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19th Annual Minnesota Autism Conference: Garrison Keillor Unforgettable

heidischauer June 7, 2014 Autism
April 30, 2014

I say often that if you get the chance to volunteer you should do it. I say that because I’ve never had a volunteer experience I regret. In fact, most of my volunteer experiences have led to moments in my life I will never forget.

The 19th Annual Minnesota Autism Conference began Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Garrison Keillor, of the Minnesota Public Radio Show A Prairie Home Companion, was the keynote speaker.

At 1:33 p.m. that day, after washing dishes and completing a couple loads of laundry and taking a sip of coffee while I looked out the window in front of my desk reminiscing about memories of my father and the birds I could spot outside, I saw a notification that I had a message. Moving my finger across the mouse pad, I opened it. It read: Hi Heidi! I have always admired your photography prowess, and I have a question/request for you: we have our autism conference starting tonight and our volunteer photographer can’t make it. Any chance you would be available?

Tonight, on a raining Wednesday? Tonight, the day after the third anniversary of my father passing. I hadn’t planned to do too much. Movies maybe. Or a book. I was aware of the conference, and had even tried to win tickets to go hear Garrison Keillor speak because I was curious what exactly he would have to say about autism. But I didn’t win the tickets. And my sister who I wanted to go to the conference with had to work her bartending job. And, it was just one of those days. So, I planned to spend the day not doing too much. Being, I guess, in the space of a difficult anniversary where a daughter reminisces about and misses her father. But now I had an invitation to help the Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM).

What would I do with my kids? Did I have clean, appropriate clothes for this thing? Were my camera batteries charged? I sat for a moment and thought about the conference, and the kids, and my commitments, and my sister – would she be upset if I went to the conference without her?

My sister Amber lives two hours from me. She has two sons, one of which has autism. I was aware of and interested in the conference for that reason: the possibilities it could present for education and information that would help my sister and my nephew. To go to the conference – even as the official photographer – without my sister, was a bit disheartening. I called her to talk about it. Then, I called my mother-in-law.

My response email to AuSM read: I got a hold of my mother-in-law. I will come. Please give me the address and let me know where I “report to” once I arrive (smile).

I then posted to my Facebook: BEYOND HONORED to be packing up my camera and notebook and heading out the door to go to the 19th Annual Minnesota Autism Conference. You and the boys will be with me in spirit Amber Cunningham. I LOVE YOU! CHEERS to all that is amazing in the people around us! CHEERS to seizing the moment and embracing a last minute adventure!

It’s true. Every time someone thinks of me to record a moment in their life, I feel honored. In a flurry I ran around my house changing my clothes, getting my son ready, checking my camera gear, feeding and getting water for my dog. As soon as my daughter got off her school bus I ushered her into the vehicle where my son was already seat belted in.

“Where are we going?”

“Grandma and Grandpa’s.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. Mommy is going to take pictures.”

“Okay.”

During the seventeen-minute drive to Grandma and Grandpa’s we chatted about school, where I was going to take pictures, and what music we should dance to in the truck.

“Dis one,” my son requested, wiggling around in his car seat with his hands up in the air. I watched him every now and again in the rear view mirror as we all “danced” until we pulled into my in-laws driveway. The truck door opened, kids jumped out, I yanked the car seats out and placed them on the deck as I walked into the house.

Dressed in jeans and a black sweater I asked my mother-in-law, Faye, “Do I look okay?”

Smiling she shook her head yes.

“Okay, love you guys,” I said, hugging everyone and rushing back out the door. Already after 4 p.m. I wanted to get going for fear of rush hour traffic. I was going into the city. Better than coming out of it, but I still wanted to allow time for slow traveling, possible accidents and unexpected turns. I wanted to be sure to get where I was supposed to be on time.

I drove through an Arby’s drive-thru in Lino Lakes and scarfed down some roast beef from the roast beef sandwich I purchased while I continued down 35. I didn’t want to arrive to the conference hungry or be shaky when I was trying to hold my camera and take pictures. Thirty-eight minutes later I pulled into the parking lot at the DoubleTree in St. Louis Park.

Once I turned my vehicle off I took a deep breath, smiled, snapped a “selfie” and made a post to my Instagram account: Excited to be on my way into the 19th Annual #Minnesota #Autism #Conference at the #DoubleTree Hotel in #StLouisPark Cheers to #love #support #education and #AUSM The Minnesota Autism Society.

New to Instagram, I was hopeful posting about the conference while it was going on may inspire someone. Maybe someone who didn’t know about it would see something that interested them and come for the following days? Maybe. I grabbed my gear and went into the hotel.

The woman at the front desk explained I should take the elevator around the corner up to the second floor, so I did. The doors of the elevator opened, I stepped out, walked down the carpeted walkway toward the table with the AuSM lettering, and there I was greeted by a bright smile belonging to a woman named Kelly.

“Hi.”

“Hi. Is Julia around?”

“She’ll be here any minute.”

“Okay.”

And seconds later Julia showed up with an equally bright smile. “Hi,” she said, “Let me show you around.”

Julia pointed out the merchandise on the tables closest to us, the rooms down the hallway where vendors were setting up and the book store was, and, the Park Ballroom where Mr. Keillor would speak.

“I don’t think our guest of honor is here yet,” she said.

“I’ll just walk around and take some pictures,” I said.

“Great,” she said. “Thank you.”

I hung my yellow rain jacket on an empty hanger outside the ballroom thinking, It’s like a piece of sunshine. I opted to keep my brightly colored puzzle piece autism scarf on. It made me think of my sister and my nephew, and made me feel a part of the AuSM team. I pulled my camera from its placement sliding the neck strap over my head, zipped up my camera backpack, put my arms through the straps and pulled it onto my back. Here we go, I thought. Then I headed over to a sign perched on an art easel with a picture of Garrison Keillor.

Fatherhood. This evening he was speaking about fatherhood. Somehow I had missed that. I clinched my back teeth together and smiled while I swallowed a lump in my throat snapping a picture of the sign.

I captured images of artwork, vendors, books and resources sharing them on Instagram with information about the conference. Never know who might need to see this, I thought. Never know. Around 6:45 p.m. I found a spot in the ballroom behind a bump out in a wall where I would be close enough to the stage yet out of the way of people sitting. My goal was, as it usually is, to document the evening without being distracting.

