November 3, 2018
Garrison Keillor performs with duet partner Lynne Peterson and longtime collaborator & pianist Richard Dworsky.
5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
A live performance at the Brady Theater
Long Beach, CA
A live performance at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center
A live performance at the Saenger Theatre
A live performance at the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center
I went to prom Saturday night at my daughter’s school, which parents are allowed to attend so long as we don’t get in the way. It was held in the gym, under the basketball hoops, boys in suits and ties, girls in prom dresses, a promenade of graduating seniors, the crowning of a king and queen, a loud rock band to discourage serious conversation. This is a school for kids we once called “handicapped,” now we say “learning challenged.” I went to public school: you stood on the corner, you boarded the bus, it took you to school. This school is one that each of us parents searched desperately for as our child sank into the academic slough.
I stood in the shadows watching the promenade and my heart clutched as it often does at this school. Some of the students look as ordinary as you or I, and others have an odd gait, quirky movements of head or arms, a twitchiness, a speech abnormality. My heart clutches at the sight because I recall clearly how cruelly we treated people like them when I was their age.
And then the band struck up “So Fine” (My baby’s so doggone fine, she sends those chills up and down my spine), and young hips started shaking. The band was a local fivesome, old guys my age, the lead guitarist going bald on top but still maintaining a white ponytail down to his butt, playing songs of my youth, sort of incongruous as if my high school prom had featured the Charleston and the Turkey Trot, but the kids were flying high and improvising, and then we were on to “Brown-Eyed Girl” and I saw a friend of my daughter out on the floor, a young woman who was terribly injured as an infant and now, at sixteen, is blind in one eye and walks with a lurch, one arm semi-paralyzed, and there she was on the dance floor, in transcendent ecstasy, dancing to Van Morrison played by old men.
She was utterly transported, surrounded by classmates, each with his or her own twitches and lurches, all of them dancing like mad, laughing and a-running, skipping and a-jumping, just as the song says, and singing “sha la la la la la,” and the blessed fact was that none of them seemed the least bit self-conscious. When I was that age, I kept a running score on the Cool-O-Meter. These kids were free of that. Six kids in a conga line went by, two boys leaped straight up and down, obese children shimmied with abandon. Their own (pardon me) handicaps had preserved them from the obsessive self-awareness that we normals were plagued by in our youth and still are today, the constant comparisons to others, our work vs. their job, our kids, our clothes, a whole checklist.
The lead guitarist played his five or six basic licks, and the kids danced as if possessed, including the girl in orthopedic shoes, hands over her head. It was a vision of paradise, where at last we shall all be equal in the eyes of the Lord. And then a tall girl named Elizabeth dashed up, threw her arms around me, and we boogied. I do not, in the normal course of things, ever boogie. It is not what I was brought up for. But she obliged me to boogie. And I sang “Sha la la la la la la la la la lah de dah.”
Sunday, the gym was packed for graduation. A bagpiper led the Class of 2018 in, most of whom I recognized from the dance the night before. I sat there, tissue in hand, as one by one, the graduates came to the microphone and spoke their piece. I once made my living speaking into microphones, which came easily to me, and I could hear the enormity of their challenges, managing their tics, working around the blocks and stutters, and I was proud beyond proud of their valor. The president of the class, a tall Liberian girl, spoke, movingly, imploring us all to get to know each other for who we are, not for what we look like.
My daughter and I stood in the sunlight, watching the recessional go by, and she pointed out a favorite teacher of hers and said, “She and her wife have a little boy who I babysit.” The phrase “she and her wife” is dramatic to me, and to my daughter it is unremarkable, just as race is and ethnicity. Don’t believe everything you read. We are moving on.