July 5th, 2020


The old man repents of his materialism

 Garrison Keillor

By Garrison Keillor

Published Nov. 8, 2018

The Nobel-Prize

Standard Time returned in a cold rain on Sunday but no matter. I'm an old man and every day is beautiful. My past is gone, my future is shrinking, and so when I open my eyes in the morning and don't see angels bending over me, I'm grateful for another day on Earth.

There will be no cold rain in Heaven and I will miss that and the chance to complain about it.

I went in the bathroom when I awoke and closed the door so that if I fell down with a massive heart attack, I wouldn't wake my wife, and I put my pants on, left leg first, then the right, not leaning against the wall, for the sheer excitement of it.

Some mornings it's like mounting a bucking horse. And then downstairs to the coffeepot and back to work on my memoir.

I have a moral obligation to write one because as a boy I rode on the hayrack with Uncle Jim who let me hold the reins and say "Ckkk ckkk" to Prince and Scout as they pulled us out to the meadow to rake up hay. I saw my grandma wring a goose's neck and chop its head off. I saw the old crank phone on the wall. I remember when schoolkids worked hard on penmanship. I remember when there were forbidden peep shows on the back streets where men sneaked in to see pictures of scantily clad girls. Nowadays, the peep show is in your computer and the only way to stop people from looking at it is to poke their eyes out.

My dear wife and I are in the process of disposing of stuff as we leave a big house for an apartment. It is astonishing how much stuff two people can accumulate that they (1) do not need and (2) don't enjoy. Unread books we'll never read, meaningless memorabilia, clothes we've outgrown, mysterious tools, ugly art. I do not comment on her thousands of beauty products: I am grateful for her beauty and let it go at that.

In the midst of this disposal, we've also decided to not take a February vacation to Berlin. We've been together long enough to know that vacations are hazardous. I remember the three-week Death March To The Pacific Coast in 1986 with my then-wife and her three unhappy teenagers with wires in their ears. She proposed this as a bonding experience. Note the use of the term "then-wife." Thirty days in the county jail would have done us as much good.

A few years ago, my now-wife and I rented a house on the Florida panhandle and sat in it for two weeks, listening to rain on the roof. We had brought great literature that we were ashamed of never having read, Proust and Melville and Virginia Woolf, and we used them as coasters as we sat and watched TV and never mentioned whose idea this was (hers), just sucked it up, trying hard to be cheerful.

My wife mentioned that vacation recently and a whole string of other disastrous vacations and what they had in common was that they were Planned. Planning is the culprit. We Americans are meant to be nomads, fluttering about on a whim, living in tents with precious few possessions. You buy a house because it's what respectable people do and then you fill it up with stuff you don't want or need, but the stuff doesn't make you happy: experiences do.

I married a woman who makes me happy, the sight of her, her voice, her wit, her stories, and I could be happy living with her in a late-model motor home. We'd have to give up gardening but I'm okay with that. Park by the Grand Canyon for a week until we get tired of grandeur and then move to the Kansas plains. Then Arkansas. Georgia.

The deal has not yet gone through on the apartment. There is time to reverse course. No more plumbing problems: we'll use public facilities in campgrounds from now on. No more dinner parties — they're always about an hour too long — we'll use FaceTime instead. We owned a house so we'd have an address for Visa to send the bills to, but now there's e-mail. Call the agent, darling. I'll get the RV. One suitcase apiece, plus beauty products. It's a big country. Let's go see it. Call for a dumpster. We can be heading for New Orleans by Friday.


Garrison Keillor is an author and radio personality.