alternatively titled, “a love song for my children.”
I love talk radio. I love conservative talk radio. I love liberal talk radio. I love post-Hawks games sports talk radio. I love morning talk shows and will frequently change the station when they play music. I adore news radio of all kinds.
But there is something absolutely magical about my childhood Saturday nights at 5 p.m. in Chicago.
At 5 p.m. on Saturday night, the self-deprecating Minnesotan Garrison Keillor, accompanied by a jaunty pianist, would open up the stage of “A Praire Home Companion,” a lovely radio show that often featured tales of Garrison’s beloved Lake Wobegon
Listening to APHC is like being thoroughly ensconced in some of the most treasured aspects of my childhood. Growing up, we mostly listened to APHC on the way to Saturday night Catholic Mass, and some of my strongest, most delicious memories, are of Garrison’s steady, deep voice rumbling through stories of Guy Noir and News of Lake Wobegon. Our family’s red minivan bounced along the tree-lined streets of Palatine, the same streets that brimmed with my own family’s 50+ year history of growing up and growing old in this town. Sunlight filtered and danced through the large oak trees we drove under, a faint smell of barbecues pre-heating wafted through open car windows and Garrison’s narrative rose and fell over the sounds of my family chattering along the way to mass.
I especially recall Garrison’s folksy duets with guest singers and song writers: a perfect soundtrack to a lush summer day.
Tonight, on the way home from a day with Frank’s family at the Lake, I turned on NPR and heard the familiar sounds of my beloved APHC. The first strains of the piano accompaniment sent me straight back to those wonderful evenings driving to Mass. I turned the volume up, hoping that the sound of Garrison’s rambling stories, always punctuated with his deep, inhaling breaths through his nose, would bury themselves deep into the girls’ psyche.
See, those Saturday night family trips to Mass are, for me, the epitome of an American childhood. We worked outside all day on nearly every Saturday – mowing, trimming, watering, and planting – and then we would wash up, put on clean cotton shirts and skirts, and go to Mass.
The church I grew up in, was a dark, cavernous space, but it was not unfriendly – not at all – it was a holy and happy place for me. On Saturday nights, our parish allowed the worship director to use guitars and folksy versions of our favorite hymns. We always left church on Saturday nights with light hearts – and hungry stomachs.
Usually Garrison’s show was still going on when we left church. While we drove somewhere to pick up dinner, we’d listen to the News of Lake Wobegon, smiling as Garrison deftly wove together stories of Lutherans and casseroles and young people making their way in life.
And always, always, Garrison finished his broadcast with: “That’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”
Then, the jaunty pianist would send us all off into the proverbial sunset, happy and satisfied that somewhere in the world, there must be a Lake Wobegon. And more importantly, there seemed to be an implicite promise that there would always be a Lake Wobegon – as long as their story was told.
One day, maybe my children will hear the sound of Garrison Keillor’s voice intimately narrating a story about the stoic midwestern folks up in Minnesota, and that they will feel what I feel: that our stories and our legacy and our love continues on in the people we love, long after we are gone.