Everybody knows about Lake Wobegon, right?
It’s a fictional little town in Northern Minnesota made famous by story-telling Garrison Keillor (one of my story-telling heroes.)
Garrison hosts a radio show called “Prairie Home Companion” on Minnesota Public Radio every Saturday night at 6 p.m. in the Eastern Time Zone.
We’ve listened to Prairie Home Companion–on and off–since we moved to the shores of Lake Superior back in the late 1970’s. Once we even traveled to the old Ishpeming theatre with our friends Bertha and Bob to listen to the Butch Thompson Trio, one of Garrison’s standard bands back in the early ’80’s.
We don’t listen much these days. But every time I happen to discover Garrison telling one of his wild & crazy stories about Lake Wobegon (get it? Woe be gone!) a smile arises involuntarily and you know–you just know–that you live in Lake Wobegon, too.
It happened yesterday. I was driving to town to buy eggs and cherry tomatoes and onions for enchiladas and frozen juice–on a Sunday afternoon–and happened to stumble upon a repeat show from Saturday night. (I did not buy the cherry tomatoes. They cost $4.99 for a quart. An ominous sign proclaimed that crop failures in California or someplace was resulting in exorbitant prices this year.)
Garrison was broadcasting out of New York City. My ears perked up, because we have a loved one living in NYC. Part of me wishes I was in NYC right now visiting said loved daughter.
He started bringing us the news from Lake Wobegon.
Please excuse all my wrong facts about this story. I had no plans to write a blog, and probably have only about 63.5% of the tale correct.
A service group in Lake Wobegon had put an old car on the rotten ice on the lake. “Rotten” ice is ice that is melting quickly and cannot be walked upon any more. All the fishing shacks have been taken off, but the entire town waits breathlessly and buys tickets to bet on the exact day and hour the car will go through the ice and sink into the lake. (A huge chain is attached so it will eventually be towed out of the lake.)
The funny part of this story is that our little town of L’Anse, on the shores of Keweenaw Bay, used to do the same thing. Put a car out on the ice and sell tickets betting on its sinking. Until the Michigan Department of Natural Resources or Department of Environmental Quality–whatever it was called back then–declared that was the craziest most polluting thing anyone could do and banned the ice-melting car-sinking fund-raiser.
Garrison Keillor said the Lake Wobegon service group would use the funds to send one of their brightest young people to a good college.
Then–in his magnificent story-telling meandering–he began to share that the brightest of the young folks will then leave Lake Wobegon, never to be seen again as they become successful and live successful lives anywhere other than Lake Wobegon.
He said the only ones you’ll get to know as you age along the shores of the lake are the challenged kids, the ones with problems, who stay home and don’t go anywhere. (Garrison, that was not politically correct or even accurate. tut-tut. There are a LOT of kids without problems who choose to stay on the shores of the lake and raise their families. Which you know. Except you are a good story-teller so you exaggerate just a tad to make us laugh and make us see the truth hiding out in your stories.)
He also said the kids who are planning to be film makers will also come home to live in Lake Wobegon and stay for twenty or thirty or sixty years and end up changing our diapers before we die (I think I am making up the part about diapers) while we will never see the successful kids again because they’re out being successful–but it will be the problem kids, the challenged kids, the unmotivated kids, the would-be filmmakers, whom we’ll live with on a daily basis, whom we’ll get to know in their middle age.
OK, readers, by the time Garrison finished his story (my gosh how quickly it shifted from cars sinking into the ice to our children to dying!) I was crying in the car, having completely forgotten the high cost of cherry tomatoes.
Weeping. Thinking about our bright children on two coasts of the country–although one of them may still attempt to become a filmmaker–so maybe someone will return. Thinking about the young folks we see every day–like the teacher aide who graduated with Chris (who is a fine young woman, not problematic at all) and the auto mechanic downtown and the woman who cuts my hair and the smiling cashier at Pat’s Foods. Thinking how we will see them–day in and day out–for the next twenty or thirty or forty years and…
Well, this is getting rather sad, isn’t it? Garrison called it one of the “great ironies of life.” His story kept tying together these ironies, one after another, until he had a chain of ironies and I was weeping in the car, sure that we lived on Lake Wobegon, sure of nothing except the ice is rotten and Garrison is one of the best story-tellers on the planet.
**And that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, folks. I mean–the shores of the Keweenaw Bay in big and beautiful Lake Superior. Stay tuned next week, or maybe tomorrow, for more stories bound to make you laugh or cry or ponder the great planetary ironies.