I grew up fundamentalist as you did and my parents sent me to a Christian school, which, I’m sorry to say, emphasized faith over the teaching of knowledge. I never got the hang of writing effective prose. History was bent to serve a purpose. It was a big crisis when I graduated and insisted on attending a state college where I did my best to catch up. Do you feel that your upbringing was detrimental to personal growth?
Rachel Daniels, Fort Worth
My family couldn’t afford to send me to a Christian school so I attended public school and every day during music period, we sang non-Christian songs, about the grasshopper picking his teeth with a carpet tack, and Frankie shooting Johnny and the one about the E-ri-e a-rising and the gin getting low and I scarcely think we’ll get a drink till we come to Buffalo.
My family didn’t touch alcohol, but my parents didn’t protest our having to sing about gin. For one thing, they were too busy with other things to pay close attention. And they were not the protesting type. Once a year Mother wrote a note to school asking that I be excused from gym class and not be forced to learn to schottische and waltz, but that was her limit. My grade school was Benson School, named for Elmer Benson a progressive governor who supported Henry Wallace in 1948, and we were not of that ilk but we didn’t try to get the name changed. No, I had an interesting upbringing and don’t regret a bit of it, not even the preaching and the endless studies of Ezekiel and Jeremiah. It’s good to learn to sit and entertain yourself in the privacy of your imagination.
I have been wondering if you have any idea how much peace and joy PHC and Writer’s Almanac have brought to your listeners? If you knew, how could you bear it?
I began listening to PHC in 1982. My husband was in a band, leaving me home every Saturday night with an infant son. PHC was the highlight of my Saturdays, holding my son, listening to your show, and dancing with him to the music. As I prepared dinner on Saturdays, I happily listened to PHC, even though I don’t typically enjoy cooking. If we had dinner reservations, they were always made for 8:00 or later, so we wouldn’t miss the show. One Saturday evening, my preadolescent son was riding in the car with us, and he wanted his own music on the car radio and then the monologue came on, when you described being at your aunt’s house and being asked to behead a chicken. To your surprise the chicken kept running around after her head was removed. Gales of laughter from our son in the back seat. What a sweet memory! So, so many moments when we heard the harmonies of Robin and Linda, the poems of Billy Collins, the phone calls between Duane and his mother, and the banter among the guests. There are no words to thank you enough for the gift of Lake Wobegon.
So, I wonder, Garrison, how do you bear the knowledge of affecting so many people with this gift? I hope you make it to the Rochester, NY/Finger Lakes area again soon for a live show.
Jill Pavone and family
Jill, the truth is that I read your letter and don’t recognize it as being about me or that long-ago show. I’m glad you were happy but I take no credit for it. From my point of view, it was all confusion and insecurity, though I did enjoy doing the News and I liked hanging out with musicians. But I’m a writer, not a player, and I lack the big urge to perform. I was trying to re-create a sort of radio that had died out in my youth and, as with any creative venture, you’re never sure that it’s good enough. So your letter is wonderful but it’s not how I remember things. I wish it were true and I thank you for writing. GK
I umpire a lot of town team baseball out near Lake Wobegon. I was in Hamburg last week, and I’ll be in Green Isle next week. I am wondering, how are the Whippets doing this year?
They’re 14-4, Tony, thanks to some Latino players at 2nd and short and a couple pitchers who have real speed. Ernie the old knuckleballer is gone, replaced by guys with big hair sticking out of their caps. The Dutchman would die to see it but thank goodness he’s already dead, from cigar smoke inhalation.
Today is my 90th birthday. I am in perfect health. THAT TIME OF YEAR is one of a dozen books I dip into each morning and I love, on page 229, where you write:
Back home, the aspiring mother was to be given fertility drugs by injection by me, the love interest, she looking at me with dread as I approached with a hypodermic full of progesterone. I swabbed her lovely abdomen with antiseptic, pinched a roll of skin, and jabbed it in. I sang, Close your eyes, pretend I’m a Beatle as I stick you with this needle so that our seed’ll create something fetal. And finally, a lab guy named Ron injected my sperm into her egg and carefully set it in the nest. Instead of two passionate people in the backseat of a car crying, “Oh, my God!” a man in a white smock did the deed under a powerful microscope. And in due course science worked.
