew up with some fierce preaching and now am averse to a man or woman in the pulpit reading an essay off a piece of paper. I want to be spoken to. I want to be moved. Shaken. The rector at my church in New York sometimes makes me weep and I’m grateful for that. I believe the Spirit is in her and this is what makes Sunday morning different from other mornings, what makes it better than having had brunch with a friend. I’ve preached numerous times, was passable once or twice, otherwise pretentious. Going into the pulpit without notes, you’re a brave man, opening yourself to the Spirit, and that’s a good step.
Yes to the idea of a radio show of Mississippi River towns. I grew up along the river in Monroe County in southern Illinois. Our farmland surrounds the defunct county seat of Harrisonville, named for William Henry Harrison, hero of the War of 1812, who led the Indian eradication campaigns in the western territories. So many Mississippi River towns have great histories, music, flood stories. Locks and dams have broken them up, but once they were all connected — a great radio show their tales would make! Don’t throw this idea away.
Kay, you’re leading me toward the cliff. I had a peaceful retirement all worked out for myself and then one night I had a dream about a radio show The River Road Show, which I am now putting into a locked drawer, and you are trying to get me in trouble. But the sort of show I did for forty years is now completely dead and podcasting is everything, so I’m safe. In a couple weeks I’m doing a show with Prudence Johnson and some other friends on a steamboat on the St. Croix, and we’ll sing duets as we chug upstream, and that should cure me of the idea for good.
This is in response to Beverly, who was wondering about the number of spaces that should be inserted after a period. Back in the age before word processing and all the font choices, when you only had typewriters equipped with the Courier font where each character occupies the same amount of space, you inserted two spaces after a period to make the end of the sentence more visually obvious. This is no longer necessary, as modern fonts are proportional: each character occupies only as much width as it needs. As a language professional (certified translator and copy reviser), I always remove the extra space when I encounter it (a lot) in the copy I revise.
Josee, thank you for answering a question that never occurred to me in fifty years of writing, first in Courier, then in Perpetua. What else do you know that I haven’t thought to ask about?
Good afternoon, Mr. Keillor.
I’m writing to you as a Catholic seeking information to connect with a Lutheran minister. My wife and I are in the process of selling our home, and the purchasing family is a young Lutheran minister and his wife. We would like to leave them with a nice home-warming gift, but something that also connects our two faiths in a simple, sincere, and possibly ironic way. I am looking to you as a fountain of Lutheran Knowledge, in hopes of something that is both sentimental and a bit humorous! Thank you for your time and consideration!
Michael, I think you should leave them a lovely little plaster statue of the BVM, perhaps even a backyard shrine. This will be alien to them but can be beneficial, especially if it includes the words of the Rosary. A holy object worthy of reverence, though foreign to their culture.
I loved the column on not retiring. I tried it for a few months and was wild as a buck. I now write for two newspapers, serve two UU congregations and slog away at three books. I also serve the poor with rides, food, and various forms of encouragement. They are all delightful except when they are not. My life is a tapestry of rich and royal hue. Thank you, Carole King. I am a small-town Southern mystic, so Garrison is now jealous. I love Garrison madly, especially any time he makes fun of the Unitarians. Were we not so smart and good looking, we would be nothing but laughable. Love to all.
So you know the one about the Unitarian Ku Klux Klan planting fiery question marks in the lawns of Baptists. Thanks for the note. Who is Carole King?
We sat on stage at the 20th anniversary evening of PHC when you conversed during the break with the young man who, as a child, had been struck on the forehead by a cork from a champagne bottle opened at your first anniversary broadcast. What fun we’ve had telling that story to envious fans of yours! Keep your healing touch going!
His name was Ben Ellingson and he was four when I fired the champagne cork into the audience and he was a college graduate at the 20th. A fine young man and he apparently survived my stupidity in good form, and I wish him well. I had a couple audience members die during shows and some people practically died of boredom, but Ben is the only one I actually struck.
The reason for studying birds is that their society is far superior to ours.
