Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Halfway Love

Clarence walked five blocks home which he had been doing for a few weeks since he read an article about the heart, which his daughter Barbara Ann sent him along with a picture of a bicycle clipped from the Sears catalog. She and her husband were due for Thanksgiving dinner, and from the looks of things, they wouldn't make it. Nuts! Clarence liked it when she lectured him about his health, which she did now with every visit--"Daddy," she said in that sweet tone that led right into the legumes. Legumes, garlic, hard breathing, whole grain cereals, and no cigars and no red meat, plus whatever she had read about recently, maybe the benefits of eating raw cotton or the dangers of chewing on lead pencils. He argued with her only to stimulate further class discussion. "Your grandfather lived to be eighty-four and he lived on cigar butts, fried chicken skin, and as much Rock 'n Rye whiskey as he could sneak downstairs for without arousing Grandma's suspicions. He kept the bottle in the cellar in his tool chest. The last three years, after he went blind, it was pretty hard for him to explain why he needed a hammer and nails." Daddy.

He had been looking forward to her Thanksgiving health homily (maybe a tip on eating raw yams or some new data on cranberry sauce and how the pancreas feels about it). She made him feel like a well-loved man. That she would think a small-town Ford dealer could become Mahatma Gandhi. To most people, Clarence was Clarence, always would be. When he thought of her great faith that he might switch to grass and berries and grow young and run marathons, her fond hope of his longevity, he was moved to tears. As he was by her improbable gifts: walking shorts, kim chee, Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. As he was by Arlene's choice of lilac wallpaper for their bedroom: amazing woman. His daughter Donna sent him Whitman's Chocolate Cherries and thought lilac was ridiculous.


I love that excerpt from Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor. I love how what could be considered pushy, graceless gestures are actually received as generous expressions of love. How wonderful to be met halfway like that.

I'm sort of amazed by what a polarizing figure G.K. is in this town. People either love him or hate him, but I feel like the hate is misplaced. I suppose people perceive him as someone who creates caricatures of Minnesotans, and folks can be a little humorless about that (Hello! Fargo). But I think his work is richer than caricature. He's a fine writer and obviously a skilled storyteller. He's also a big ol' liberal, and he just opened a charming bookstore in St. Paul. Shouldn't he be beloved, or will he need to be dead for several years before we warm up to him? What say you? Has anybody else read his books? Listened to PHC? Love him or hate him?

Hulles, I read your post about the newspaper v. laptop kerfuffle and you're right. That's just fogey-ism. Well, his precious newspapers aren't long for this world, so he best get over it.

8 comments:

cK said...

Woo woo woo!! I've heard many arguments on either side of the GK aisle, but I like the man. And I always go back to what my friend Jen said about him: "He makes me feel good about growing older."

I just hope I remember to clip nosehairs then.
-cK

The Dank said...

I don't understand why GK is so polarizing. I suppose to a certain segment of the populace, he represents the whole crowd of educated, public-radio-listening liberals who think they know better and want to make them eat whole grain bread. And I suppose the fact that he has been able define MN for the rest of the world just adds fuel to that anger.
But long ago I read Lake Woebegone and I think GK is a fine writer, not a caricaturist.

Sassmaster said...

Danko! Thanks for the comment. Yeah, it's surprising that someone so seemingly innocuous is the focus of so much emotion. It's like getting mad at kittens.

Night Editor said...

He's like the curmudgeonly uncle you actually want to have at the Thanksgiving table, the one who tends to piss everyone off--but you're just thankful for his diversions.

Hulles said...

Hey, I like the guy myself and think "Writer's Almanac" is cash. But good news - the kerfuffle post is being published in real stinky newspaper print and I get money for it! The irony of my blog entry being printed is not lost on me...

XO.

Sassmaster said...

Night Editor: Does he piss you off? I haven't gotten that from him. Is he just too much of a rambler for you?

Hulles: Congrats on selling your post. Let us know where to look for it. I love it when bloggers end up providing content for newspaper and TV -- the influence of the democratic Internet. How can "Homegrown Democrat" G.K. not love it?

Night Editor said...

GK doesn't piss me off although sometimes I roll my eyes at "the shtick." Anyone who can make a good living with that mug and the brand "Prairie Home" is fine by me. He cracks me up--and I find myself agreeing with a lot of his Old Scout stuff. He's a good storyteller and he's a grand promoter of literature and all things local. Despite this being the age of telling, many people in the Midwest really don't like one of their own saying exactly what's on one's mind--whether at the dinner table or on the radio.

Sassmaster said...

Gawd, preach it Night Editor! Saying what's on one's mind around here is like pooping in public. I'm sure I'm guilty of much passive-aggressiveness but oh, how I would like to purge it.