As I watched the chairs in the Park Ballroom slowly fill, I listened to a small group of adults gathered near me. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the speakers for the parent panel were standing next to me talking about “Why does he (Garrison Keillor) want us up there? People came to hear him speak.” The comments made me curious. Why didn’t these people think what they had to share was as important as Garrison Keillor? I’m as interested in hearing from the waiter as I am from a well-known chef or celebrity. People are people and the lives they live are interesting. I was sure that while people most likely had come to hear Mr. Keillor speak, they would also be delighted to hear what these parents had to share. I decided not to tell them I had overheard their conversation. I snapped a few pictures to be sure my camera settings would work.

Everyone found their seats and a few minutes after 7 p.m. more than 150 parents, educators and autism community members joined Autism Society of Minnesota’s Executive Director, Jonah Weingberg, in welcoming Garrison Keillor to the stage.

Garrison Keillor. He’s a really big deal in these parts, and I hate to admit it, but I didn’t know much about him. I know, I know. What in the world? I’m from Minnesota and I love storytelling. You’d think I would know a little something about Garrison Keillor. Well, what I knew was that I saw him once, in 2006, outside The St. Paul Hotel during the movie premiere of “A Prairie Home Companion”. He was with people I assumed were his family, holding what I assumed was his daughter’s hand. He was wearing a suit with red shoes and a red tie. Red is my favorite color. I absolutely loved that he was wearing a suit and red tennis shoes. And I absolutely loved that he was holding his little girl’s hand. I told my dad and he smiled.

That year I listened to A Prairie Home Companion a couple of times, and I was sure I would become an avid listener. At twenty-seven years old, I did not become an avid listener. I did, however, enjoy a cd collection of the show while I was on bed rest pregnant with my daughter. Sadly, I’ve never read any of Mr. Keillor’s books. What I knew about him was that he is from Minnesota, he tells stories, and he has a radio show called A Prairie Home Companion which also was made into a movie. That’s what I knew when I walked into the Park Ballroom. What I know now is that I will never forget my first time seeing Garrison Keillor speak. The room erupted with laughter, sat silent, and burst into song. Educational, inspirational, humorous and fun, Garrison Keillor is one of the most magnificent speakers I have ever listened to and watched. Really incredible. Really memorable.

His speech was beautiful and eloquent in a way that at times throughout the evening left me mesmerized. I found myself standing in that room, my camera still, my notebook resting in my crossbody bag. Anyone who knows me knows that is not how I typically am during an event. I take pictures. I write down too many details. But that night, I was there, in the moment, listening fully.

Keillor’s talk began with him explaining that some would say he is on the autism spectrum. He smiled and said, “I’ve come to meet the others.”

From entertaining remarks about what the male species contributes to a relationship and the start of a family to notes about normalcy and how he was glad he wasn’t “typical”, the audience, myself included, enjoyed a few chuckles.

The laughter continued with the story of a snowstorm in February when Keillor had an appointment at the Mayo Clinic. Weather officials urged: “no unnecessary driving”.

Keillor explained, “To a Minnesota man this was like a bugle call.”

Audience members clapped their hands, slapped their legs, leaned forward in their chairs and threw their heads back roaring over the details of the semi, and the look, and Keillor finally fastening his seat belt. “A bugle call.” I so easily could picture my husband explaining to me: “I’ll be fine.”

The tone and depth of Keillor’s voice, the words he chooses, the sentences he says, how he pauses along the way and infuses important and serious details with humor – it’s captivating. In the Park Ballroom on the second floor of the DoubleTree in St. Louis Park, Minnesota with my camera draped around my neck not taking pictures, I came to understand why so many people love and embrace Garrison Keillor and his storytelling. How had I not spent more time listening to A Prairie Home Companion? How had I not read any of Garrison Keillor’s books?

As the night went on the laughter faded into the amber colored glow of the room and moments of seriousness came to light. Autism. How does autism effect Garrison Keillor?

“How it effects me is to make me profoundly grateful for this life,” he said.

Profoundly grateful for this life, shouldn’t we all be?

Mr. Keillor continued, standing in the spotlight with a huge AuSM sign illuminated behind him, “You have no right to hold yourself above other people, it changes your view of the world.”

I imagined it difficult to hold ones self above the six-foot-four-inch man, born in Anoka, Minnesota, but I got the feeling there were times in his life when people had. In his dark pinstripe suit wearing red tennis shoes and a red tie, he paced back and forth, holding his glasses in his left hand; putting them on and taking them off and placing them up in his hair. In his right hand he grasp the microphone, pointing it not at his lips, but at the portion of his neck that houses his voice box. Mostly he didn’t make a lot of eye contact. Mostly.

Much of the evening he kept a straight face while he told the tale of a boy who didn’t want to be tackled by the players of the high school football team, so he decided to write the sports column for the school newspaper. A boy who went to a state mental hospital with a friend and saw someone he recognized from school. A boy who went on a job interview and got the job, and kept the job, because he showed up consistently and did the job. A boy who met a woman and went to a fish restaurant and decided to be part of having a baby. A boy who came so incredibly close to no longer being able to speak. A boy who became a father and had a child who wasn’t quite like the child he had imagined. A father who had to make the decision to do what was best for his daughter and let others care for this child he loves.

With each story Keillor raised his eyebrows at just the right moment. He flung out his hands and threw up his fist and pointed up into the sky at just the right moment. He increased the volume of his voice and spoke almost in a whisper at just the right moment. He stood still, looked over into the audience and revealed his cheeky smile, at just the right moment. In that spotlight on that stage, the chapters of Garrison Keillor’s journeys came to life and audience members could feel what it is he has experienced. In him, this iconic Minnesota man, they could find pieces of themselves.

I remained in my original spot near the wall for a little while, then quietly I walked around the back of the room to the other side. I snapped pictures from the new angle and next went to the back of the room. At some point, maybe halfway through Mr. Keillor’s presentation, I folded to my knees on the carpeted floor behind the last row of people sitting in chairs. My right hand “trigger finger” pressed the shutter release a few times then my camera once again hung from the strap around my neck, its body resting in the palm of my left hand.

