When I read your comments about parenthood, it reminded me of a song from THE FANTASTICKS my favorite show; “plant a carrot, get a carrot, not a Brussels sprout…. but when you plant children you’re absolutely stuck…. You never know until they’re grown what they’re about. So, if you plant children I wish you luck.”
This is not a perfect quote, but I think you’ll get the gist. Thanks for your daily email. Brings me joy. (Not like the daily calls from those folks who are worried about my car warranty.)
Warmly (it’s summer in Georgia!)
Those car warranty people are calling me too and I no longer own a car. I never saw “The Fantasticks” and I don’t want to agree with that song which seems to make parents unaccountable for the outcome. It’s true sometimes, sometimes not. I do think that there is a statute of limitations for the offspring’s complaints and that date passed for me about fifty years ago. And I’m sure that my mother and dad were surprised and alarmed at how I turned out, but I have siblings that clearly benefitted from our parents’ teaching and good example, and this is perfectly clear to me, the errant son.
For some reason, I sometimes think of President Grover Cleveland when I think of Cleveland. Grover is a "North German occupational name for a ditch or grave digger. How about the Cleveland Grovers for the team logo?
Bill, Lawrence Kansas
Too much to explain, Bill. And the name is too close to Grovellers, which is an unwarranted slur. I still favor the Indians changing their name to the Cleveland Participants.
My mother died of COVID on December 30, 2020 with tears in her eyes all alone and they would not even put the things in her room that I sent. She died a week before she was to get her vaccine.
All of my life and up until she died, she sang to me, "I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck." She and her parents were Democrats, and she loved your CDs. My father was a Republican but their love for each other and their children far, far exceeded any political interests--it was never discussed--except they both agreed that people of color were not treated right, and we needed to be aware of equality and empathy for others. They were like newlyweds; my father had a love most tender for all and taking us to church every morning before school. My father was murdered when she was 38 leaving her with four children and no college degree. But she pushed on and raised us all---cheerfully and no self-pity. I miss your shows and I miss her, and I love you both a bushel and a peck and a barrel and a heap. You are a happy memory for us.
Ms. Henry in Texas
Thank you for the note, Ms. Henry, and I am sorry your mother had such a hard end but for such a cheerful soul as she, I’m sure that the happy memories shone through the clouds even at the very end. She made the choice to be cheerful when your father was taken and I think it’s an indelible choice and you should believe that she loved you dearly to the end, maybe a truckload of bushels.
I first listened to Prairie Home Companion in the early 80s when I lived in Washington, DC, and my boyfriend was in Ohio. I imagined Garrison Keillor looking like Bruce Springsteen, in a flannel shirt and tight jeans with long curly hair and then saw a story about the show in the Sunday NYTimes Style Section, with a photo of Garrison. My face dropped, realizing that Garrison is not Bruce, but I never stopped listening to the show all the way to the end.
Cindy Stevens in Savannah, GA
He gets better looking all the time, doesn’t he? Amazing. Someday, when you have a minute, google Bruce Springsteen and “Purple Rain” and watch him sing it. The man is a giant.
Hello. I wonder if you have ever written about Mary Sumner, an Anglican priest’s wife. About 150 years ago her good works in England became the Mothers’ Union which is now found around the globe (even in some Episcopal churches in the US, though the ECW gives them a run for their money). NYC area has the largest collection of MU branches in the US.
I have not written about her and the MU but I’m sure someone has. I’m not a good historian. Whenever I try to write history, I get preachy and that’s not anything I have a right to inflict on people.
I’m 69 and even I think you sound like a cranky and sour old man in your latest post. If there’s one thing the world could do with a lot less of, it would be people who detract from other people’s accomplishments, large or small. Maybe it is time to set the pen, pencil or keyboard aside.
I appreciate getting a good cranky sour letter from a reader and you’ve written a good one, however I have no idea whatsoever what you’re talking about. Go and take a long walk, sir, and if a panhandler approaches, hand him or her a twenty.
Mr. Keillor...I've enjoyed many of your posts over the years, and usually find your humorous writings just that, humorous, but the most recent email comparing the Social Security Administration to Hitler's SS was not only unfunny, but deeply offensive on more than one level. You come across as a pissed-off ignoramus venting over trivial personal inconvenience...a voice of unreason.
