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Garrison Keillor: A friendly column, nothing about him, whatsoever

May 22. 2018 11:19PM

THE LILACS are in bloom out at the old family homestead and it’s pleasant to stand by the bushes and smell them and recall that the outhouse used to stand a few feet away. Who does not feel his faith in resurrection strengthened by this news? We’ve all been stinkers at times but once we leave the body behind, we shall bloom in the life to come.

My ancestors settled on that land in 1880, and my father once drove a manure spreader in the field near the lilacs, pulled by a team of four horses. They were heading downhill and he maybe forgot to apply the brake and the spreader clipped the hind horses’ legs. They bolted and took off down the road, my dad hanging on for dear life. The spreader tipped over when the horses galloped around a corner and my father leaped clear and landed in a ditch, no bones broken. He wrote a clear account of this in a letter to the city girl he hoped to marry, a harrowing story about the fragility of life and how death waits for us when we least expect it and so we should take hold of love and happiness when it presents itself. It was a well-written narrative and it won her heart and that’s where I come from, a rare venture into journalism by a taciturn man.

I’ve found love and happiness, thank you, and what I’m looking for now is a new vocation, a purpose, a mission. A man can’t just lie in a hammock and identify birds. The birds don’t need us to tell them who they are. Travel for travel’s sake doesn’t interest me, nor sack races, sock hops, secular humanism, or psychics. I turn 76 soon and so there’s no time for retraining. I once wanted to be a waiter or a bus driver but those doors, I’m sure, have closed.

Meanwhile, something dreadful is surely waiting for me up ahead. Over the years, I have filled out thousands of forms and always checked the little box saying I accept the terms and conditions and never have I read those terms and conditions. Eventually those terms and conditions will come due. I know it and you know it.

Searching for a new purpose in life, I depend on my wife for guidance, as I do in so many matters. She tells me, “Smile at people. Offer your hand. Ask them how they are today and listen pleasantly as they tell you.” Somehow in my old age I’ve taken on a grim expression without meaning to. I’m happy as can be, contented and serene, and friends ask me if something’s wrong. Evidently my default face is that of an ogre.

My generation was not a lighthearted bunch. We produced Bob Dylan, who is not a guy you’d willingly go on a long car trip with. We were a skeptical, brooding, cranky bunch, and I can see that now when I hang out with my grandson. He is congenial and so are his friends and people his age. Totally. I see them walking around with their smartphones, which contain a GPS app that beeps when a friend is in the vicinity, and this app guides them to each other — the electronic lady voice says, “Coffee shop, 100 feet ahead on your left. Outdoor table by the door.” And the two friends sit down side by side and they text each other, “Hey how R U?” while checking their e-mail, Twitter, and Snapchat to see what their other friends are up to. If they are boys, they play a video game in which hooded assassins dash across a devastated landscape and wreak destruction and attempt to kill each other. If they are girls, they exchange pictures of their cats.

I don’t have the dexterity to do those things so I am limited to personal contact. But friendliness is a good enough vocation, I think, for these twilight years. I come from separatist fundamentalist people who sincerely believed that you are going to hell because you don’t accept the truth that was revealed to them. So it goes against my principles to befriend you but I’m going to do it anyway. I have nothing to sell you, don’t worry. I don’t care whom you voted for last time. I’m going to be friendly because my wife told me to be. When you’re loved by a person as good as she, you pay attention to what she says.

Have a wonderful day, friend. Thinking about you, wishing you all the best.

Garrison Keillor lives in Minnesota.

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