“We were afraid of bullying . . . meanness . . . being ostricized,” he said about his daughter and going to school, “as all parents of interesting children are.”

“Parents of interesting children.” What a great way to phrase that. I thought of my sister and her magical sons, and my own children with their wonder, and I smiled.

After a humorous remark about a particular pastor on a particular day in church, Garrison Keillor recalled a moment when his daughter Maia, who has been diagnosed with Angelman syndrome, was sitting next to him, her head resting on his shoulder. She had fallen asleep. He had wished he was asleep.

He told that story in such a way I imagined a church I’ve gone to with my own dad. I could see the pews, and the people, and I could imagine a few rows up and on the other side, a little girl with her head resting on her father’s shoulder.

The room sat mostly silent and a few tears crept down my cheeks and fell to my shirt. An image of a little girl comfortable, safe, loved; resting her head on her father’s shoulder while she sleeps beside him during church – that’s the image I continue to have when I think of Garrison Keillor and what he shared at the 19th Annual Minnesota Autism Conference. That image of a child beside her parent is what I continue to see when I remember a father talking to a room full of strangers about the daughter that he loves.

Julia, the Autism Society of Minnesota Director of Marketing at the time, had come over to tell me how impressed she was with Garrison Keillor.

“I had no idea,” she whispered as she knelt down beside me.

I smiled.

“I figured,” I whispered. “He’s really amazing.” I figured only because for years I had been hearing about how wonderful Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion are.

Julia and I both stopped whispering and looked back toward the stage. Mr. Keillor kept speaking of his daughter. The one who loves water. The one who doesn’t want him to go shopping at the mall with her when she is going with her friends. The one who may never read his books, but can alphabetize them on a bookshelf. The one who he knows and loves.

With both hands I held my camera to my chest and let tears drip off my cheeks. I did not look at Julia. Recently she too had lost her father. My heart quivered for her, and for myself, and I clinched my back teeth trying to maintain composure. Julia wiped her face with her hands. I imagined my dad smiling and saying something like: “Not too bad, that guy with the red shoes.” Garrison Keillor would be alright in my dad’s book. I held my camera up and took a picture.

I cut through the silence with a soft whisper to Julia, “Wouldn’t you love to talk to him?”

“Come to the book signing,” she smiled, “It’s right after this.”

“Oh, okay.”

I didn’t know there was a book signing. That’s how little I knew about Garrison Keillor; I hadn’t realized he just released another book.

Julia stood up and went back to her co-workers. I remained on the floor watching this 71-year-old man from Minnesota standing on stage speaking from the heart about memorable, and sometimes challenging, moments in his life. He continued to talk about children, and parenting, and love.

“You learn that the way to get something done is to just do it. Sometimes it’s that straightforward,” he said. He continued, “We cannot count on others to do our work for us. We must do it ourselves.”

I made a note for inspiration: We must do the work ourselves.

Personally and professionally it appeared Garrison Keillor had done the work. Married with children, he successfully wrote a number of books, had an incredible radio show which was made into a movie, had traveled a bit, lived a bit, and talked a bit. He said of A Prairie Home Companion, “I invented it, and now, I believe in it.”

Believing in it – whatever it is – is what really matters, isn’t it? Who better to believe in something than its creator? Parents, who better to believe in someone than the person who created and brought that being into this world?

As Garrison Keillor came to the end of his talk he told a favorite joke of his daughter Maia’s, and he shared a version of this story:

Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

I loved that story. “It made a difference to that one” – I love that. And I loved what happened next.

Garrison Keillor invited three parents to join him on stage to discuss what it is like to be a parent of someone with autism: Michele and Dave Silvester, and Dawn Brasch. They took their seats on stage and then . . . Keillor began to sing.

“Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” almost made me lose it. I burst out laughing, bit my lip and smiled. Tears came down and I thought: FAVORITE MOMENT! While I enjoyed everything Garrison Keillor had said, all of his honesty and bravery with sharing personal stuff, the moment he simply started singing “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” on stage in front of people who clearly were not expecting him to sing, comfortable as can be in his own skin – that moment was simply fantastic. Even greater than that was the second he held up the microphone encouraging everyone in the room to sing, and they did. They did! That ability to inspire others by being himself is something great about Garrison Keillor.

After two more songs Garrison Keillor and the parents on the parent panel, sat. The topic was parenthood and what life with autism as a parent is like.

The Silvesters shared that autism is as fascinating as it is frustrating. They have twins on the spectrum. Like all individuals their twins are unique from each other. What they as parents worry about most is how others will treat them; how they will get through life when they (Michele and Dave) are not there.

Dave Silvester explained that one of his sons loves applause. “When he is riding with me in the car he will say, ‘Irish Dad’ wanting me to put on one of the cds of live Irish music,” he said.

The Silvester’s other son, Nicholas, loves lights. Go to a concert or a play and he wants to know what color the lights were. What the Silvesters said they love most about their children is looking at the joy on their innocent faces.

Dawn Brasch also has twins: Jacob is autistic. Michael is not. When Dawn took her seat on stage Garrison Keillor joked with her that she had fast-talking syndrome, a condition common among Wisconsin people.

“I’m from Chicago,” she said.

“She grew up in Chicago, but she longs for Minnesota,” Keillor said, and the audience laughed. Dawn Brasch went on to share her highs and lows of being a parent who deals on a daily basis with autism.

What the parent panel shared was every bit as important as what Garrison Keillor shared. He sat on stage with them, on the edge of his seat, leaning forward, with his arms crossed, focused and interested in what they as parents go through; what they as parents experience because of autism. His request for that parent panel, and his sincere interest in what they had to share, is another reason why I have found Garrison Keillor to be fascinating. I will never forget how lovingly and beautifully Mr. Keillor and those parents of the parent panel spoke about their “interesting” children. At the end of all the speaking I made a point to find Michele and Dave Silvester and Dawn Brasch and tell them that they did a great job and it was wonderful to hear what they had to say.

“People like to hear about real moments,” I said to Michele and Dave Silvester. It’s true. People like real and raw and honest.

