What I'm planning to do this winter, maybe

Garrison Keillor

By Garrison Keillor

Published Dec. 16, 2019

It turned cold and gray in Minnesota last week and snow fell, which some people talk about as being depressing, but it's not, it's reassuring.

The talk is ritual complaint, an attempt by people living comfy lives to acquire the dignity of suffering. Genuine suffering is on its way sooner than you think.

One day I'll step off a curb and my legs will buckle and strangers will call 911 and I'll be hauled unconscious to a crowded ER and when I awake, I won't be able to remember the words to "Abide with me, fast falls the eventide" or "Minnesota, hats off to thee." It's out there, waiting to happen. Snow is nothing.

I went to see my favorite musical, "Fiddler on the Roof," Friday night and compared to Tevye the dairyman whose horse is lame and his wife sharp-tongued, his daughters rebellious, and the czar is anti-Semitic, and the show ends with the heroes getting kicked out of town, my life is a gentle glide path.

I had 18 aunts, most of whom felt I could do no wrong, so I grew up with a sense of superiority, and it was in the Forties before autism had been invented or any of the other syndromes and disabilities with the three initials, back when an oddball like me was assumed to be brilliant. And by the time they discovered what my problem is, I was a success and it was too late for treatment.

When winter comes along, I don't long for white sand beaches and flamingos and palm trees. Paul Gauguin means nothing to me, I prefer snowscapes. I'm a Minnesotan. Heat makes me stupid. This has been proved over and over. I've gone to Key West and Santa Barbara in February and sat in a stupor as reading comprehension and critical judgment dropped to a vegetative level. I thrive when I'm bundled up against the cold and working on deadline and dealing with unreasonable antagonism, like the lady at Staples who told me that I must fill out a separate form for each of 23 identical packages I want to ship. She wanted me to fume and curse and glare and stamp my tiny foot and I refused to give her the satisfaction. I smiled, said "Thank you," and walked away. This is the Minnesota way.

I'm no good at vacations. I'm a worker. I miss menial labor, the potato-picking I did back in my youth. We peasants trudged along, bent low, dropping the spuds into burlap bags that we half-filled and then left for the pickup truck to collect. You worked for three or four hours and you collected five or ten bucks and sat around drinking beer, smoking cigs, and talking about girls.

I went into the field of fiction and wrote books, for the prestige of it, I suppose, and then it paid well so I couldn't afford to give it up, and it was an okay life, but a lonely one: there is no camaraderie among writers like what I remember from my days as a parking lot attendant.

I was 18, I worked early mornings on a 10-acre gravel lot, no white lines, on a bluff over the Mississippi, wearing a white smock and white gloves and forcing willful drivers to park in straight lines exactly where I directed them. It was good for a free-thinker like me to learn the skills of fascist authoritarianism and bend others to my will, and when the lot was full, we attendants huddled in a shack with an electric heater and enjoyed the satisfaction of a job well done.

Instead of a sunny beach under the palm trees, I'd love a vacation at a work camp in northern Minnesota where an old man could park cars, drive a bus, or wait on table, three jobs that I think I could do very well.

Let the snow fall and the wind blow, I'd be with other old men who find pleasure in usefulness. Our wives would be on Maui and we'd be in Bemidji, getting along very nicely, thank you.

Before my legs buckle and I wind up forgetting the words to favorite songs, I intend to do this. First I need to explain it to my wife and then I'm all set.

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Garrison Keillor is an author and radio personality.