Excuse me, Mr. Keillor: A few plain thoughts from one Homegrown Democrat to another

By Emma Claire Sohn

Dear Mr. Keillor,

If we were face to face perhaps you’d recognize me as the girl in the front row of your June performance of “A Prairie Home Companion” in Highland Park, juxtaposed by a sea of obsessive fans all easing into retirement. I had a single earnest request: a handshake from my life-long hero. Not only did your perceptive ears extract my meek muted voice from above the crowd, but you took care in snatching my hand and planting a kiss, sending a smile wider than the state of Minnesota across my dimpled cheeks. In any case, I have a few words for you as this fall semester dwindles.

Call it shallow, but I have a few lax qualifications for my close friends. A random selection of these is as follows:

  • A tolerance for my extreme enthusiasm for dinosaurs
  • A refusal to eat synthetic (i.e.- anything with a Fabio-based ad campaign) butter and an adamant passion for the real thing
  • A working knowledge and appreciation for, you, Garrison Keillor

Chances are if someone fulfills all or most of these criteria, we’ll get along pretty well. More or less like peanut butter and jelly. But a love for the famed Garrison Keillor, the Mark Twain of our tragic incarnation of the Gilded Age, will elevate a budding relationship to a level contending Dick Cheney’s fiery friendship with shot guns.

Why, you may ask? Because everyone I’ve ever met with a passion for your persuasion of nostalgia is of a similar philosophy. Not that of a Born-again extremist, easily swayed by the unsolvable issue of abortion. Nor that of a PETA-backing, Ouija board-wielding hippie, but instead the belief system of a “Homegrown Democrat,” as suggested by the title of your 2004 political commentary. Someone whose politics are as deeply rooted in the Ten Commandments as the basic golden-rule liberal philosophy.

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This revelation comes as no surprise to the daughter of a Plymouth Brethren, whose fondest childhood memories include Mini-Vanning a hand-chopped evergreen home from the Wisconsin border, wedged between my kid sister and a smothering of needles with “A Prairie Home Companion” wafting through the pines to our juvenile ears.

Though any variation of my memoirs would include a soundtrack marked by your more comforting-than-mashed-potatoes voice, you truly won me over two years ago with the release of your pocket-sized commentary on politics, religion and growing up in the Midwest, three things that have marked my family and thus my personal history. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read “Homegrown Democrat” since, but I confidently say that it has single-handedly shaped the way I approach the political world. You untangle the corrupt mire fabricated by the Right between religion and politics with the greatest of ease. Though your traditional moderate view falls closer to socialism according to today’s political spectrum than common sense, it is just that – good Midwestern common sense that would make my Bible-bearing, “Our Daily Bread” reading, Fannie May peddling and adamantly, kind-heartedly liberal Grandmother proud.

Your beloved Minnesota home is a truly beautiful state. But if you iron out some of the hills, raise the temperature a bit, and sprinkle in a few extra corn stalks you have Illinois. Not the state of Chicago, but Illinois, which so often falls by the wayside to that gem of a city. Yet you too, Mr. Keillor, have forgotten our pancaked state. Searching through the “Prairie Home” archives, I’m hard pressed to find an Illinois performance outside of the Chicago area.

And so, I offer you, Mr. Keillor, another earnest request. Visit Champaign. Accept the Prairie State as a key note of our shared home region, this breadbasket of the world. And also, if you’re ever looking for an apprentice, my heart’s in the right place.

With love and Powdermilk Biscuits,

Emma Claire