After I told the parents I was happy they were brave enough to share their stories, I walked to the back of the room where Julia thanked me for volunteering my services with a copy of Garrison Keillor’s latest book: The Keillor Reader. How incredible, right? I thought so.

“Thank you so much for the book,” I said, “I cannot wait to read it.”

Julia smiled.

I thought a second and said, “You won’t mind, though, if I have it signed to my sister, will you?”

Julia smiled and shook her head no.

When I volunteered to photograph Walk Now for Autism Speaks I designed a t-shirt with pictures of my sister Amber and her two boys on it, and had Miss Minnesota write a message to my sister. That way Amber had a small souvenir to remind her that I take her and her sons with me in spirit when I volunteer and learn a little more about autism. My sister loved the shirt. I knew she would love the book, too.

I headed to the book signing room and began taking pictures of Garrison Keillor meeting his fans and signing their books. He leaned in and listened to questions and comments, posed differently for every picture, held props and took selfies when requested. He didn’t sit. He didn’t complain. He didn’t look bored, annoyed, or rush the process.

I waited until every person had their moment to meet Mr. Keillor and have their books signed before I handed off my camera and took my turn. I walked up, smiled, and handed Garrison Keillor my book.

“And who is this for?” he asked.

“To my sister Amber,” I said, “she is a parent of an interesting child.”

I said it and grinned while I stood next to him as he opened the book and began writing. Some of the AuSM staff snapped a few pictures for me. As I stood there I could feel myself tearing up thinking about my sister and her son and autism and this conference and this night and Mr. Garrison Keillor. When he was done signing my book, as he handed it back to me, I wrapped my arms around his waist giving him a hug as I softly said, “Thank you.”

Thank you for sharing your stories; for encouraging other parents to share their stories; for listening so intently; for cherishing every person who purchased a book and took the time to meet you; for smiling and laughing and being amazing; for agreeing to be a part of the autism conference. Thank you, thank you, thank you, I thought. Thank you.

A short while later I watched Garrison Keillor put on his taupe jacket and disappear down the hallway. I collected my things, gave Julia a hug, thanked her for the opportunity, and made my way to the elevator. Rethinking the night I smiled and hummed “Glory, Glory, Hallelijah”. Out of the elevator, down the hall, and across the parking lot I went. Unlocking my truck door, I climbed in, put on the interior light, folded back the cover of the book I was given and looked to see what Mr. Keillor wrote. It was perfect: For Amber Goodness, Humor, Strawberries.

Strawberries! For my little sister, who I used to tell reminded me of Strawberry Shortcake with all her freckles and loveliness. I snapped a picture so she could see right then that she was there in spirit with me. I uploaded it to Facebook:

GKAmber

Dear Sister,
The Minnesota Autism Conference didn’t fit perfectly into my schedule tonight, but they asked me to come and I love to help. And, it was for autism. How could I not go? I missed you terribly. I took some pictures. I listened to some stories. I fell in love. If ever you should get the chance to hear Mr. Garrison Keillor speak about his life, his being a father, his daughter…IF EVER…you must go. I smiled. I cried. I sang, “GLORY, GLORY, HALLELUIAH…” And at the end, when I could stand it no longer, I hugged him. Tight. I love you. I miss you.

During my drive home that evening from St. Louis Park I had tears streaming down my face. How lucky Garrison Keillor’s family is to have someone who notices all those little details. How lucky his children to have a father who celebrates “interesting”. How lucky those parents on the parent panel to have this man who is the keynote speaker sit on the edge of his chair and listen – I mean REALLY listen – to them. How lucky we all were to hear what Garrison Keillor and those parents had to say. About parenthood . . . and autism . . . and life. I replayed it in my mind the entire drive home. I had no doubt that night a lot of people were positively impacted on the final day of April, the month of National Autism Awareness. I couldn’t wait to see what the rest of the conference would bring.

http://www.ausm.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

garrison keillor signs off

For fans of the radio program “A Prarie Home Companion”, news that Garrison Keillor is about to be homeward bound is an adjustment.

“I hear that old piano,
From down the avenue …”

That old piano has been an old friend to millions of radio listeners for a long time. But next week, Garrison Keillor will step away from the microphone.

 

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Humorist Garrison Keiller, of “A Prairie Home Companion,” is ending his 42-year run as host of the popular radio program.

A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION

“I’m going to get back to what I intended to do in the first place, which is to be a writer,” he said.

“It’s Saturday, and the band is playing.
Honey could we ask for more?”

“But you didn’t know that radio was your destiny?” asked Pauley.

“Radio was never my destiny,” he said. “It just happened. I just got entangled in it. No, I’m a loner. You can tell that by the fact that I never make eye contact.”

He calls “A Prairie Home Companion” a “42-year detour” — a detour he took in 1974.

“I went to Nashville to write about the Grand Ole Opry for The New Yorker,” Keillor said. “I really loved Nashville. It was so unbuttoned. All of these wonderful performers — Porter Wagoner was there, and Minnie Pearl, Roy Acuff. They were all children of the Depression, and they felt so lucky to have whatever they had. And it was really a happy place.”

“So I got seduced by that into trying to start my own show.”

Keillors says the Midwest that he brings to life on his radio show is the Midwest of his childhood: “And that is receding in the rearview mirror at high speed.”

He grew up in Anoka, Minnesota, one of six in a fundamentalist family.

“We had a big radio. It was a Zenith,” he said. “We resisted television because my people associated television with Hollywood … talking about adultery and all of that. But we loved radio. You would lie on the floor on your belly, and you could feel the bass speaker come up through your diaphragm.

“I have never believed any movie I’ve ever been to in the way that I believed radio when I was a kid. I have never suspended my disbelief in the same way as that strange, amphibious creature, breathing this phelgmy breath as Timmy was whimpering and clutching onto his grandpa with only a screen door between them and sure death. You know, after this word from Ipana toothpaste!”

“This portion of our show is brought to you by the Fear Monger Shop, serving all your phobia needs since 1954.”

