Goodnight to Lake Wobegon (Weekly Reader 20 July 2016)

This week’s newsletter centers, it seems, on a central theme–Be Nice!  Every four years I watch two series of events: the Olympics (as a Montana native, I tend to be fonder of the winter version rather than the summer…but that is neither here nor there) and the political conventions–the latter not because of politics but because they are usually an interesting affair. I love the whole cheesy state-by-state roll call, and I would hard pressed to say which group is cornier–the Republicans or the Democrats. It is always fun to find out what each state is going to emphasize. This year, however, the tone is distinctly different: far less enjoyable, far harsher, and really not nice.

Turning out the lights at the Side Track Tap.

This month marked a sad point in American cultural life–the closing of the saga of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota (“Where all the women were strong, all the men were good looking, and all the children were above average”). Lake Wobegon was one of those quintessential upper mid-western and western towns settle by Scandinavian and German immigrants during the homestead years of the 1800s and early 1900s. They defined the culture from Lake Michigan (at least above the Wisconsin/Illinois border) westward to the Rockies. Norwegians and Danes, Swedes and Finns, came west, settled, and created a small town culture defined by hot dishes and rhubarb pie and, once refrigeration reached the high plains, jello salads with assorted additions. Quiet, gentle small towns built by quiet, gentle people.

It seems ironic that Mr. Keillor turned out the lights on Lake Wobegon a couple of weekends before the political conventions and in the midst of what has, thus far, be one of the most vitriolic presidential campaigns in recent history. Ironic that the inhabitants of the Side Track Tap and the Chatterbox Cafe have gone silent at a time when we could all use their reminders of simple humanity.

I started college in Minneapolis (@MCAD) in 1975, a year after the start of Prairie Home Companion in St. Paul. Going over and listening to the show while it was being taped was cheap entertainment for starving art students. Since then, the show has defined my Saturday nights and/or Sunday mornings for 41 years.

The show will continue this Fall with a new host, Chris Thile, but the tone and the stories will shift to a new story teller with a new voice. Thank you, Mr. Keillor, for forty-two years.

A Sale of Sorts. July 20th to July 28th.

Convention Sale

Why a book sale?

When I was a kid (not quite in the Jurassic period, but close), my grandmother would threaten to wash all of our mouths out will Fels-Naptha soap for verbal transgressions. One did not say “damn” in public, much less in polite society. It just wasn’t done.

A violation of one of her basic tenets (bearing false witness, lying (slightly different from the bearing thing), cursing, being unkind, being thoughtless, being ungracious. All ended with a quick swat and banishment to weed the gardens, to polish the silver, to dust every available flat surface, or to mow the lawn with a non-powered push mower (sage brush is not easily cut with a reel lawnmower).

For anyone who has turned on the television recently, it is hard to miss the level of hatred, anger, and waist deep vitriol. It is hard not to miss the violation of the rules of conduct my father spoke of from the pulpit. It spills over into  places like Facebook and Twitter and assorted other media outlets. It floods the streets, the airways, even over the white picket fences separating neighbors. I hear it from customers, from folks in grocery store lines, and from folks who listen to sermons on Sundays and Wednesdays, but think nothing of repeating rumors and bearing false witness in the hours between services.

So, I go back to “why a book sale?”  Perhaps because the act of reading is tranquil, and we are, given current passions, desperately in need of domestic tranquility. A book sale is our response to a culture being torn apart by hate.

One final side note: The cartoon in the ad was chosen because Mr. Trump is easier to draw and his hair is a lot more fun. He doesn’t, however, have a corner on the anger market, but he does have a much more expressive face.



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