My Own Prairie Home

Tonight I listened with no small amount of sadness to Garrison Keillor's last live radio broadcast with A Prairie Home Companion. The show and its iconic host, with his characters of Guy Noir and The Cowboys, the Powdermilk Biscuit theme and the news from Lake Wobegon has been a part of my weekend routine for years, and have come to represent a portion of my childhood, one that now, with Keillor's departure, seems well and truly over.

This all sounds a bit strange considering that I'm a relatively new listener. I really only started tuning in after Luca was born, needing something to listen to while I nursed him and tried desperately to get him to sleep. I do remember my mother listening on occasion growing up, or making vague references to it, but I really started listening as an adult.

The thing is, all the things I grew up with are what I hear when I listen to Garrison and his strange meandering monologues. My Lake Wobegon was Roseville, Minnesota, where my mother was born and raised, and was filled with stories of Ms. Clackston, who dressed in purple right down to her tights and pearls, and her son Rodger, who my mom smacked in the mouth with a metal lunch box that got stuck in his braces. (She always ends that story with "And he went on to become a minister". I think she feels a little guilt to this day.) There was the story of my Grandmother, who hit a stranger's child over the head with a hymnal for talking in church, and how my mother saved my uncles from only time my Grandfather threated them with corporal punishment for shoving her off her bike.

My childhood was peppered by that strange wonderful Minnesotan dialect, courtesy of my Grandmother. "Hot dish" was served regularly. "Garage" had one syllable, "Battery" had two. Sentences started with "so" and ended with either "then" or "yeah, right, exactly..." The character of Duane's mom puts me in mind of a composite of both my mother and grandmother. And when my mom played a tape of my Grandfather talking to me as a toddler, it was in a nearly identical cadence to what I have heard coming from my radio every Saturday night.

I think that is what touches me most about this last Prairie Home. Listening to Prairie Home each week kept me in touch with the childhood I was rapidly losing. Both my Grandparents are gone now. My mother, gray hair and all, is a grandmother herself. But there was still a part of me that wasn't quite ready to accept the reality of being an adult, despite two kids, a husband and a mortgage. And Prairie Home spoke directly to that part of me. For the space of two short hours, my childhood was real again. I guess that's what his last show means to me. My childhood has faded to memories, and at last, at 31, I feel like an adult.

Goodbye Garrison, I will miss your voice on my radio each week. Thank you for helping usher me into adulthood.


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