Keillor may owe his gentle gift for story to his belief that he’s on the autism spectrum. Undiagnosed as a child, he was allowed to be himself, a little apart. Noticing, listening …

“If you weren’t high-functioning autistic,” Pauley said, “you would’ve not had the blessings that your childhood gave you, that you are still investing in now as a 73-year-old man.”

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Garrison Keillor as a child

GARRISON KEILLOR

“Hmm-uhm,” Keillor assented. “It takes you a long time to appreciate these strokes of astonishing good luck. I wanted to play football, and so you had to get a physical exam. And I went down to Dr. Mork’s clinic. And he put a stethoscope up to my chest and he heard this little click, which turned out to be a mitral valve prolapse.

“So instead of playing football, I wrote about football. No better thing for a kid, than to write about actual things that are happening before your eyes. What a beautiful thing! I was very, very lucky.”

And lucky for us — a speech teacher taught a shy boy how to face his fear of people.

“If you take off your glasses, you can’t see them, and they won’t look like people anymore — she said they’ll look like flowers on a hillside!” he laughed. “And she was right. And when you learn that you don’t have to be afraid of people you can’t see, you’ve taken a step towards broadcasting, you see?”

And now Keillor is stepping away from broadcasting, and eagerly anticipating a life of writing — a memoir and a screenplay — and traveling … or simply strolling down his tree-lined street in St. Paul.

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Garrison Keillor and Jane Pauley.

CBS NEWS

Pauley asked Keillor what is his favorite joke:

He offered: “A man is walking by an insane asylum. And he hears the inmates shouting, ’21, 21.’ And they sound so happy! And he walks up and he looks through a hole in the fence. And they poke him in the eye with a sharp stick, and yell, ’22, 22.’

“I think I have a future in standup comedy,” Keillors said. “I really started to hit my stride about three weeks ago.”

“It was a Lutheran town. Everybody was Lutheran. Even the atheists were Lutheran — it was a Lutheran God they didn’t believe in.”

“I did four shows in four nights. And the course of those two hours, I’m telling you, there were about 40 minutes of helpless, convulsive laughter, during which people were embarrassed because there was stuff coming out of their noses. This is what I aspire to!”

Pauley asked, “Was this before or after the seizure?”

Keillor laughed.

No joke: Last month, Keillor suffered a “nocturnal brain seizure.”

“Luckily it happens when you are asleep, so you’re there on a mattress, and you’re thrashing. And this dear woman, who married you for other reasons than this, called 911. And a neurologist gives you an IV with this anti-convulsant, and you wake up, and you start to joke around with the people in the ER.”

And 48 hours later, he’d written and performed TWO new shows.

This coming Saturday’s broadcast from the Hollywood Bowl will be his last. But the show goes on. Garrison Keillor’s successor is 35-year-old Chris Thile.

“It was my choice,” Keillor said. “It was not a committee meeting. This was not the result of a beauty contest. He’ll do more of a music show because he has talent, you know, which I don’t have!”

But we’ll miss that voice, and all the others: Powder Milk biscuits, Guy Noir, “The Lives of the Cowboys.”

Keillor offered a secret: “You just take a piece of paper and you put it in the corner of your cheek, and you become Lefty.”

“Hey Lefty, where you goin’?” Pauley asked.

“Where am I goin’? I’m goin’ the same place I’ve always been. Just down the road and around the corner.”

“Will we see you again?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Depends on where you are!”

 

 

 

Original Publish Date: December 2000

Originally published in National Geographic, with photographs by Richard Olsenius from the book In Search of Lake Wobegon

Twenty-five years ago, for amusement, I invented a small town where the women are strong and the men good-looking and all the children above average and started telling stories about it on the radio, and ever since then people have asked me if it’s a real town, and if it is, then where is it exactly? I used to say it’s fiction. “Oh,” they said. “Sure.” But they were disappointed. People want stories to be true. They don’t care so much about your gifts of invention as the fact that your story reminded them of people they knew when growing up. They want you to say, “The character of Darlene is based about 95 percent on my cousin Charlotte in Dubuque. I only changed the hair from auburn to blonde and made her more chesty.” So I started telling people that the town is in central Minnesota, near Stearns County, up around Holdingford, not far from St. Rosa and Albany and Freeport, northwest of St. Cloud, which is sort of the truth, I guess.

Thirty years ago I lived in Stearns County with my wife and little boy in a rented brick farmhouse south of Freeport, an area full of nose-to-the-grindstone German Catholics devoted to their Holy Mother the Church and proud of their redneck reputation. We moved there for the cheap rent—$80 a month for a house and half-acre vegetable garden, a great boon to a struggling writer. Beyond the windbreak was a couple hundred acres of corn, Cows stood in the pasture and studied us. The Sauk River was nearby to canoe on, and Watab Lake to swim in. It was a land of rolling, well-tended hog and dairy farms punctuated by tidy little towns, each with a ballpark, two or three taverns, and an imposing Catholic church with a cemetery behind it where people named Schrupp, Wendelschafer, Frauendienst, Schoppenhorst, and Stuedernann lay shoulder to shoulder. There were no Smiths to speak of.

When I invented Lake Wobegon, I stuck it in central Minnesota for the simple reason that I knew a little bit about it, and most people, if they know Minnesota at all, know the scenic parts—the North Shore, the Boundary Waters, the Mississippi Valley—and nothing about Stearns County. This gave
me a fairly free hand.

I said that Lake Wobegon (pop. 942) took its name from the Ojibwa word that means “the place where we waited all day for you in the rain,” and if anyone asked why the town appeared on no maps, I explained that when the state map was drawn after the Civil War, teams of surveyors worked their way in from the four outer corners and, arriving at the center, found they had surveyed more of Minnesota than there was room for between Wisconsin and the Dakotas, and so the corners had to be overlapped in the middle, and Lake Wobegon wound up on the bottom flap. (In fact, the geographic center of the state is north of there, in Crow Wing County, but never mind.)

To the German Catholics I added, for dramatic interest, an equal number of Norwegian Lutherans. The Norwegians, ever status conscious, vote Republican, and the Germans vote Democratic because the Norwegians don’t. The Catholics worship at Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility and the Lutherans at Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church (David Ingqvist, pastor), home of the National Lutheran Ushering Champions, the Herdsmen.

