Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
There was a cranky grandma in front of the supermarket on Friday, yelling at a baby in a stroller, “Don’t ask for another muffin when you have one in your hand! Eat that one before you ask for more!” and telling a little boy beside her, “Stop walking back and forth like that. Stand still, for God’s sake. And stop your whining.” The poor kid was a little restless and Grandma was at the end of her rope. He started to cry. “Shut up,” she said.
There is a limit to everything, even grandma love. Grandma has just so much saintliness in the tank and then she becomes an ordinary mortal, and I empathize, ma’am. My grandma Dora was so perfect in her black shirtwaist with white dots, her knitting, her scent of lavender, her gentle profanity (“Oh fudge” and “Oh drat”), that my girl cousins find it hard to rise to her standard. Grandma had been a railroad telegrapher and a country schoolteacher, had endured farm life during the Dirty Thirties, could slaughter a goose by wringing its neck, and was a woman of consummate dignity. She never had to say, “Shut up,” she only had to look at you. She had thirty grandkids and every year you got a card from her with a dollar in it.
We worshipped her and so she never needed to yell at us, but the cranky grandma’s line, “Don’t ask for more when you have one in your hand,” struck me as something grandma Dora probably said to me when I was small. It reverberated, like a wooden spoon against a dishpan. I was a greedy child and it has carried on into my old age and I am trying to deal with it.
I grew up out in the sticks, hoeing corn and cutting thistles, and wore hand-me-down clothes and was ambitious to be Somebody and that’s why I became a writer. I wrote bad poetry for a while and then books of fiction and earned enough as an Arthur to buy a big house with 14-foot ceilings and elaborate plaster moldings, the sort of rooms men in top hats might’ve signed treaties in, and I greedily filled them with books, collector’s editions, first editions, handsome hardbound classics, hundreds of them, Plato and Melville and Dickens and Milton and Aristophanes, which I never read but enjoyed as a sign of distinguishment. I had handfuls of books and wanted more. Then I fell in love with a sensible woman and now I’m on the path to recovery.
She was a freelance classical violinist and so she had experienced scarcity firsthand. She never sought parental subsidy, never got a day job, so she learned to live on ramen noodles when necessary, sharing an apartment with roommates and their dogs, using the refrigerator as a closet. She believes in the one-muffin-one-hand principle. We now live happily in an apartment and my collection of handsome books was donated to my high school library. There’s a park nearby, a church, a coffee shop, a grocery, and the ballpark is a fifteen-minute walk. We have what we need.
What cured my greed for excellence was a Distinguished Alumnus award from my alma mater, which put an immense portrait of me on a wall. I had not been a good student at all; I almost flunked out. It was embarrassing, like being named Catholic Mother of the Year though you’re actually a stepmother and polytheistic and your stepkids aren’t speaking to you. I had yearned for recognition, a Pullet Surprise or maybe Poet Laundromat, but the Extinguished Alumnus cured me of striving for excellence. And I’ve been much happier ever since.
I have friends who are hung up on excellence, who patronize only the best restaurants and know which coffee beans are best and exactly how long to grind them, but I am happy in the slow lane, which I was doing when I heard the cranky grandma urge limits on what we consume. A first step toward dealing with the garbage we’ve left for our grandkids: be happy with what you have, it’s good enough. Tomorrow, try getting along with less. I skipped breakfast today and feel just fine. I’ll walk to the ballpark tonight for the game and will buy one bratwurst with kraut and mustard. I could polish off two but one is enough. Baseball is about spirit and getting a jump on the ball. Don’t stuff yourself.