Finally...really? Hitler's SS? Is this the best you could come up with? And have you no shame, sir?
Bayard Pidgeon, Klamath Falls OR
I apologize. And yes I do have shame. On occasion, I have plenty.
My dear fellow old bastard,
You evidently don’t give a damn, and crankiness, the true gift of old age, drenches your column. I love it!
What’s also appealing is your disdain for the modern era’s appetite for OTT PC. That’s another pleasant component of your acerbic rants. If Georgia’s female claims to lunatic political fame, MTG, said the same thing about Social Securities’ Inquisition-like phone machines by comparing them to the SS, the S would hit the fan. You can expect at least three strongly worded letters.
I’ve got all the usual cigarette, fried calamari, and sports injury caused afflictions. But I’ve also got a new Harley-Davidson. I’m a lifelong rider who isn’t whistling past the cemetery so much as simply thumbing my nose at what’s expected and doing as I please. So long as it pleases you, please continue thumbing your nose at what’s expected for as long as possible.
Regards from Louisiana where we are flush with political brilliance.
I’m glad to have given a Harley rider some pleasure but comparing Social Security to Hitler’s SS was way over the top. My account of the phone conversation with the woman at SS was truthful and could’ve been longer.
Comparing the social security customer experience to Hitler’s SS is an egregious use of using an unparalleled abomination for a laugh. Anyone having tried to maneuver through a bureaucratic “help” line knows it is a frustrating experience, but your comparison is an insult to the SS System (not a big deal) and a shonda to Holocaust victims (a very big deal).
You are right, of course, and thanks for writing.
Oh, Garrison, I love you dearly, some of the time anyway, and it is certainly tragic that you had such a hard time replacing your lost Medicare card, but you are so, so wrong about Social Security, and it is not remotely funny to compare the Social Security Administration to Hitler’s Schutzstaffel. Unlike the genocidal SS, the SSA that you so blithely denigrate is a lifesaving force and an absolutely
vital engine of social and economic stability in turbulent times. The Social Security retirement benefit that you presumably receive every month may be of no importance to you, but the great majority of retirees rely on their modest monthly benefits (about $1,500 on average) to keep them afloat. SSA has never missed a payment in 85+ years and continues to pump out more than $90 billion every month like clockwork. That’s hardly shabby, but if the customer service you received fell short of your standard, pause for a millisecond to consider that Congress has been underfunding SSA's administrative expenses for decades. Finally, if you are open to rethinking your rant, I will happily put you in touch with Steve Goss, SSA’s chief actuary, a delightful guy with an encyclopedic knowledge of the system he serves, who will disabuse you of any stereotypical notions you may have about dry, boring actuaries while restoring your faith in public servants.
Thomas N. Bethell
An excellent letter, sir, and I admire you for writing it.
Such fun seeing the lyrics to that song again, Then we shall be where we would, then we shall be what we could be, things that are now but should be, soon shall be our own. I don't need to go to YouTube to hear it because I can hear my dad and Uncle Jay singing it in my head. We weren't Sanctified Brethren, but both singing and games--Scrabble, Monopoly, Parchesi, and even chess--were important in my childhood. If we were at home, every night, Dad played the piano and sang in the living room, while upstairs, with my bedroom door open so I could hear, I drifted off to sleep. At Uncle Jay and Aunt Mary's ranch in Arizona, we sat around in the living room and sang together. Your writing brings many of these happy memories back to me. Thank you.
We were lucky to have lived when we did ––– I keep thinking that ––– and we both remember people singing as an ordinary part of life, singing songs that old and young all loved. A Unitarian minister friend of mine told me the other day, “Young people are breaking their brains on the Internet, everyone living in their own tiny space.” I hope it’s not true.
I’m interested in your Post to the Host comments about your writing process. Manual typewriter to computer versus long hand. When you have a minute, it would be enlightening to hear more. Outline or not, first draft, how you edit, get input from others, long hand, typed draft and so forth.
