It’s funny that after a weekend full of new and wonderful Christmas memories, a house full of Nicolas’ sisters, brothers-in-law and nine little nieces and nephews, more champagne than I knew what to do with, and enough laughter to keep us warm despite the cold that brought a foot of freshly fallen snow, I feel like talking about Garrison Keillor.
It was a present of sorts, left unwrapped on top of my laptop by an American brother-in-law who must have known in his heart I was missing my family despite it all. Scrawled in Rick’s hand across the CD, the words Lake Wobegon brought back a flood of memories. Memories of Saturday morning errands with Dad, from the dry-cleaner to the grocery store to Breadworks, where Dad refueled on coffee and Bryce and I on cinnamon rolls. No matter where we went, whenever I think of those Saturdays in the car, I always remember the melodic sound of Garrison’s great American story-telling voice.
Last night, as Nicolas and I packed up the car, throwing unused wrapping paper on top of a new fondue set, tucking leftover cheese and foie gras in between boxes and suitcases, I tenderly placed Rick’s CD on the console. Then, after kisses and à bientôts, we got on our way, slowly but surely through the snow, to the sound of that great American story-telling voice. It must be an old one, because Garrison sounds particularly young, and his Minnesota accent is particularly pronounced, but I recognized with pleasure his faithful pause in between thoughts — the one that starts with a click of the tongue and grows into a sort of deep breath that is so typically Garrison.
We made our way through the little villages covered in snow and lit with Christmas trees on their corners and I made my way back to my childhood home and to springtime, as Garrison painted the unseasonably perfect picture of April in Lake Wobegon. It’s the time of year when the schoolchildren emerge from hill and dale wearing their spring jackets instead of their winter ones and singing a parody of the Battle Hymn of the Republic called “The Burning of the School.” Of course, Garrison broke out in song:
- Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school
- We have tortured all the teachers – we have broken all the rules
- We cheated our principal in a dirty game of pool
- And our troops go marching on!
- Glory, glory, hallelujah
- My teacher hit me with a ruler…
I laughed. The show continued. Like clockwork, Pastor Ingqvist made his appearance, as did mention of that Catholic Church, “Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility.” Leaving behind the white-out in front of our windshield, I became more and more immersed in the land of Be-Bop-A-Re-Bop Rhubarb Pie and the “Catchup Advisory Board.” By the time Nicolas and I drove into the soft yellow glow of Chatillon-after-dark, I was in another world. When he stopped the car in front of the apartment, I reluctantly waited for one of Garrison’s breathy pauses, then switched off the CD player.
But before I got out of the car, something occurred to me: after a weekend full of new and wonderful Christmas memories, I had been home, if only for the stretch of road between Leuglay and Chatillon. For twenty-five minutes I could have been in the car with my Dad and brother and it could have been a Saturday morning, and, you know what, we could have been on our way home from Breadworks, digesting a bunch of white dough and cinnamon-sugar. And yet, here I was now, at Nicolas’ doorstep. As I said so long to Pastor Ingqvist and the Midwest April weather, I realized that I was exactly where I wanted to be in this moment.
Thank you, Rick, for the CD. Thank you, Garrison, for the trip back home. And, thank-you-very-much, for the first time in a long time, I’m feeling just fine exactly where I am!