That Time of Year: A Minnesota Life by Garrison Keillor (Amazon) (AbeBooks) is a memoir. Some might be confused because it seems like Keillor has written about his life for the past 40 years with his tales of Lake Wobegon. But the real Keillor is a departure from the character who came from a town where all women were strong, all the men beautiful, and the children above average.
My husband bought me autographed copies of That Time of Year as well as Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Virus (click here for my review). One inscription reads “From one aspiring writer to another,” which was just perfect and humorous, just as I’ve known Keillor to be for the past 40 years. I also bought the Audiobook and followed along with my book, because I’ve always enjoyed Keillor’s melodious voice.
Garrison Keillor grew up in Anoka, Minnesota, (the Halloween Capitol of the World) along the banks of the Mississippi River. His family had been part of the community since 1880 and was spiritually-based in The Bretheren. “I’m still a Bretheren boy; a little profanity I can tolerate, but obscenity turns me away. I have agnostic friends, but I don’t tolerate the intolerance of religious faith. Scripture is clear on how to treat strangers or foreigners of any race or creed or gender. They are brothers and sisters and life is a gift and we need to be wise in the knowledge of death. We learn this from scripture.” I had always assumed, as many others might have, that Keillor was Lutheran or jealous of them for all his stories about Lutherans in his Lake Wobegon stories.
Keillor weaves a tale of his childhood that is full of distinct memories. It always amazes me when I read memoirs and someone looks back on their childhood as I barely remember mine! He talks of his 18 aunts (I thought our kids had it bad: nine aunts and nine uncles here) and the fun he had with and without people around.
He talks of starting out on his own, of his first sexual experience at age 20 with what turned out to be his first wife. “We were both lonely and loved classical music and hockey… We had believed that marriage would make us friends, but we had little to say to each other. We languished for three years, separated, and a month later told me she was pregnant. So we moved back together.”
Meanwhile, Keillor was working in radio and dreaming of being published in the New Yorker magazine. “As a poet, I was a mild nuisance, but on radio, I was useful, at least to some people. Entertaining them at 6am when they really needed it.” It took until he was 30 before he sold a story to the New Yorker. Meanwhile, he had this radio show, which expanded and he took on the road during the summers.
Then the chance came to move his show to Saturday nights, a syndicated deal that dropped in his lap due to the right timing. He took the name “A Prairie Home Companion” from the Norwegians graveyard in Moorhead, Minnesota, which was called “A Prairie Home.” And right from the beginning there were skits and songs and advertisements that a fan would recognize today: the Chatterbox Cafe, where the elite meet to eat, and Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery; if you can’t find it at Ralph’s, you can probably get along without it. The American Duct Tape Council: it’s almost all you need sometimes. Martha’s Kitty Boutique, for people who care about cats, and the Ketchup Advisory Board.
And of course, the stories from Lake Wobegon. For the first two years of the show, Keillor didn’t keep notes, so names were all mixed up and the continuity was off. My favorite character was always Father Emil of Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility, and Sister Arvan. Soon, a ten-minute monologue in the middle of the show became a 20-25 minute segment in the last half of the show.
“I’m from Minnesota, a state that ranks 47th in the use of irony. A serious state. A state where every year nature makes serious attempts to kill us. Then it’s summer and time for giant carnivorous mosquitos, who no bug repellant discourages. A Crucifix helps, but you have to hit them really hard with it.”
There are many stories from the show, which went on the road every summer, and the guest stars that frequently visited, like Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris and guitar legend Chet Atkins. And he talked about his farewell in 1987, after marrying his high school foreign exchange student that he’d reconnected with, and moving to Denmark, her homeland. But Keillor returned, first to New York, and eventually back to Minnesota. In total, he was on the air for over 40 years. Along the way he ended up getting divorced and married again and had a daughter who suffers from Angelman Syndrome.
I was very interested in hearing Keillor’s side of the story to an email flirtation that got him fired in the early days of the #MeToo movement. Of course, I was disappointed that a married man would even think of flirting with a colleague, especially when he was in a superior position. I thought the whole Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill dialogue that happened in the early 1990s changed office behavior and was sad to see that Keillor was not immune. It just reminded me that we should never place anyone too high on a pedestal, or they may fall off.
Overall, a highly satisfying read. I feel I know my favorite humorist better, and enjoyed the book as much as one of his fiction works. I’m also glad I got to see him live in front of an audience twice. He truly knows how to weave tales, funny and poignant.
If you’re interested in Keillor’s current works, which includes The Writer’s Almanac, click here.
For more reviews, visit www.bargain-sleuth.com
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