“Gateway to Central Minnesota” is the town slogan. And through the gateway over the years came a procession of characters. The three boys who drive to Iowa one February morning when they hear of Buddy Holly’s plane crash and discover his blue guitar in the snowy field. The stolid Father Emil who says, in regard to abortion (and much else), “If you didn’t want to go to Minneapolis, why did you get on the train?” and the town handyman Carl Krebsbach who repairs the repairs of the amateurs, and Bruno the fishing dog, and the irascible Art of Art’s Bait & Night O’Rest Motel, its premises studded with warnings (“Don’t clean fish here. Use your brains. This means you!!!”), and Dorothy of the Chatterbox Cafe and her softball-size caramel rolls (“Coffee 25¢, All Morning 85¢, All Day $1.25, Ask About Our Weekly Rates”), and Wally of the Sidetrack Tap, where old men sit and self-medicate. It was Wally’s pontoon boat, the Agnes D., on which 22 Lutheran pastors once crowded for a twilight cruise and weenie roast, and when the grill fell over and the crowd bolted and Agnes D. pitched to starboard, they were plunged into five feet of water and stood quietly, heads uplifted, waiting for help to arrive. It’s a town where the Lutherans all drive Fords bought from Clarence at Bunsen Motors and the Catholics all drive Chevies from Florian at Krebsbach Chevrolet. Florian is the guy who once forgot his wife at a truck stop. Her name is Myrtle. She is a hoot.

The stories I tell on the radio always start with the line, “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon,” and then a glimpse of the weather. It’s a fall day, geese flying south across a high blue sky, the air sweet and smoky, the woods in gorgeous van Gogh colors, or it’s winter, snowflakes falling like little jewels from heaven, trees glittering, the bare limbs of trees penciled in gray against the sky, or it’s spring, the tomato plants sprouting in trays of dirt on the kitchen counter, tulips and crocuses poking out of the ground, yellow goldfinches arriving from Mexico, or it’s summer, the gardens booming along, the corn knee-high, and a mountain range of black thunderclouds piling up in the western sky. And then I go on to talk about Norwegian bachelor farmers sitting on the bench in front of Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery or the Chatterbox, where large phlegmatic people sit at the counter talking in their singsong accent. So how you been then? Oh, you know, not so bad, how’s yourself, you keeping busy then? Oh yeah, no rest for the wicked. You been fishing at all? I was meaning to but I got too busy. How about yourself? Nope. The wife’s got me busy around the house, you know. Yeah, I know how that goes—and so forth. And I slip into the story, and take it around the turns and bring it to a point of rest, and say, “And that’s the news from Lake Wobegon,” and that’s all there is to it.
Two years ago, after my telling people for years that Lake Wobegon was near Stearns County, the county made a section of Great Northern railbed into a bike trail and named it the Lake Wobegon Trail, thus putting my imaginary town on the map, and last spring I decided I had better spend a few days driving around the area, to see if it was there or not.

Minnesota is a state of decent hardworking rural people, most of whom live in cities and don’t care for them much and prefer the outskirts where you can own two or three or five or ten acres—what real estate agents call a hobby farm, with room for a garden, an immense yard, a dog kennel, a shed, a snowmobile, and a satellite dish, and so Minneapolis and St. Paul sprawl far out into farm country, the outer citizens commuting an hour or more each way so as to enjoy the illusion of rural life. There are trace elements of hobby farms almost all the way to St. Cloud, the Stearns County seat.

The eastern approach to Lake Wobegon is Division Street, St. Cloud, a four-mile strip of free enterprise in full riot, the fast-food discount multiplex warehouse cosmos adrift in its asphalt sea, the no-man’s-land of 24-hour gas stations that sell groceries and photocopies, and the shiny plastic restaurants where, if you ate lunch there for the rest of your life, you would never meet anybody you know or get to know anybody you meet, a tumult of architecture so cheap and gaudy and chaotic you wonder how many motorists in search of a drugstore and a bottle of aspirin wound up piling into a light pole, disoriented by flashing lights and signage and access road signs. And then the cosmos peters out and you emerge from hell and come into paradise, rural Minnesota.

You drive past the rolling fields, the valleys of little rivers, and every farmstead is different, some more formal, with white painted fences and all the buildings at right angles; others seem to have grown without much supervision and are strewn with old vehicles and historical artifacts of an appliance nature. Some are exposed, nearly treeless, and others are barely visible from the road, deep in their woodlots. Some have a limber and attentive dog who will take a run at you if you slow down.

There are major poultry operations in the county, vast prison tamps of chickens, and a big mail-order outfit, and some big granite quarries near Rockville, blasting out millions of cubic feet of rock every year. (West of St. Cloud is a sign, “Buy Direct/ Monuments,” and an outdoor display of dozens of gravestones arranged as if in a cemetery, but the faces are blank.) At the Rockville quarry stand stacks of 24-ton blocks of granite with striated grooves down the sides, including Rockville Beige and Diamond Pink, two local granites, and also Mesabi Black, and Lake Superior Green, and black granite from Africa. There never was a Minnesota Granite Rush back when the rock was first discovered; it’s too much work getting the stuff out of the ground. And I never mention quarrying in the Wobegon saga because I don’t know the first thing about it. I only talk about abandoned quarries where teenagers go to swim and drink beer and neck.

The county appears to be prospering: population up 35 percent since 1970, new prefab industrial buildings cropping up along the main routes, trucks at the loading docks, forests of billboards as you approach Freeport and Avon and Albany. Avon (pop. 1,144) even has what looks to be a suburb on the east side of town, with suburban street names like Angelfish Avenue, Barracuda, Char. The dairy farms are as trim as ever: new silos in evidence, the big hip-roof barns well kept, the cows themselves look professional, courteous, goal oriented. Corn prices are low, but farmers here raise corn only to feed cows, and milk prices are still good enough, barely, to live on.

(One farmer told me that barns start falling apart if the cattle are evacuated; cows keep the temperature and humidity up, and if they are sold off, the barn goes to pieces fairly quickly. A symbiotic relationship.)

