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Lake Wobegon Days

There is a little independent movie that has just opened in theaters called A Prairie Home Companion.

I will be seeing it very soon, perhaps even tonight. Why? Because the man behind the movie, Garrison Keillor, has had a influential role in my life. This movie is based upon his long-running radio show of the same name that broadcasts live to NPR radio stations every Saturday night from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota. Garrison Keillor is a writer, humorist, author, radio host, but most of all a storyteller. A masterful storyteller. The NPR station in Tulsa would rebroadcast A Prairie Home Companion every Sunday afternoon from 1:00 to 3:00. Usually at this time as a kid and a teenager I would lay on my bed in my room and listen to all the skits, parody commercials, variety folk music acts, and jokes that are the staples of the show. But the bread and butter of PHC is Keillor's closing monologue, the News from Lake Wobegon. Even though his creativity and wit had been driving the show for almost two hours, it was the twenty minutes of stepping into this small fictitious small town out "on the edge of the prairie" that gave the show its cornerstone of brilliance. Every week I saw in my mind Keillor's imposing 6 foot 4 inch frame sit gently on the wooden stool on the front of the stage, his pant legs lifting just enough to show his trademark red socks, put the microphone to his mouth, and, without so much as a script or notes, spin a web of a story that would send you deep into the simple/complicated world of the unassuming townsfolk of Lake Wobegon. You laugh out loud. You think hard. Sometimes you (and by you I mean me) actually cry. His stories usually create launching pads of huge tangential story arcs that always, somehow, wind their way back into a greater point. His slow, breathy intonations draw you into the world like a hynotic genius. Then, twenty minutes later, he abruptly sends you back out into your world, usually with an odd new confidence in the simple goodness of life.

One of my dreams for years has been to travel to St. Paul for a broadcast of the show from the Fitzgerald Theater. I don't know yet when I will do this, but it should probably be sooner rather than later because there is no telling how much longer the show will run. It has been on the air since 1974 (with a couple of short breaks). It seems to have gathered a tremendous amount of new steam, especially with the movie.

My dream was partially realized a few years ago when I opened up the OU Daily newspaper and saw an announcement for Garrison Keillor's appearance on campus. I quickly dumped the class I had at that time and found my seat at Catlett Music Center. I sat about halfway up the theater, but when Keillor walked out on stage, he was still larger than life. Sure enough, he walked over to the center of the stage with his long stride, sat on the wooden stool with his red socks, and proceeded to tell the story, which lasted about 45 minutes, of how he has not had much experience with Oklahoma, but he has been compelled to sing the state song in the shower. Only Garrison Keillor could tell such a story in such a way as to change your life. But he did. The story launched from that point and circled the earth, eventually landing back into the life of a girl he knew as a young boy. Then it all wrapped up back in the shower, with him singing Oklahoma. Then he walked off the stage. Every hair on my body stood up as I knew that I was in the presence of a genius.

So, here's to you, Garrison Keillor. Here's hoping your new movie captures the essence of what you do in the lives of people with your work.

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