A Farewell Letter to Garrison Keillor

A Native Son Comes Home to Lake Wobegon - where "sort of the truth" is truth enough

Garrison Keillor

Dear Garrison,

I heard you are retiring today, and I had to write. I started listening to you by accident sometime back in the late 80’s. A buddy of mine named Jim Hoover had told me about this storyteller on National Public Radio. His name was Garrison Keillor, Jim said, and he loved to talk about his hometown of Lake Wobegon tucked away somewhere in central Minnesota.

I was traveling back from a preaching assignment as I recall, and I stumbled upon your show, A Prairie Home Companion, on our local NPR station. You were just launching into your weekly story with the now famous line, “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my home town.”

The first thing I noticed was your voice! I don’t think I’ve ever heard, to this day, a more relaxed delivery. I mean, mister, you could talk the tension out of a twelve-string. On my maiden voyage with the program I had no knowledge of Lake Wobegon. The story that day was about the death of Buddy Holly in February, 1959. You and the members of your High School band, The Pharaohs of Rhythm, had traveled the roughly 3 1/2 hours down to Clear Lake, Iowa to pay your respects at the crash site. You guys saw the wrecked plane out in the field where it crashed, and piled out of the car to stand along a fence row for a better look.

You, heeding nature’s call, went over into some nearby trees to relieve yourself. You looked out through the trees and saw something sticking out of the snow—it was the neck of Buddy Holly’s guitar! To your credit, you resisted the temptation to snatch it, and rejoined your own buddies who were deep into conversation with some teenage girls who had come out to see what was to be seen. You and the Pharaohs of Rhythm played Buddy Holly music all the way back to Lake Wobegon—and I was hooked! What a story!

I retold the story to Lauren as soon as I got home. The next day I went into work and told Jim that Lauren and I had decided that we were going to visit Lake Wobegon that next summer. No matter what it took, I was going to find it and go into the Sidetrack Tap for a coke. Jim smiled, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Reg, it isn’t real. It’s all make-believe.”

I’m a storyteller, Garrison. I know a make-believe story when I hear it. I respect Jim Hoover. He’s a good man. But I think he got this one wrong. I read an interview with you in National Geographic. In it you said, “People want stories to be true.” I’ve decided that yours are. They don’t have to be factual to be real.

The best stories—and yours are among the very best—are true in ways that stretch beyond the particulars of latitude and longitude. I find your stories in my own small town of Oakville, Texas. Your stories are in the small towns that populate our collective nostalgia, where all the women are strong, all the men are good lookin’, and all the children are above average. Thanks for a great ride, Garrison! And by the way, I’m loving your new collection of poetry, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound. Thanks for signing it with “All the best!”

I wish you the same.

P.S. Be looking for us. Lauren and I will be coming for a visit there in Lake Wobegon one of these days— pretty sure we’ll pass through Mayberry along the way.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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One thought on “A Farewell Letter to Garrison Keillor

  1. Jim Hoover gave me a cassette tape of the “Oregon Poem” by the Poet Laureate of Lake Wobegon. When I heard it, I turned my face to the wall and wept.

    I loved this interchange between Garrison and a fellow Oregonian:

    Garrison, there used to be a woman poet with three names whose poems you used to read on the show. I haven’t heard her poems in a very long time and miss them. Has she died? Is there a collection of her work out somewhere? Thanks for keeping us sane all these years.
    Marilyn Hall Silverton, Oregon

    Marilyn, the poet’s name is Margaret Haskins Durber, she was the poet laureate of Lake Wobegon, and no, she hasn’t died, she just stopped writing good poems and started writing the other kind. But I liked one she did lately—

    Loveliest of trees, the maple now
    Is turning yellow on the bough.
    It stands among the trees of green,
    All dressed up for Halloween.
    Now of my three score years and ten,
    Sixty-three won’t come again.
    Subtract from seventy, sixty-three,
    It scares the daylights out of me.
    And since to look at things sublime,
    Seven years is not much time,
    It’s rather sobering for a fellow
    To see the maples turning yellow.