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The Real Magic of Keillor & Lake Wobegon

Contrary to what I wrote in a prior entry, the departure of Garrison Keillor is hitting me harder than I thought and hoped it would.

As mentioned, we have been through this whole thing before back in 1987 when Keillor announced to the world that he was closing up shop to move to Denmark. I mourned and played old re-runs (with the Butch Thompson Trio), but before long he was back. I was glad for that but the newer version never struck me as much as the chapter which started with “Look who’s coming through that door”.

Anyway, when Garrison Keillor announced his departure from the show this time I was one of those who in part welcomed the new, believing that perhaps it was time.

But now as the last “new” show is broadcast this weekend (It is not live as it was taped at the Hollywood Bowl the night before – reruns will be played until the new host takes over in the Fall), the tributes for Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion are pouring in, one made me finally appreciate what was drawn me to the program, Lake Wobegon and Garrison Keillor.

An article from The Atlantic probably tapped into my thoughts and feelings better than I ever could.

Entitled “How Garrison Keillor United America”, Joshua Rigsby’s wonderfully written essay is sub-headlined “The host of A Prairie Home Companion used storytelling to bridge the gap between red and blue states”:

But with Keillor’s retirement, Americans lose something else, equally valuable and increasingly rare: a cultural figure fluent in the worldviews of both progressives and conservatives. Raised as a fundamentalist Christian in a small Midwestern town, Keillor crossed a vast ideological chasm during his career, becoming a stalwart political leftist without forgetting his small-town roots. Through his novels, his poetry, and his public-radio show, he’s served as a cultural liaison between red and blue states, interpreting each for the other, and offering a humorous, if not sympathetic, glance in both directions. His stories of life in rural America transport his listeners into a world where those of different beliefs and backgrounds exist in a surprisingly similar fashion to themselves.

This is the true legacy of Keillor’s life in the public eye. Having crossed, Sherpa-like, the icy, sharp-sided crevasse that separates the political right and left, he’s been able to shade the views of each to the other with finesse and a pinch of humor. What an inveterate progressive or conservative may fail to comprehend is that the opposing group acts in a way that makes sense in the light of their particular brand of jaundiced glasses. Having seen through both, Keillor can point out the foibles of each. His decision to lionize rather than lambast his conservative roots, to create and animate sympathetic characters from a culture he no longer agrees with politically, remaining civil instead of sarcastic—these are traits worth celebrating.

The beauty of Lake Wobegon is that it cuts beneath the veneer of red and blue, and exposes the good of American life. As much as politicians and pundits may square off and battle over electoral-college votes and Senate seats, A Prairie Home Companion argues, the things that actually make life worth living are the simple pleasures….

I now more fully realize that it is this trait, as much as Powder Milk Biscuits, The Chatterbox Cafe, Ralph’s Prettygood Groceries, Butch Thompson, Jean Redpath, Johnny Gimble, Robin & Linda Williams and Heather Massey & the News from Lake Wobegon (all that I loved), that has drawn me, engaged me and impacted me the most.

It is also a trait that I try to apply in my own everyday dealings of neighbors, friends and friends I do not yet know – be they near and far.

Because we might not agree does not mean that the way we treat each other cannot be respectful and civilized – as the man from Lake Wobegon showed us.

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