Then you should join them, Henry, and see if they welcome you.
I had to write after your essay today about being enraptured after your ER visit, just like Emily Gibbs returning to her former life from the hilltop cemetery in Grover’s Corners. Every detail stands out in stark relief, to both her joy and her sorrow, knowing she must leave it all behind forever.
My mother, a high school drama teacher, named me after Emily Webb and growing up, I read the play over and over, recited those famous lines of Emily’s for interpretative reading competitions, and wept over numerous stage productions. When I married a “Gibson,” not a “Gibbs,” I was relieved that I may have broken the curse of dying in childbirth, and thankfully bore three healthy Gibson children and survived myself.
Keep doing what you’re doing for as long as you are able — enraptured!
Many blessings from the Pacific Northwest,
The doctor came by my alcove and said it had been a seizure, not a stroke, and that I was good to go. It took a couple hours to get the paperwork. The nurse said, “Do you want a wheelchair, or would you rather walk?” And I walked out onto 68th Street and hiked a few blocks for the pleasure of it and hailed a cab and went home. It’s been lovely ever since. Good for us both that we survived and though we can’t expect enrapturement, it’s good we can recognize it whenever it drops by.
I loved the sentiment you expressed about life during and after your ER visit. Two years ago next month my wife had two stents put in her LDA (the widowmaker) and for months I felt the same love and appreciation for life that you did in your article. And now I am reminded and will try to carry that lesson and feeling around with me again — hopefully never to forget it.
I assume you mean LAD (Left Anterior Descending artery) though LDA has numerous meanings including Learning Disability, which is my problem, not yours. I wrote a memoir last year and there were four or five things too stupid to include. I’m not kidding. Maybe more than five. Two involved real estate, two were about romance, and one was about the radio show. Things beginning with the letter R, I need to stop and think carefully and seek good advice. That is all I care to say about that at this particular time.
Dennis Keefe here in East Lansing, Michigan. Born and raised in Minnesota. Fairmont, St. John’s U., St. Paul, Ada. Been around the state and love it. Academia drew me to East Lansing. I can relate to your bird sentiments. I have some veterinary friends who take cruises to South America to observe birds. A little much, I agree.
But birds have helped keep me busy during retirement. They constitute a part of our backyard sanctuary, a great surround for writing. Birds, bees, bumblebees, flowers, and trees in our backyard have stimulated my imagination, entertained me, and helped me learn a little about myself.
Hi Garrison —
Your column on retirement and birdwatching crossed the line. Work may be an essential part of your life but for many, retirement means time to pursue personal preferences on their terms and not regulated by a time clock or office deadlines. I would also add that my hunch is that many of the birdwatchers are also active in their communities contributing countless hours to food banks, church projects and other worthwhile projects. So the bluebird, even on hallucinating seed, would never attack them, but might be tempted to stay away from disgruntled and crotchety commentators who want to force their standards on others. Society needs to be more respectful as you should be!
Fort Collins, Colorado
I am shocked that you depose birders and our Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society.
We spend our time helping litigate to make Santa Clara County more saved land conscience and oppose measure and propositions that would assist many families and individuals. If you want to live in a “desert” — that is your problem. But it is not the problem of hundreds of nature supporters who belong to chapters of the National Audubon Society. I feel like not reading any more. Many people enjoy and research birds because without the birds [there is] much less of nature.
Apparently in Minnesota you still think “old ladies in tennis shoes” but this is California, and our environment is wide and must be preserved. That, by the way, is not “radical.”
San Jose, California
Thanks to all the birdwatchers who protested being made fun of in the column. I wrote it because it seemed to me that birders are the only social group that has been spared ridicule and I didn’t want them to feel unnoticed. It was intended as a joke, much as Unitarian jokes are or jokes about doctors and nurses or jokes about the dying. But it hurt the feelings of so many birdwatchers who’ve written to say so and to stand up for the rightness of their motives and for that I am very sorry. I am sure you are all wonderful people and doing good works in your communities and I will never again make light of it.