Sometimes it is good to acknowledge your influences and the people whose work has changed your life into what it now appears to be. Such a person, a profound influence on my story-telling habits, is Garrison Keillor.
This man in the picture who looks like one of my relatives, is the story-teller, writer, and radio personality Garrison Keillor.
The only way to accurately explain this whole honorarium-business is to tell you a story… You see, Great Grandma Hinckley, when she was reaching the tarnished end of her golden years, the latter part of her 90’s, the nearly-a-century mark, always called me “Donny”. Apparently “Michael” was too hard a name to actually remember. To be fair, though, it was my Uncle’s name, and I did look in the 1970’s very much like Uncle Don when he was a youth in the 1950’s. And though Great Grandma had more great grandchildren to keep track of than “Carter had little liver pills,” she always knew that I was one of the smart ones. When I graduated from high school I earned a full four-year scholarship from my dad’s company due to my high grades and test scores. She was very proud of that fact. She told all of her friends at the nursing home that of all of the awards presented at the senior awards assembly, I had won most of them. This was not even remotely true, except when viewed through the smoky, rose-colored lens of great grandmother-hood, but it led to all the people at the home saying things like, “You must be Donny! Congratulations on your great big brain!” Some of them even knew already that my name was Michael. Only now that I am getting old do I begin to understand old-people humor a bit better.
So, Great Grandma wanted to give me a really good graduation present. She gave most of her obligatory grandkid presents as hand-crocheted Afghans in bright neon colors that were wildly mismatched because she was color blind. But me, she gave me her radio. Yes, a portable radio roughly the size of a large school lunchbox. It was an RCA… that’s a brand of radio for you young whippersnappers who don’t know anything about what was irreplacebly good in the mid-20th Century. It was one of the most valuable things she still owned, and the TV set was too big to take to college (thank goodness). So I took that ultra-valuable old radio along to college to listen to music while I studied. Dad had hooked me on classical music, so I listened to the Public Broadcasting channel KLYF in Des Moines.
That is how I came to be a fan of Garrison Keillor. Every Saturday night, along about 7 p.m., KLYF broadcast another episode of A Prairie Home Companion. I would listen to the gospel music and ads for Powdermilk Biscuits and gossip from the Chatterbox Cafe in Lake Wobegone, Minnesota. And Garrison Keillor, old G.K., would tell stories about the doings in Lake Wobegone, his old (fictional) home town “Where all the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children are above average.” It was there that I learned that every good story may ramble on a bit and have a long pause or two, or twenty, but always came to the point in the end. I learned that from Garrison Keillor. But I may owe a bit of that to Great Grandma Hinckley too.