Wednesday, September 9, 2009

News from Lake Wobegon

Oh my goodness. Jeff just called me and told me that Garrison Keillor had a stroke. (Luckily, it turns out it was minor and he's OK).

You may be wondering why this news would necessitate an urgent phone call. Well, you see, Garrison Keillor was kind of my first love.

Okay, he's kind of old for me, but so what?

My parents used to listen to A Prairie Home Companion on the radio and I fell in love with the deep, rolling Midwestern tones of his voice. I was 8 or 9 when my crush began, and since it was radio I used to imagine that Garrison Keillor looked just like Sam Malone from Cheers (I also had a crush on Ted Danson, thanks to Three Men and a retrospect it seems odd that I chose to gift my prepubescent lust to the asshole womanizer rather than trustworthy, bearded Tom Selleck, but that hair! It was so buoyant! At least I wasn't into Steve Guttenberg—that would have been a real red flag. Anyway...).

For my tenth birthday my parents took me to see A Prairie Home Companion live in New York. On the show people can submit messages for Garrison Keillor to read during breaks, and unbenownst to me my parents had done just that.

"Happy tenth birthday...." he began, his voice like a long, slow drip of molasses. My heart pounded in my chest. Was he actually going to say my name?

"...Ewe-na, from your loving parents."

I furrowed my brow. He had messed up my name, like everyone did. Throughout elementary school my phonetically-challenged teachers always called me Ewe-na La-March-ee, a name that sounded so much less melodic than my real one, that sounded like an alter ego from the deep South who made her own mayonnaise and subscribed to the Plow and Hearth catalogue.

After the show, my parents took me backstage to remedy the situation. In my memory, Garrison Keillor is as tall as a skyscraper, and I only reach his knees. He has an enormous head. He bends down to shake my hand and I am struck dumb. My mother tells him that I am the 10 year-old birthday girl whose name he mispronounced.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," he says. "My wife's name is Luna, so people mess that up all the time, too."

My eyes widen. His wife's name is practically my name. We share a deep, deep cosmic connection.

To this day, when I need to feel comforted I reach for my CDs of his tales from Lake Wobegon. As soon as I hear his languid, dusky baritone my breathing eases. My heart slows. I picture a stage, dark but for one spotlight illuminating Ted Danson and his perfect, shiny hair.

I wish him a speedy recovery. I hope I can still hear that voice for a long time to come.

1 comment :

  1. I was so sad when I heard about the stroke.

    It was my weekend ritual w/ my father to listen to A Prairie Home Companion and am now super jealous that you've MET him, even though he & I were practically neighbors - I grew up in South Dakota.

    I am listening to a Lake Wobegon update right now in his honor.


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