I am 79 and still a beginner, George. I should know more than I do, having written reams of stuff, but each venture is a new crossing and a shot in the dark. I wrote a novel this winter and spring, thanks to the lockdown, and thought it was done and printed up a hundred copies to send around to people to read and then I sat down and looked at the first ten pages and realized it wasn’t done, not at all, and though the few people I had sent copies to said they liked it a lot, I knew it wasn’t ready. I think it’s done now, three months later, but what happens when I pick it up and start reading again? My advice is: “All writing is rewriting, and it goes on over and over until you find yourself doing damage and then you have to stop and repair the harm.” I could go back and revise that sentence but won’t.
My wife and I have started to listen each morning to your "Writer's Almanac" over coffee (we're retired) and I am curious about 3 things. First, do you record them in batches? I imagine that you must do at least a week's worth at a time and sometimes the sound shifts as if there has been an intervening (bathroom?) break. Second, since the references are not always to writers, what criteria do you use to
determine who on a particular day is worthy of mention? Your choices are always interesting, but it raises the question of whose birth matters on that day - something your "philosophical" self must have contemplated. Your choice of poems is also eclectic which is great and one of the reasons we listen but, again, of the many poems available, how do you choose?
Robert, glad to have you tuning in. (1) The shift in sound is due to the fact that I don’t record all new segments --- I record some revisions and additions which the engineer then fits into older recordings pieced together from various years. (2) I tend to lean toward marking the birthdays of writers but the researchers who do the real work have bent the almanac in their own directions. We used to mark more battles than we do now, we’re trying to honor the sciences more. The main criterion is basic interest. (3) I choose poems for their clarity, I want listeners to get the poem in one hearing, which eliminates most poetry. A poem like “A Summer Day” by Mary Oliver, in which she holds a grasshopper in her hand that is chewing some sugar and then opens its wings and floats away --- the poem ends with the line, “Tell me: what do you plan to do with your one wild and delicious life?” There is no mistaking that line. It snaps in your face. It’s not an accusation. The poet cares about you, she wants to know. So tell her.
In your poem Slow Days of Summer, you wrote, “This Chev is white and brown.” This recalled to mind a green and white Buick Special my dad bought. A spiffy car. The rear seat had an armrest that folded into the middle of the back. My two brothers and I played a game we called Sufferin’ Pains, where one of us laid underneath the armrest and the other two would bounce up and down on it. Mom and Dad just cruised along, smoking their cigarettes, until the wails behind them could no longer be ignored. Summer drives in the mountains of Pennsylvania must be so different these days. Do people even DO that anymore, just “go for a drive”?
Judy from the ‘50s
Yes, they do, especially in the spring and fall, but the parents aren’t smoking cigarettes and that armrest isn’t around anymore and there aren’t three kids in back, there are, I believe, 1.6 or 1.8.
Do listeners/readers really write those things to you, or do you write them because you have something to say and then you can respond to a question composed to elicit that response? I don't mind if you do! I ask because if those are real question/paragraphs from others, and not edited, you have remarkably erudite and funny and amazing fans.
Betsy Beyler, Fairfax, VA
I do have erudite and funny fans and sometimes (see the Social Security letters above) justifiably angry ones.
Garrison, get over the age thing. You’ve got a creative mind which you exercise everyday with your writing.
The body may not be in the best shape, so what A little physical therapy will help you cope. I’ll be 84 VJ day - can we remember what that means? Rhode Island is the only state that still celebrates the day. Pity. My daughters tell me I’m SGS - still going strong - doing the Monday crossword (the rest of the week is annoying) and reading Ross Douthat. I don’t get him all the time but he’s the smartest op ed writer in my book. He’s also Catholic and conservative which helps me.
The anti-vaxers I hear on the news tell me science education in this country is in a poor state. If they can grasp just the basic concepts involved (which is exquisite and brilliant, starting from Watson and Crick’s discovery of DNA), we’ll all be vaccinated.
Keep it coming.
Rehoboth Beach, DE, where Joe hangs out.
Jack, I’m sorry but I’m fascinated by aging, and I feel I’m entering some great years and I’m thankful. I too admire Ross Douthat though I’m not a conservative and I manage the Monday crossword and let my wife do the others. Say hello to Joe if you see him.
