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Keillor writes: "Back in my youth, I wanted to be an artist and imagined this required a reckless life, big mood swings, unfiltered smokes, straight gin, black clothing, and now I feel that inspiration can arise out of quiet and order and a peaceful disposition."

Garrison Keillor. (photo: MPR)
Garrison Keillor. (photo: MPR)


A Former Outlaw Appreciating the Republican Life

By Garrison Keillor, Garrison Keillor's Website

25 September 20

 

n the spring, there was a shortage of vegetable seeds and now, I’m told, there is a shortage of canning jar lids. This doesn’t affect me, locked down in Manhattan, but it brings back memories of my childhood home, the half-acre garden, the big tomato, corn and cucumber crops, the steamy kitchen with the pressure cooker going full tilt.

As a child, I worried that we might be poor and maybe canning was a sign that we were. Our neighbors were not canners. The dread of the stigma of poverty stuck with me until I was 18 and went to college and actually was poor and took it as a point of pride. I was a poet specializing in unintelligible poetry, and poverty was a mark of authenticity. Geniuses were, of necessity, poor. My girlfriend, however, came from a suburban Republican family and over time, against my principles, I came to love them, especially her mother, Marjorie. She had grown up in North Dakota in the Depression, when dust blew through the windows, her father and brother drunk in the barn, and she set out to make a graceful life of her own and maintain a cheerful atmosphere, avoiding the sort of dark brooding that filled my poetry, and I stepped into the role of boyfriend and enjoyed their company, and gradually they corrupted me and instilled strong bourgeois leanings that an outlaw poet should shun.

It was Marjorie’s fault: I honest to God loved to be around her as she cooked dinner, her Rob Roy in hand, smoking a Winston, chatting about friends and family, prospective travels, nothing about happy childhood memories of which she seemed to have none. She had risen from hardscrabble origins to make a nice life, peaceful, no outbursts of shouting, no ugliness, wall-to-wall carpeting, art on the walls, no trashy behavior, good manners.

I think of her these days as the pandemic has imposed a small life on us. I’m old, I stay home to avoid crowds, we cook at home, our apartment is about the size of their bungalow — LR, DR, 2 BR, Kit — except they also had a den, which we don’t. I don’t know anyone who has a den these days. But it’s a pleasant small life that Marjorie would recognize, a life I avoided for about forty years of gallivanting around, and now I find, to my surprise, that I’ve become fond of it. I turn on the ball game, I pour a ginger ale and pretend its Scotch, I smell the chicken cooking, and I remember that gentle Republican family at home on a Saturday afternoon. Easily satirized but comforting nonetheless.

I was a busy man for about forty years, doing shows, writing books, and in the course of it I gradually lost touch with the world around me, social media, cable TV, apps, electronics, all the current acronyms, GDP, LED, YOLO, POC, ROFL, AFAIK, GPS, LGBTIQQIAA+, and I am an old man enjoying baseball, a crossword puzzle, writing letters with a black pen on white stationery, a dish of ice cream, a cup of licorice tea, all of which were around fifty years ago. The one advantage of modern electronics is that I can Google Jelly Roll Morton or Bill Monroe or Little Richard and there it is on YouTube, no need to pull the vinyl out of the sleeve and set down the needle. The more things change, the more they are the same. I’m in Manhattan but really I’m in a village of the Upper West Side along Columbus Avenue, the drugstore, the grocery, a bookstore, the church on 99th. Like most people who value rationalism and low blood pressure, I ignore politics completely and wait for November 3rd and hope for clarity.

Back in my youth, I wanted to be an artist and imagined this required a reckless life, big mood swings, unfiltered smokes, straight gin, black clothing, and now I feel that inspiration can arise out of quiet and order and a peaceful disposition. I hope so. In my youth, I wrote a great deal about death and now, with death in the air, I write about gratitude for love and music and work and good-hearted Republicans. God grant us more of them.

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