Holdingford (pop. 638) is the town that looks most Wobegonic to me. It has a fine little downtown of elderly brick buildings and a big thriving grocery and a classic four-legged, cone-topped water tower (torn down after my visit, I was sorry to hear), a graveyard full of big stones, and down by the river the Holdingford Mill, a jewel-like assembly of galvanized-metal cylinders and boxes and sloped roofs, and a faded old red boxcar on an abandoned siding that would have been headquarters for a gang of boys except it is smack in town, too close to enemy lines.

I dropped into Mary’s Family Restaurant, formerly the Rainbow Cafe, for coffee and oatmeal raisin cookies and eavesdropped on a fellow reminiscing about the great Armistice Day blizzard of 1940. He was 14 at the time, and it made a big impression on him. He and his brothers walked out of a second-story window onto the snow and dug a tunnel to the barn. He talked about logging up north and picking potatoes in North Dakota and earning a buck twenty-five a day. “Today everybody wants to make 20 bucks an hour and not do any work,” he said. There were four of us at the counter, and none of us disagreed with him. I myself would prefer to not do any work for much more than twenty bucks an hour but didn’t wish to discuss it.

New Munich is the town closest to the farm my family and I lived on. You drive past the sign (“Welcome to New Munich, Home of Munichfest,” which shows a dancing couple smiling, holding beers in their free hands), past Spinners Bar and Grill, New Munich Meats, the Munich Hofbrau, and come to the church, a big dramatic brick church trimmed in carved sandstone, with a bell tower, clock-faces on all four sides, and magnificent heavy doors with big black hinges, a veritable cathedral in a town of only 335. Nothing about this modest village prepares you for the grandeur within—the inlaid tile floor and the high columns with figured capitals, the rose windows in the transepts, the lovely statues with the compassionate faces. I thought I had based Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility on this church, but I could see that I didn’t get the baroque feel at all. Such a huge sanctuary, leaping arches, big organ and choir loft in the back, organ pipes, all illuminated by tall stained-glass windows: If I’d put it in Lake Wobegon, nobody would’ve believed it.

It’s a county of many grand churches: St. Benedict’s in Avon, with its red roof and bell tower, and St. Rose of Lima at the end of two rows of tall cedars in St. Rosa, and Seven Dolors in Albany, an orange-brick beauty that glows in the setting sun, and Sacred Heart in Freeport, a fine tall yellow-brick edifice with a high steep roof. But the church in New Munich stands out as a mighty architectural shout, an exuberant brick crescendo meant to astonish farmers and shopkeepers for all time and bring doubters to their knees.

Freeport calls itself the Dairy Center of the World, and in Charlie’s Cafe the cook does not stint on dairy products: The banana cream pies are big enough to be bowling trophies. I had a grilled-cheese sandwich, a bowl of chili, and a slab of pie, and felt my belt and collar tightening. I got up and walked along the main drag. I saw an old man walk out of the post office who reminded me of Florian Krebsbach, a man in a brown porkpie hat and pale blue polyester suit and green plaid shirt with a string tie with an agate on the clasp and wearing white shoes. When I lived here 30 years ago, Freeport was my post office, my supply station, and once I went into the bank and asked a loan officer if I could borrow money, offering my fiction as collateral as a farmer might borrow against his corn crop. The officer said he didn’t think so.

Freeport was a railroad town, and the tracks ran along the south side of Main Street, and now the tracks are gone, and the one-sided Main Street remains, like an architect’s rendering. Down the street is the Pioneer Inn. The Sidetrack Tap in Lake Wobegon was modeled after it, a gloomy smoke-filled sour-smelling tavern, cluttered with neon beer signs and deer heads and mottoes (“Don’t Sleep In Our Bar, We Don’t Drink in Your Bed”), except the Pioneer Inn has been cleaned up and remodeled, the sourness expunged. A few guys at the bar were talking about fishing and the lottery, neither of which was paying off for them lately. One of them said that Big Watab Lake, southeast of there, is 120 feet deep and home to some mighty pugnacious fish, none of which he had caught lately.

The Central Minnesota Arts Board lists two dozen theater companies and music groups in the county, but it doesn’t mention the dozens of taverns and cafés that are the actual centers of culture here. Like Fisher’s, an old screen porch of a supper club in Avon, open only in the summer, where you bring your own whiskey and they supply the glass, the ice, the baked walleye dinner with salad. Places with names like the Corner Bar, Sportsman’s Bar, Tip Top, or the Buckhorn, where gentlemen congregate for the purpose of enjoying a cold one and solving the problems of the world. They plant themselves in a booth, or lean against the bar, and they enact a classic four-character play: There’s the Reader, who has come across an interesting item in the paper (“I read that within five years they’ll have figured out how to throw a bunch of genetically engineered enzymes into a steel tank full of wet silage and turn it into milk”), and there’s the Grouch, who maintains a dark view of human nature (“the big corporations are behind it because they want to clear out the little guys and put in 10,000-acre farms”), the Worrier, always a little nervous about something (“genetic engineering or not, I just can’t see things getting better anytime in the foreseeable future, I’ll tell you that”), and the Big Fella, the guy who holds back until the topic is exhausted and then gives the final word (“people are not going to buy artificial milk. That’s been proven. You can bet on it”). They sit and hold forth on politics (corrupt, on both sides, always has been), global warming (hogwash), golf (a huge waste of time), the Internet (ditto), education (not what it used to be), women (creatures of superstition and pointless ritual), the benefits of physical exercise (when it’s your time to die, you die, whether you walk two miles a day or not), and they take turns buying rounds, and if you happen to believe that mankind is on the verge of a new age of enlightenment and progress, these gentlemen will have a fine time pulling your chain.

Being there, drinking a beer, looking down the bar toward the others standing 15 feet away brought back a sudden clear memory of 1970 and sitting in the very same spot near the door and overhearing men talk and wishing I knew how to join in that conversation. A sudden jolting memory I had put away for 30 years.

