Here we are in the basement of the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, eating catered dinner with the cast and crew from A Prairie Home Companion. Garrison Keillor is asking Rudy about his quest to sleep outside for a year.
Rudy’s Mom is grinning her high-beam smile as she leans across the table and whispers, “Pinch me!”
I know what she means. Coming here has been on our bucket list for decades. I bought tickets months ago but had no idea it would be like this.
It seems Rudy’s charitable quest is suitably Minnesota-odd for Mr. Keillor to invite him onto the stage. Now he is sharing the spotlight with Garrison Keillor, talking about sleeping outside in a cave for donations. Keillor wonders, “What if a bear comes in the cave? What do you mean, you haven’t thought about it?” Then he asks about Rudy’s plans for college.
Late in the show Keillor pulls out his trademark, Lake-Wobegon monologue: long, meandering, stream-of-consciousness. He ties one or two threads together by the end, but the rest, he allows to wander off into the wings and die.
It doesn’t matter. He is brilliant – his half-whispered, raspy musings; his large body roaming the darkened stage in lone spotlight; his compassion and insight into tremendous variety of lives at once ordinary and bizarre – these are more than enough.
This is what we have come here to watch; why millions of people tune in their radios on Saturday afternoon to listen, week after week, year after year, decade upon decade — this summer will make two score years of quirky Keillor genius.
We listen intently, hundreds of us, perched on our seats, clapping hands and stomping feet, and so trekking the sojourn of Minnesota’s secular pilgrimage to the Holy City of St. Paul, where we enter the magnificent Fitzgerald Cathedral with hushed awe, paying homage to the larger-than-life presence of humor, humility, and humanity.
The show is over and we are back stage. Despite a following larger than many religions, Garrison Keillor prefers talking to a couple kids about their lives and dreams. Peering out from beneath his mussed hair and hang-dog
brow, he asks Rudy about high school and plans for college. He talks to Heidi about her passion for music and piano.
His attention is like a slug of hot chocolate on a cold day — a liquid warmth that blossoms from the belly and flows into the chest, radiating out through arms and legs until one’s entire body glows with cozy comfort. My kids drink him in. I watch, deliriously happy with the day, the show, the man, my kids, my wife, my life.
I want to be like Garrison Keillor in some small way that is my own. I want to give to others — the gift of compassion, warmth, happiness, maybe even amusement — and know that I have done something that matters.
Thank you, Mr. Garrison Keillor.