Saturday

December 7th, 2019

Musings

Up at cabin, leave paper on porch

Garrison Keillor

By Garrison Keillor

Published July 26, 2019

It is a lovely summer so long as you don't think too much about the news, so I don't. When I was younger, I felt a duty to be informed, and now it is the duty of younger people, not me. I am trying to deal with busted zippers on a suitcase.

The suitcase itself is in fine shape, but the pull tabs are missing. To zip it shut, I must grasp the tiny slider between thumb and forefinger and ease it along the chain, which ain't easy.

I called a drugstore and the clerk heard "pull tabs" and thought I wanted to buy lottery tickets.

I called another and the lady said, "A good luggage shop can repair that for you."

I thought I'd try attaching a paper clip to each slider and the search for paper clips led me to the many miscellany dishes we have in this house and the rich assortment of tiny screws, brads, tacks, clips, nails, staples, pins, and fasteners.

My wife asked what I was looking for. I told her. She said, "I have a bunch of zipper tabs upstairs, why didn't you ask me for one?"

"Where did you get those?"

"From Amazon," she said.

The little bald guy who started out selling books out of the trunk of his car and now is the richest man in the world sells replacement parts for zippers. What a country.

That is why I'm not up on the latest breaking news. Too busy with other things.

So I packed the suitcase and we went away to a cabin in the pines to get away from everything and sit by the lake and of course you find a little bit of the everything you went there to get away from, leaks from the fridge, raccoon incursions, hot water heaters not heating hot enough, but my wife handles those things because she is half Swedish. You put me in charge of hot water and we will all be in hot water very quickly.

The cabin also serves as the family museum. Her grandpa's helmet and bugle from World War I are hung on the wall, his vest inscribed with the battles he witnessed, the Marne, the Somme, and Verdun, which lasted almost a year and cost 700,000 casualties. A man who had seen so much death would appreciate a lake cabin even more than you and I.

His son, my late father-in-law Ray, is still the presiding spirit of this cabin. As a young man, he helped build it; and as an old man, he cut up fallen trees for firewood and climbed up on the roof to clean leaves out of the gutters. His dad sat on the front steps and smoked his White Owl cigar and his mother cooked supper. His wife sat at the piano and played songs from old songbooks.


I came here years ago as a stranger in love with their youngest daughter, and the four of us sat on the porch and peacefully conversed, feeling the breeze off the lake. My love sat next to me on the wicker sofa, touching hands, and her parents sat in a rocker and a kitchen chair. I was not out to impress them. The only really impressive thing I can do is to recite the 87 counties of Minnesota by heart in alphabetical order in less than 60 seconds. As it happens, the cabin is in Wisconsin.

I was there to show them that I can converse in a quiet civilized way, not lecture or harangue or belabor, avoiding long digressions, bald-faced lies and outright heresy. I did this. I fit in. It was a lovely evening. We covered a lot of ground, mainly history, personal and national, but also music and art and some botany, my weak subject -- I only know birch trees and tulips and maybe spruce -- but I nodded, smiled, and soon we were off that and onto Cars We Have Loved and then trains.

This is what lake cabins are for. You can swim or canoe or hike if you like, but quiet reflective porch conversation, the dialogue of gentle people, is what we're here for.

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Garrison Keillor is an author and radio personality.


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