The Story of a Great Story Teller

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Apr 30, 2016

“It’s a shallow life that doesn’t give a person a few scars.”
Garrison Keillor

“It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my home town out here on the prairie.” Anyone who has listened during the past 40 years to The Prairie Home Companion, the popular weekly radio program hosted by Garrison Keillor, will recognize those words. 

During each broadcast Keillor begins with those words as he starts to tell a story about a fictional small town in central Minnesota called Lake Wobegon. For about 15 minutes, Keillor gives his approximately four million listeners a window into the make-believe world of common people living their common lives in a common Minnesota place.

Called by Time Magazine in 1985 as “the funniest man in America,” Garrison Keillor is also one of the greatest storytellers of our generation. Sam Anderson called Keillor, “very clearly a genius. His range and stamina alone are incredible … he rarely repeats himself and he has the genuine wisdom of a … Mark Twain.” 

Because we lived in Minnesota for 21 years, we really understand the nuances and humor of Keillor’s stories. Even today, we can hardly listen to him without smiling. His style and content represent the marvelous culture of the upper Midwest, particularly the rich, Scandinavian influence. His deep religious upbringing bleeds into just about everything he says and does. 

Evie and I have heard Keillor in person three times, twice in St. Paul, Minnesota, and once in Reading, Pennsylvania. There is nothing quite like being in a room of fellow-admirers of this American treasure. It hardly seems possible that after all of these years his old-style variety show will be coming to a close. Although he previously talked retirement, this time he will apparently do it at the end of the 2016 season. 

All of us who regularly listen to the broadcast will also miss the guest musicians and various cast members who perform musical numbers and comic skits filled with elaborate sound effects. We will miss the phony commercial spots and sponsors such as “Powdermilk Biscuits” as well as the other stories such as The Adventures of Guy Noir, Private Eye and The Lives of the Cowboys. 

He has written over 30 books and in 1980 he received the Peabody Award and earned a Grammy Award for his recording of Lake Wobegon Days in 1988.
I love his quotes. “The father of a daughter is nothing but a high-class hostage. A father turns a stony face to his sons, berates them, shakes their antlers, paws the ground, snorts, runs them off into the underbrush, but when his daughter puts her arm over his shoulder and says, ‘Daddy, I need to ask you something,’ he’s a pat of butter in a frying pan.”

In typical Minnesotan manner he commented, “I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a boy, though it seemed an unlikely outcome since I showed no real talent. But I persevered and eventually found my own row to hoe. Ignorance of other writers’ work keeps me from discouragement and I am less well-read than the average bus driver.” Yet, he loves books enough to own a bookstore in St. Paul called “Common Good Books, G. Keillor Prop.” 

His humility shows with these words, “Thank you, God, for this good life and forgive us if we do not love it enough.” He even smiles at his own mortality, “They say such nice things about people at their funerals it makes me sad that I’m going to miss mine by just a few days.”

My life has been enriched by this wonderful man. 

I will end this essay about a great storyteller the same way he always ends his monologue. “And that’s the news from Lake Wobegon where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average.”

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
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