So, last night, at the UGA Performing Arts Center, I sat with my husband - whose idea it was in the first place and who lit up like the night sky when he talked about Keillor's longstanding radio show - again, I knew nothing. We took out seats, noticing the a few youngsters mingled in the midst of many seniors who carried plastic bags of yellowed books, hoping for a hero's autograph. Even the auditorium smelled of my Aunt Sophie. I was about to go back in time.
At 8:07 p.m., he strolled onto the stage in front of a full house. In front of him, behind him, he was technically "in the round." He walked to the center where the mic was positioned on a stand. He picked up the mic and continued his stroll for the next two hours.
He stood on red tennis shoes. They looked to be half his 72 years. Worn and faded, very out of character (just the opposite I would come to learn). And for sure, they didn't go with his gray suit and red tie. They certainly went with his red socks, however. Thin grayish stands of hair lay on his forehead, falling into his eyes. I think it bothered me more than him. It was way into the first hour before he swished it back. I can count on my hand the number of times he made eye contact with the audience. It reminded me of myself, in my room, as a teenager, talking to an audience in my bedroom that, in my mind, were hanging on every word. And by the start of the second hour, he and the audience had sung two hymns. Abide with Me. It is Well with my Soul. I was more confused than ever.
He told tales of Lake Wobegon, his fictional Minnesota town. Of his cousin Kate, and how she did the unthinkable in 1950 - singing Great Balls of Fire for a 5th grade talent show and at the most appropriate moment, grabbed her crotch (a girl ahead of her time). Of his Anglican church, and the family's political debates. Of naked men on gliders and ashes in bowling balls. Of how life is really good if we only allow it to be. Of pierced faces of young people who seemingly have fallen into tackle boxes. Of prostates and long lost friends who show up in the most inopportune places. Of disgusting sex we save for those we love the most.
He was unsure how to close the show, so he chose another song that he said "had gotten some flack over the years." The Star Spangled Banner.
I like Garrison Keillor. His soothing voice and delightful stories transported me beyond myself. By the end, I understood the red tennis shoes. Like good stories, some friends we never discard.