I enjoyed your column about leaning against the wall to put on your pants. I am about to turn 88. I have danced all my life, spending the last 37 years being a dance/movement therapist both as a clinician and a professor. I, too, find I have to sit down while putting on pants. I still do dance-movements while teaching but in everyday life I find my body cannot keep up with my mind, and I tire easily. Sometimes I even find myself falling asleep at solitaire. My enthusiasm for the numbers 88 (infinity, infinity) is keeping me buoyant but I’m also finding that with the new delta variant that my celebration will be limited to family members - and possibly a Zoom birthday bash. Maybe it’s my age making me think this way.
Thank you, Elissa, for making 88 sound so good. I’m trying to pry myself away from my writing and go for a walk every day around the reservoir in Central Park and I think maybe I need a walking partner. A little social pressure to get me to put on my shoes and go out. They say that exercise stimulates the brain in wonderful ways, and I should look into this. Thanks for the reminder.
Since you claim to be going at "top" speed at 78 years, I'm guessing you were a slug in your 20s. As the author (and coach) of Coaching Evelyn, Fast, Faster, Fastest Woman in the World, HarperCollins, 1991, I can tell you what you missed: Evelyn Ashford says it best. "Running fast is the best feeling in the world. It's like flying. It is better than sex."
Further, as the wife of Olympic Hammer Throw Champion, Harold Connolly, who lived to see an amazing statue of his endeavor erected in Boston that put him in the "vortex " for time and all eternity, I can vouch for the lifelong benefits of his 6-second endeavor in Melbourne in 1956.
Pat Winslow Connolly, Olympian 1960,1964,1968 Mt. Olympus
I don’t think I’ve ever run so fast that it felt like flying, Pat, and as for sex, I was still a virgin when I was at top speed afoot so I wouldn’t know. If I ever meet Evelyn Ashford, I will try to tell her about the pleasures of writing. I will refrain from telling her that sex is more fun when it’s slow.
Dear Garrison Keillor,
Reading the hoo-ha about appropriate mascot names, I felt a small burst of pride for U.C Santa Cruz, whose school mascot is the banana slug. At my sons’ graduation, the presiding dignitary (I don’t remember which presiding dignitary) gave a speech on the importance of said slug. Apparently, they roam the forest floor-at least here in West Coast forests- eating decaying plant material and maintaining some kind of Very Important Balance. I began to have a sort of respect for them.
But I can’t get out of my head my mother, who hated banana slugs, roaming through her own forest with a sharp stick in hand. She impaled them, my gentle mother did.
I love Post to the Host. Thank you!
Charlotte, you’ve improved this PTTH by introducing many of us to the banana slug, which was never covered in my high school biology class. Mr. Bradley was a birdwatcher, not a sluggard. I think that maybe eating decaying plant material is basically what we writers do but I don’t want to think any more about that.
I guess you can call this a "Post to the Host from the Post." I'm a columnist at The Saturday Evening Post and was going through our archive and saw that you appeared on the cover of our September 1986 issue. Here's a link, thought your readers might enjoy it:
We also interviewed you in 2016 (https://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2016/05/garrison-keillor/). That piece was the second-most popular of the entire year. You were beaten only by an article about the presidential election of 1876. So you can blame Rutherford B. Hayes.
I’d forgotten that Post cover, Bob, which doesn’t look like me. Too pleasant and thoughtful. For some reason, when I feel pleasure I look anguished. I don’t understand it. I used to read the Post when I went to Bill the Barber but when I switched to a hair salon and women named Michelle and Cheryl, the Post disappeared from my life and I read Vanity Fair instead. Now I go to a Japanese hair cutter at a salon that takes reservations and is very well run, so there’s no waiting and I don’t read any magazines at all. I imagine The New Yorker is still publishing, but how would I know?
If you have an adult child who likes you, then you are indeed privileged. I coached both my girls in soccer, basketball, and softball. My wife and I sent them from the wilds of Oklahoma to Northfield for their education, one to Carleton and the other to St. Olaf and now we hardly see or hear from either of them. Many of our friends are in the same boat. So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say.
As a side note, a few years ago, around 2012, my wife and I went to see you at the Oklahoma City Civic Center. It was a Thursday night and I had yet to retire from my exhausting job as a school teacher. We expected a show with a cast, but it was you alone on stage speaking in that sonorous, soothing voice of yours and, as you began on a serpentine stream of consciousness monologue that wound around one way and back another, I expected to soon be in a state of fully realized somnolence, just hoping I wouldn't snore. Amazingly, I was riveted, and I couldn't believe I didn't hear an uh or an ah for the entire couple of hours, something I can't manage for a couple of sentences. Thanks for that.
You’re a disciplined man, Mack, like most educators, and confusion gets your attention, so you listened closely, as you would to a teenager who was trying to make sense of something he didn’t know for sure. A highly organized speech by an educator with a Ph.D entitled “Curriculum Reform: The Challenge of the 21st Century,” and your head would’ve been on your wife’s shoulder in a minute. My basic principle as a monologist was “Keep changing the subject.”
As for your daughters, they’re busy being successful over-educated people and they’ll be back in touch when finally life starts to mystify them or else when they’re stricken by guilt. Be prepared, either way.
One of my fondest memories is of listening to your last live performance from the Hollywood Bowl on a road trip with my dad. He had been a fan of your show for years and had recently converted me as well. As someone too young to have enjoyed most of APHC’s run live (I was only 18 at the time), I look back on that show as a special moment.
My question is, how do you look back on that final show?
I remember getting to sing duets with six of my favorite duet partners and thinking, “I won’t get to do this again” and regretting that. And I still do. I wish I’d kept going. Everything has to come to an end eventually, but I think the show had more eventuality left. And pacing across the stage while doing the News was the only exercise I ever got.
Have you ever been called Gary? Or Gar? Or any other nickname? When and by whom? And how did you react?
Thomas, aka Tom, Tommy, TR
Gary is the name on my birth certificate, the name my mother gave me. There was a spurt of Garys in the early 1940s. I gave myself the name Garrison when I started publishing poetry in the school paper in the 8th grade. It was a sports-crazy school, not a poetry school, and I needed a more manly moniker and that’s the one I came up with. It still feels strange to me. In my mind, I’m Gary. All my old classmates call me that, and of course my family. Except my wife who calls me Sweetie.
Dear Garrison -
One of my favorite memories is a summer evening on Martha’s Vineyard, sitting in the living room listening to PHC with one of your biggest fans, Roland - a farmer from Nebraska who would sit at his desk and write in his farm journal while listening to you. That is how I discovered your show and your books. He is in the hospital as I write this, so I am feeling nostalgic. It’s as if I am back in that lovely room with the summer breeze floating through the old-fashioned slider screens.
Your NFLW segment was about seeing a beautiful woman walking toward you and just as you were about to say something, she turned and put a quarter in the meter.
P.S. I also got to harmonize with you on the lawn at Tanglewood.
You left out a crucial element, Barbara ––– what was a Nebraska farmer doing on Martha’s Vineyard ––– and I’m going to be thinking about this longer than I care to admit, as I sit here in New York on a Sunday, missing my wife who is up in Connecticut. What is she doing there? I’m not going to say. Are we having marital difficulties? You tell me.
Thanks for the reference to the monster taking to the ice fields. My favorite part of my second favorite book. Sneak in more English major stuff whenever you can.
I majored in English because the most interesting women were there, Charlie, and not in journalism or history, but I didn’t read the assigned books because I had an amazing English-major gift for sounding intelligent about the unfamiliar, so I don’t have any “English major stuff” to pass on. Sorry.
I'm a little less than a decade behind you but learned only last week that you must have two legs to stand on to put on your trousers (scrubs). My knee buckled and for the first time in my life, I couldn't get dressed, or walk, and had to leave work on crutches. The 'two legs' requirement for getting dressed was a revelation. Thanks for showing in your column today that it's not unique to me.
Nothing is unique to anybody, Guy, and that’s just the truth of it. I’ll bet it was the left leg that buckled because you were having trouble sticking your right leg in. It’s always the right leg. If you met Joe Biden and said, “Mr. President, when you get dressed, does the right leg give you trouble?” he’d say yes. We have so much in common, it’s a mystery to me why the nation is so divided.
When you spoke about putting on your pants it reminds me of my daily thought: "If I get my tidy whities on without falling over, I know that it's going to be a good day."
Welcome to the eighties! The good thing about being eighty-plus is that we can boast about it, and then, long pause.... waiting for someone to say how great you look! (?) The worst part is realizing that your own mortality is now down to single digits.
Eighty-three and still kicking! (Just not very hard.)
I’m working on a book about the beauty of getting old and why one should continue getting older and I’m writing it as fast as I can, Katie, for the very reason you suggest.
Thanks, as always. Just this morning I was commenting to my wife how I’ve come to leaning against something, like the sink, when I put on my underpants. Thus far I’m able to get my pants on without leaning, but I’m still your junior by 7 years. I wouldn’t be surprised if I catch up to you very soon.
I’m off soon for my annual sojourn to meet up with old buddies on my home turf on Lake Chautauqua. Wish you were coming.
I’ve managed to offend plenty of people with this column but in my defense, I say that recommending old men lean against a wall while pulling on their pants may have saved some lives that then went on to do good things. This is enough of an accomplishment for me. Say hello to the buddies.
Happy birthday! I must correct you on the biblical allowance of years. I have not seen 70 mentioned, but Jewish tradition is that the perfectly righteous person, such as Moses, lives to a maximum age of 120. Your years beyond 70, then, are a product of the good you know and do in the world.
Jon Hirsch, Leesville, LA
This makes me very uneasy, Jon, and I’m going to try not to think about it. I’m still trying to make up for the harm I’ve done.
I knew I was getting old when I heard myself being described as spry and sharp as a tack. I’m sure they were meant as compliments, but they stung, nonetheless.
Those are old people’s terms, Eric. Young people know nothing about tacks. You need to find a younger crowd. One way to do that is to invite the young to lunch and then pick up the check and another way is to be outrageous, play the crazy uncle role, but a third way is to ask them questions about themselves and get them to talk and keep focused on them and their story. They love this and it can be awfully interesting. Interviewing the young. Try it.
You think 80 is something?
I’m 86, hurtling toward 87, and let me assure you, 80 is baby stuff! You’ve still got the skills of the 70’s backing you up, which they will for a couple more years, until about 83. Then 85 looms out of the mist of dimming eyes like the iceberg that did for the Titanic.
It isn’t even downhill from there, more like slow slippage underwater. You don’t even need to stand straight for the compliment. Merely existing will do. Look at her! She lives!
Seems to me, despite the Brethren and all, you’ve felt free to express yourself for a long time. It’s the one thing I feel going for me when everything else is going away: The freedom to be and do and say whatever I please, without looking over my shoulder. Now, to whatever extent physical reality lets me, I look straight ahead, use expletives and kvetch freely and do what I want (see earlier qualification).
The consolation of age, especially for a timid slow learner who longed to be a daring adventurer, now is the hour! Well, minute, as in last minute. Doesn’t matter, live long enough and like Minnesota’s darling, you’re gonna make it after all.
Here’s to us, Garrison Keillor!
Here's to you, Judith. Good to hear from someone up ahead on the trail. I intend to strictly limit my kvetching, however, because I did so much of it in my 20s when I tried to be a serious intellectual, so now when people ask, “How are you?” I say, “Never better.” And do my best to mean it. These are good years, especially for a man who married well and who has stuff to do. I woke up at three this morning with lines of a blues song in mind:
I did not go to Bard, I didn’t go to Vassar, All that I have learned I learned by travelin’ , yassir. I’m a man of many sorrows, God almighty knows, My heart is full of poetry, my life’s a pile of prose.
I got up and wrote it down and a lot more besides. As long as this keeps me busy, I’m happy.
Thank you for publicly discussing the first wet tile in my daily walk towards decision fatigue: pride or fall? (vis a vis pants) In a few weeks, I will join you in the horde of Boomer 69ers. A word cloud analysis of my trainer’s instructions would feature the words “Core Strength” in letters large enough for me to read without glasses. In theory, that’s what keeps you from falling down. Every morning I think of my slightly older friend who died a few days after he fell in the kitchen while his wife was out. So, I set pride aside to avoid a fall, as I believe you do as well.
