On a Sunday afternoon in Lexington, Massachusetts, from the vantage of front row, left, you get the full measure of a man who has the verbal skill to hold a packed audience rapt for two hours. Just retired, Keillor’s six-foot-four slightly bent-to-the right body danced to the lyrical rhythms of his stories. Dressed in a tan linen suit, white shirt, bold red tie, red socks and red sneakers, I was fascinated how he tapped out a two-step beat to punctuate his verbal rhythms.
The man’s voice, low, resonant, slightly nasal began with tales of his Lutheran roots, how two hours of weekly sitting during the study of Leviticus every Sunday vaccinated him from future boredom. At 17, just arrived at college, he ended up skinny-dipping in the Mississippi River and swept downstream sans clothing, one of many formidable lessons in being “cool.”
I was grateful to bear witness to the stories of his radio launch in college, his amazement at arriving at 74, the articulation of facing his body’s complaints, the sheer wonder of the journey from late adolescent’s “cool” to his present circumspective elder self, his gratitude for a precious daughter who puts her arms around him.
His formative president was Eisenhower, the pragmatic, systemic commander, who championed the highway system, transforming the two-lane highway, widening the opportunities to travel by car across the nation. Keillor wondering, as an amused aside, how Jack Kerouac’s mind would have been blown by the ease of coast-to-coast options.
Kerouac-Hemingway-Thoreau: they were all with him, admired, and referenced in the tapestry of associations, memories, and stories. At the core, Keillor is a wordsmith, a writer, often of poetry, whose greatest delight is germinating an idea before sleep in anticipation of the next morning’s work—to dig in and plant, to tend and grow the words into form.
In the midst of wild applause and laughter to the point of tears, he launched into song. My voice, unfamiliar in song, joined in chorus. His hands invoked us to sing My Country Tis of Thee, Swing Low, and more favorites.
I resonated with his love of writing, and the call to write down and shape words into a poem. I was happiest those mornings of dedicated time two decades ago when I first found poetry and rose every morning before work to capture what seemed liked magical lines on my 13 inch tiny Mac screen. The effort rooted me, enriched my life and set the stage for my enrollment in Pine Manor’s Solstice MFA program at the same age as Keillor.
In time, I expanded into narratives, extrapolating the longer view, mining the details and patterns. Like Keillor, I was grateful to have the perspective of years, the habit of discipline and the will to write.
And so we go on, it’s a good time because you can look back, see things, the trajectory over time…We write; it’s a gift, how lucky… Keillor remarked. Yes, how lucky.