You gave me my BEST BIRTHDAY GIFT of belly-laugh! No needle needed.
You are beyond gifted.
It’s simply the truth, sir. My sperm went into a test tube, I injected the progesterone, she ovulated, and a guy named Richard fertilized the egg. It happens all the time.
At Antioch Writers’ Workshop, real poets (they were sometimes
paid real money for their poems) told us aspiring writers that a poem
is never finished. Perhaps Boom Year is really a prose poem. That recalls the academic joke about the universe being an abandoned master’s degree thesis. Perhaps, like your book, it’s really an unfinished poem.
Thank you for laughter. My dad said it’s the best gift you can give to someone.
Pete Schilling, Centerville, OH
I’m working on BOOM YEAR steadily, tightening, clarifying, filling, curling, dropping dead paragraphs, bucking up the tempo a little, and we’re aiming for spring publication. No prose poems here, I write limericks and classic sonnets and I’ve written two or three decent songs. My friend Louis Jenkins had the prose-poem franchise; I never got the hang of it.
Your report recently about becoming mega rich from selling a film company to Amazon unsettled me. However, I have been chided by a Texan I know who says that you were just joshing. Hope you were because I have to live with England losing the Euro soccer tournament on penalty shots after taking the lead in under two minutes — that’s enough to cope with for the time being.
Trevor Jones, Dorchester, England
The film company was Polar Films and my family’s studio, MGM, tried to buy Polar during the Depression. That was a joke. Sorry about England’s loss. I’ve tried to watch soccer on TV and after a few minutes I go back to reading the phone book. I guess you have to be there.
Mr. Keillor —
I just listened to your story about you and your two friends in the high school band driving to the site of the Buddy Holly (and the two other musicians) plane crash. I am your age and loved Buddy Holly as much as you did and grieved his death. Your story almost made me forget to breathe. Especially the part about leaving his guitar behind in the woods. I will never forget a word of it. Thank you.
Lynn, I thought of Buddy again a week ago at a memorial service for Lyle Bradley, my old biology teacher. He was an experienced pilot and in 1959 when the plane crashed and we kids were broken-hearted, he wanted us to know that it had happened for a reason. The young pilot was not fully capable for instrument flight. The weather was okay, for a certified pilot, which he was not, and he was so impressed by the celebrity of his passengers that he couldn’t say no. It was a tragedy but a preventable one. We did a show at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake and the owner of the flying service offered to show me the wreckage and I declined.
I have a number of recordings of PHC and was just listening to Kate MacKenzie sing “I Think of You.” On this same show you had Chanticleer and Ricky Skaggs.
I hope she is doing well. Her voice is angelic, and you and she worked so very well together. You are both missed.
Kate fell in love twenty-some years ago and moved out to Oregon and got married and recently came out with a new CD, MacKenzie-Adkins, which is a beauty. GK
Dear Mr. Keillor,
I disagree with your politics and enjoy your columns all the more for that and I’m wondering what your thoughts are about the Second Amendment. Do you follow along the liberal dotted line or do you have independent feelings? And though it’s none of my business, I wonder if you own a gun.
Sgt. Demarest, Billings
There are many men in love with firearms, who yearn for a better automatic weapon that gets off a barrage of firepower and feels great in your arms. If liberals succeed in imposing gun control, these automatics will double in value overnight. A terrific investment. A great majority of American adults, however, do not feel the same romantic tremors. If you see a man walk into the supermarket carrying an AR15, wearing an armored vest, it sets off alarms. It’s a matter of common sense. Every school in America, every small-town police department, has a plan for dealing with the unthinkable event of an insane shooter with an assault weapon. Small children are drilled in how to take cover, how to get low to the ground and run. This is now a part of growing up in America. It’s in the back of millions of minds: what to do if we hear gunfire? This is a loss of civilization, by people who’ve twisted the Second Amendment into a pretzel the Founders would not recognize as their handiwork. Defending the right to walk around with an AR15, a grenade launcher, and why not have a howitzer mounted on the hood of your car — it’s WEIRD, people. I grew up in a more peaceable country and wish we could regain it. People who love automatic weapons could get just as much pleasure out of a power lathe or a good video game. Thanks for your note. GK