You’re a wise man, Paul, and if we lived in the same building (which maybe we will someday), we could form a standing partnership. I’m now going to google Core Strength and do whatever it tells me to do. Maybe not today but tomorrow for sure.
Remember what Satchell Paige said: "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you were?" I will turn 82 in November and have to sit down to pull on my pants, due to recovery from a fractured hip. However, I performed a concert last night in front of more than 50 people and managed to remember all the words!
Keep on truckin'
I have the writer’s advantage of being able to make up new words to replace the ones I forget. I went into writing sixty years ago because it seemed prestigious and now I see that it’s advantageous.
I’m 90, and about to (self) publish my first book, a kids’ picture book in limerick form --all one single limerick about a cat and a mouse who get mixed up in a washing machine and emerge with each other’s body parts and voices and God-knows what all and have to figure out how to get un-mixed. I think it will be well-received, but marketing it—with all the technological doo-dads and processes I need to master—is scaring me half to death. I’m hiring an intern to assist me and also accompany me on drives to faraway bookstores. I refuse to use Amazon and therefore I won’t make any money from this, but it’ll be in my obit when I die and hopefully my kids will be impressed because so far nothing I do has had that effect. (The grandkids are different—they love me!) Oh, and I found a terrific illustrator who, though we fought tooth and nail during the process, fit the project perfectly.
Bindy Bitterman, Chicago
You’re all set, Bindy. You’ve done the heavy lifting and now you get to have fun and targeting the grandkids is exactly the right strategy. Put your money on the future and you can’t lose.
You mentioned the joy of singing a nonsense song and the best one, I think, is A Horse Named Bill, sung by Carl Sandburg, the poet, on his album “Flat Rock Ballads.”
The text, he said, came from Sinclair (Red) Lewis of Sauk Centre, Minnesota.
Oh I had a horse and his name was Bill And when he ran he couldn't stand still He ran away one day And also I ran with him I had a gal and her name was Daisy And when she sang the cat went crazy With deliriums - St. Vituses - And all kinds of cataleptics In Frisco Bay there lives a whale And she eats pork chops by the bale By the hatbox, by the pillbox By the hogshead and the schooner She loves to laugh and when she smiles You see teeth for miles and miles And tonsils, and spareribs And things too fierce to mention She knows no games so when she plays She rolls her eyes for days and days And vibrates, and yodels And breaks the ten commandments What can you do in a case like that What can you do but jump on your hat Or on your mother, your toothbrush And everything that's helpless One of the very best nonsense songs ever, Noreen Greeno
Glad to hear that Sinclair Lewis had a light side to him. Here in Minnesota, we think about him as a sourpuss who took a long slide at the end, and it’s good to think we might be wrong. They still celebrate him up in Sauk Centre and I keep meaning to go up there for Sinclair Lewis Days and maybe now I will.
As one of your contemporaries I must comment on your apt phrase “being kindergartened by the young”. In Laurie King’s novel Riviera Gold the author quotes Mrs. Hudson as saying, “I’ve been outrageous and I’ve been responsible - and when I turned grey, I became invisible.” Happy birthday, Garrison. May the qi be with you!
I was invisible for years on the radio and now, living in New York, I’m as invisible as anyone else which suits me fine but on Friday, walking along Amsterdam Avenue, I heard someone yell, “Mister Wobegon!” and it was an old black lady standing in a crowd waiting to go into Central Baptist Church for prayer meeting. I walked over and she said she’d seen me on TV years ago telling a story about about how I’d been fascinated by a flock of geese flying just above and ahead of my car as I drove down the highway, so fascinated that when they angled off to the right, I drove into the ditch. One little detail in a story many years before stuck with her. This moved me more than if I’d gotten a Pulitzer prize. Prizes are purely political, but this little encounter was real. Cast your bread upon the waters. She didn’t know my name but she remembered the flock of birds, my hood ornament, and me following them into the ditch. (A true story, it was a shallow ditch, I drove down into it and then up out of it.) Her face lit up, it made her happy to recall this while waiting for prayer meeting to start. Now I wish I’d gone into church with her.