Nobody ever welcomed us to town when we came in 1970. No minister visited to encourage us to worship on Sunday, no neighbor dropped in with a plate of brownies. Several times I stopped at neighboring farms to say hello and announce our presence and was met in the yard by the farmer, and we spent an uncomfortable few minutes standing beside my car, making small talk about the weather, studying the ground, me waiting to be invited into the house, him waiting for me to go away, until finally I went away. In town the shopkeepers and the man at the garage were cordial, of course, but if I said hello to someone on the street, he glanced down at the sidewalk and passed in silence. I lived south of Freeport for three years and never managed to have a conversation with anyone in the town. I didn’t have long hair or a beard, didn’t dress oddly or do wild things, and it troubled me. I felt like a criminal.
This fear of outsiders was explained to me years later by a Stearns exile who said that the German population was so traumatized, first by the anti-Teutonic fevers of World War I that forbade the use of their language in schools, then by Prohibition that made outlaws of decent upstanding beer drinkers, that they never could trust auslanders again. A strange face is, to them, a cruel face. My German neighbors were a closed community, and I wasn’t in it and had no part of it. Proximity does not bestow membership.

I accepted this because I come from similar people. Mine were Protestant fundamentalists, who lived by the Word and not by the opinion of others, and were wary of strangers, and didn’t go in for small talk, period. We were taciturn people to start with who could sit in silence for long stretches and not feel uncomfortable. If strangers came to the door, they were dealt with and sent on their way. They were not people of the Word, and their friendship meant nothing to us.

As I sat in the Pioneer Inn and recalled the years I spent in Stearns County, it dawned on me where Lake Wobegon had come from. All those omniscient narrator stories about small-town people came from a guy sitting alone at the end of a bar, drinking a beer, who didn’t know anything about anything going on around him. Stories about prodigals welcomed home, outcasts brought into the circle, rebels forgiven: all from the guy at the end of the bar. In three years only one man ever walked the 15 feet to find out who I was—he walked over and said, “You live out on the Hoppe place, don’t you:’ I said that I did, and he nodded, satisfied that now he had me placed, and turned and moseyed back to the herd. There was nothing more to say. So I invented a town with a bar in which, if a stranger enters, he is, by God, without fail, intriguing to the regulars, and conversation ensues and he turns out to be someone’s long-lost cousin. In order to be accepted, I had to invent a town like the imaginary friend I had in second grade, David, who walked to school with me. The loner nursing his beer at the end of
the bar is starved for company. He and his wife have little to say to each other these days, and in the long shadows of a winter night, in extreme need of society, he drives to town and sits at the bar, where his pride and social ineptitude get in the way. He has no idea how to traverse those 15 feet without feeling like a beggar, so he goes back home to his typewriter and invents characters who look like the guys in the bar but who talk a blue streak, whose inner life he is privy to, and soon he
has replaced the entire town of Freeport with an invented town of which he is the mayor, the fire chief, the priest, the physician, and the Creator himself, and he gets a radio show, and through perseverance and dumb luck and a certain facility the fictional town becomes more famous than the real town, and now when he goes to Freeport, some people come up and say, “You’re Garrison Keillor, aren’t you.” A person could write a story about this.

I respect Stearns County for its egalitarianism. It may look down on strangers, but it looks down on all of them equally, and it doesn’t look down on people because they have less money or do dirty work. And it has a real culture. It doesn’t draw its identity from the media, it draws it up out of the past, like well water. The media world is a small town of its own, and information is the currency—who’s up, who’s down, what’s new, what’s newer—but here the currency is character, as expressed in stories. So I made up stories about its character, morphing some of my old fundamentalist relatives into German Catholics.

I had a train pull up on a sidetrack in 1938 and an aging Babe Ruth step down and wave to the crowd. He was with the Sorbasol barnstorming team that played the local nine that afternoon, and the Babe hit one so far it was never found again. The ballpark is still there. The Whippets play there, and in the spring middle-aged men who have smelled the April air come with a glove and toss a ball around. Here beside the tracks is the foundation of an old grain elevator that, one Saturday night in the summer of 1942, as various couples sat and smoked and drank beer and necked in their cars along the train tracks, went up in a pillar of flame 500 feet high, and people leaped from those cars and tore for cover and the churches were full the following Sunday. Most of those couples married soon afterward, and most of the marriages lasted. Not a true story, but when the thing blew up, it seemed real enough. The cemetery in Freeport is behind the church, but in Lake Wobegon I put it on a hill, which Freeport doesn’t have. It was there that Clarence Bunsen gave his famous Memorial Day address.

The VFW honor guard stood at parade rest in front of the monument to the Grand Army of the Republic. Their feet hurt, their jackets pinched, they needed a drink. The crowd stood waiting on the grass. A boy recited:

Breathes there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
“This is my own, my native land!”
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d
From wandering on a foreign strand?

There was a tremendous long silence, and then Pastor Ingqvist gave a nod and Clarence stepped forward and said, “If there were one time when words truly seemed inadequate, one occasion when silence seemed so appropriate, it would be here and now. It would be more fitting if we were silent for two minutes and looked around us and thought of our people here and their gifts to this country.” He stepped back. Everyone looked around at the markers and the little flags fluttering and listened to the breeze in the leaves. An oriole sang. And then someone blew his nose. The whole honor guard was crying. Old men with rifles to their shoulders dug down in their pockets and got out their big red hankies and blew.
And afterward they pressed around Clarence and shook his hand and said it was perfect, they’d be grateful to him for the rest of their lives. He didn’t tell them that when Pastor Ingqvist nodded to him, he suddenly remembered that he was supposed to speak, and a wave of guilt washed over him that he had forgotten Memorial Day, the day of remembrance, and he wanted to cry out, “I am not worthy!” And then he felt steady again. “It’s not about you,” he thought. “You’re not the reason they’re here.” And he stepped forward and said his piece.

I feel the same way about Stearns County and Lake Wobegon. It isn’t up to me. I can’t re-create it. I find that if I leave out enough details in my stories, the listener will fill in the blanks with her own hometown, and if a Freeport girl exiled in Manhattan hears the story about Memorial Day, she’ll put it right smack there in that cemetery with those names on the stones, and she may think of her uncle Alcuin who went to France and didn’t return, and get out her hanky and blow. I’m not the reason she’s moved, he is. All I do is say the words: cornfield and Mother and algebra and Chevy pickup and cold beer and Sunday morning and rhubarb and loneliness, and other people put pictures to them.

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Beannacht

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory