When I was about nine, an unlikely hero appeared on a show my parents were watching on the Disney Channel, which was a very different channel than it is now. This was an older man (though, let’s be frank, anyone older than twenty is old, when you’re nine.) He sat on a stool, telling slow and meandering stories that had my parents laughing way too loud at a time that was supposed to be my bedtime. Too curious to let it be, I wandered out into the family room. Being a kid with G-I-A-N-T glasses, this man meandered away with my heart with a simple phrase. “You know,” he said, taking his glasses off to clean them, “No one can see you when you take off your glasses.”
And so my taste for the driest of wits was fledged under the tutelage of an unknowing Garrison Keillor. I remember a VHS with my dad’s careful handwriting, labeled “A Prairie Home Companion,” and my parents trying, and ultimately failing through gasps of hilarity, to retell a story he had told. His voice is one I grew up with, carving and crafting what it meant to tell a story.
Though Sean and I lived a scant eight hours from the Twin Cities for six years, making many trips there, we never made it to a live show, much to our disappointment. Ah, well. Knowing if I ever travelled back that way it would not be to see “A Prairie Home Companion,” but to see dear friends that became family while we lived in North Dakota, I shrugged my shoulders in mild disappointment, the way I did when we moved from San Antonio having never seen Willie Nelson perform. (Not once!)
Moving to Vermont, I was not quite sure what to expect. Maybe some hip indie shows where I might as well wear a T-shirt printed with the phrase “SORE THUMB” should I venture to attend. (That could be the name of an indie band. Dibs.) Definitely farmer’s markets, with a vast array of organically grown, non-GMO, free range take-your-picks. But not an opportunity to see the show I had missed for so many years in the Midwest. So when I heard on the radio the Shelburne Museum would be hosting them In late July, I called Sean right away.
And, yet…I almost didn’t buy the tickets. I counted up the cost, adding in a babysitter, and sighed. It was certainly not the responsible thing to do. But what cost for second chances? I entered my credit card number carefully into the little spaces.
The day of the show I had a bike ride planned with a friend, taking advantage of one of the perks of living in Vermont. (Bike paths galore!) The night before our hot water had stopped working, and in order to ensure my availability for a repairman, I almost didn’t go on the ride.
I have an ancient Schwinn, a creaky creature I fell in love with at a garage sale, and which my friend thinks is really, really silly. It is certainly impractical, as I cannot lift or remove it from my bike rack without tremendous effort and extra help. My friend is a slick, experienced biker, with padded bike shorts and a wicked cool mountain bike. She is also gracious, and patient, and good about pushing me a little. That day, we biked the beautiful path further than I would have ever gone had I been by myself. I saw Fred Newman, the unmatched man-of-many-talents from the show, twice on the trail. He’s kind of hard to miss. I told my friend, in a voice that only thinly veiled my giddiness, who I had just seen. She smiled, said, “Oh, yeah?” I texted my family later, and they understood.
I was not sure what to expect at the show, because I am seven different layers of weird at live events. I get wrapped up in the people around me, and their reactions to the show, rather than the show itself. For a writer, who mentally imagines how she would write about and describe very detailed aspects up to and including the dude at the drive-thru window, a live event is a bit of an overload.
And here I am, writing just what I imagined I would write as I experienced the sights around me. Mr. Keillor began the show by walking around the audience, all parked in lawn chairs on a gorgeous summer night on the green at the Shelburne Museum. He did this a couple of times during the show, singing, inviting us all to join, including a rendition of “Home on the Range,” where the snarkiest and most homesick part of me wondered just how much these Vermonters really knew about buffalo roaming.
My eyes barely stayed on the stage as I watched the people nearest us, most of them older than us. The group in front of us had laid out a smorgasbord of cheeses and crackers, sushi, and fruit (organic, non-GMO, one can assume.) Couples, comfortable with each other in their years together, cuddled and swayed to familiar tunes.
My heart was won over anew by the evening’s special guest, Sara Watkins, and don’t we all just love having someone new to love? I almost didn’t know someone even remotely near my age could hold her own on a stage with Mr. Keillor, a giant in my eyes, still looking at him as if I were a child.
Next to us, a balding, grey-haired man stood up stiffly from his low-slung chair, hands pressed to his lower back. He shrugged his shoulders and rolled his head slowly around in a circle. I began to look away, back to the stage, the stage I had paid to get in and see, not this guy stretching. But before my eyes had completely abandoned their peripherals, he started to dance. His hips, presumably only needing a little encouragement, began to sway and shake, as his fists moved through the air. Soon his feet joined in, in small but well-timed and experienced steps. I watched him for quite some time, and when the song was done I clapped, but maybe not as much for Mr. Keillor and Ms. Watkins, as for that gentleman.
That right there is a man, I would like to assume, who has never had a mental battle over things he almost didn’t do.