I’ve been a fan of Prairie Home Companion for many years. It was a wonderful, homey, slice of life in Minnesota, that made you laugh and sometimes cry. A couple of years ago Garrison Keillor retired from the show, and one of my regrets (and my wife’s) is that we never got to see a show live. When we saw that Garrison Keillor was going to be doing a thank you tour that would take him to St. Joseph, MN we jumped at the opportunity to buy tickets.
Tuesday night came and we make the hour long drive to the College of St. John’s/St Benedict on a grey rainy evening. For my wife this was a homecoming, as she grew up not far from this college. I could tell that she was feeling a flood of emotions as we walked towards the main auditorium; a place where she had visited and performed many, many times.
We took our seats, and shortly after 7pm Mr. Keillor took the stage. He began by singing a poem, that turned into another and another; some of them funny and some beautiful. Soon he launched into talking about poems and how meaningful they are in our lives. He grew up in an era where students memorized poems, and those poems stay with you your entire life.
The evening progressed with wonderful stories, both hilarious and touching. At one point Mr. Keillor had us all sing “poems” that we all knew by heart, such as Silent Night; a song which always brings my wife to tears. We vacillated between laughing and crying as the night wore on. We were an audience of strangers, but as the night progressed there was a bond that was created. Stories of days gone by, and traditions of our Midwestern life brought us together in unity around a single quiet voice.
Garrison Keillor ended the night with a humorous tale from Lake Wobegon, the fictional town he created so many decades ago. It was a story about innocence lost, and laugh-out-loud hi-jinks, all woven together around a poem. A story told in only the way that Mr. Keillor can tell it, with soft-spoken reverence and wit, with a dash of bawdy-ness thrown in for good measure.
Soon the night came to a close and we headed for the car. Emotions of the evening flooded back to us. My wife and I will soon be dealing with the loss of family member, and spending time in her hometown brought the evening special meaning. Places are important, and whether it’s a fictional town like Lake Wobegon or a real city in the middle of Minnesota, places make us feel something special about who we are in the universe. We don’t go through this life alone, but in the physical community of those around us.
It’s all well and good to have the ability to connect with people hundreds of miles away through the power of technology. Yet, when it comes down to it, the feel of brick and stone, the smells, the lights… all of these things create something more meaningful, more lasting in our minds. These are memories that can never be overwritten by Instagram or Twitter. All it takes is running your fingers along the stone wall of a familiar childhood building to transport you to another time. Sometimes with tears. Sometimes with laughter. The memories of people and places you’ve loved and lived, reminding you that life is precious, and powerful, and worth every moment.