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Garrison Keillor: Time passes, lovers still welcome

February 13. 2018 11:50PM

Back at Benson School, Mrs. Moehlenbrock had us make valentines for everyone, no exceptions. You couldn’t just write them to Eloise and Marlys, you had to give them to Daryl and David too, the boys with red knuckles from pounding on other boys. In the fourth grade, love was universal, not selective, and nobody should feel less loved than anyone else, though of course we knew otherwise.

So we sat at our desks and pasted red hearts and golden ribbons on construction paper and wrote “Be my Valentine” on each one, though the concept of being Daryl’s valentine was impossible to grasp. But so was the idea of Judy and Rochelle being my valentines. They were popular, athletic, smart, neat of dress, and out of my league.

I was a bookish kid with wire-rim glasses, the last kid chosen in softball, a boy the girls avoided at the square dance. I sort of assumed I’d grow up to live alone in a small green trailer out in the woods with only a radio and a dog for company. Somehow, it didn’t turn out that way. I danced through a series of romances, four or five, more than strictly necessary, and then in the spring of 1992 in a seafood restaurant on Broadway & 90th in New York, it happened for good.

I was 50, a faded writer, the solemn-faced host of a radio show, and she was a classy violinist, 15 years younger. I knew her older sister in St. Paul who told me that someday I should look up Jenny and I did and we sat at lunch and talked for hours. We married a couple years later. Our little girl came along in 1997.

The conversation was like a long violin/bassoon duet, lovely string passages and baritone honks. We hit it off from the start and never wondered if one was right for the other or why. I still feel that way, talking to her. She is a lively woman of strong affections, sociable but very independent thanks to her years as a freelance musician in New York. She decided to make music her life when she was 14 and she stuck to it and when she was broke and feeling low, she dealt with it by taking long, long walks around Manhattan, a slight young blond woman in a warm coat, hands in her pockets, observing city life. Instead of curling up in a dark corner, she ventured out to look at a world full of curiosities, every block with something odd and arresting to show you.

Smart girls had always appealed to me; romance began with conversation. I first fell in love with a woman who sat at a piano and played the Bach French Suite No. 6 and the glory of it was light shining in the murk of the ordinary, but after we married, she was attacked by her own perfectionism and gave up the piano, and the light went out. My love for Jenny sprang from admiration for her bravery and steadfastness. I never could’ve ventured out on the hazardous path she followed. I’m a fugitive by nature, an observer, averse to danger. When I married her, I hitched my wagon to a BMW and climbed into the passenger seat and buckled my seatbelt.

I sympathize with couples who struggle but I am more interested in the ones who grow closer, a triumph over the laws of natural decay. Christine and Ross, Linda and David, Dan and Isabelle, Libby and Lytton, Laura and Rashelle, Doug and Sheri, Mike and Lisa, Amanda and Patrick, Thomas and Morten. Forgive each other every night and start over in the morning. Be beautiful.

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