It’s Been A Quiet Week
“It was a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my home town,” is how Garrison Keillor – one time Minnesota Public Radio host of Prairie Home Companion – used to start out each weekly monologue on Saturday nights. With his wit and wisdom, he created an entire town, supposedly located right in the crease of the Minnesota map when folded. He populated it with Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery (“If Ralph doesn’t have it, you probably can do without it”), Father Emil, the priest from Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility, and the “other church” with their Lutheran ladies serving up Jell-O creations in the basement.
I came to love those people, the pastors that boarded and swamped the pontoon, Bruno, the dog that loved to fish, or Senator K., whose first name was Senator. I loved all of those fictitious people and their escapades. But wait! These are my people. These were “my people’s” stories from my past and again, in my present.
Growing up, I sat in my Grandma Nellie’s living room on visits to Illinois and quietly absorbed the adult chatter. I might have looked like I was playing, but I listened to the rise and fall of voices, registered facial changes, and noticed animated gestures as the story-telling energized.
- “Did you know that Geraldine broke up with her boyfriend?”
- “Dewey’s wife kicked him out. Too much drinking. He’s living down by the river with his hounds now. Don’t think she’ll have him back!”
- “This Wednesday, the ladies are going up to the church to do the spring cleaning. Can you come and bring a mop?”
- “The fire burned most of the house before help could come! He died with three of his children. So tragic.”
- “Beulah isn’t feeling so good. I’m going to take soup down to her after lunch.”
- “We should take a spin to Durand in Wilma’s new car!”
Sometimes, I pretended to be napping, a good way to get more of the “adult” details that otherwise, went into hushed tones or were avoided completely. Sometimes, the phone would ring – two longs and a short – and Grandma would tiptoe over to the phone table, quietly lift the receiver, put her hand over the mouth piece (way before cell phones), and hold her breath. This was called rubber necking, a term dating from the late 1800s – High tech gossip gathering at the time. Grandma wasn’t as clandestine as she thought, often being called out by name to get off the phone by those on the party line.
Not so much has changed in human communication besides methodology. There were quilting bees, town hall dances, and church potlucks. Not in rural 1930s Illinois, nor now in the Minnesota woods, was it “A quiet week” to the inhabitants. Their stories and mine include imperfect characters doing the best they could with what they had, including well-meaning advice.
The quilting bees are taking place in small rooms filled with square scraps being arranged in Holly, Karen, and Mary during these way-below days. The church women will not be spring cleaning for a few months, but are taking turns to care for Linda receiving chemo. Nancy usually is making truffles at her chocolate shop, but on Saturday, she assembled gingerbread house parts to be decorated by the gathered at the assisted-living activity room. Midweek, a cluster of women living within the section are meeting under the guise of a “Garden Club” which usually includes a seed exchange, some tips for Zone 9, and always something called “catching up” over treats. Community created over seeds and weeds.
While temperatures fall outside, the need for Spanish rises in town. The Women’s (Reproductive) Clinic asked me to teach some Spanish phrases to make welcome their newest population of clients. After the formal greetings, they gave me a list of specialized vocabulary for the intimate clinic exams. My usual advice of drawing pictures or doing charades when words fail you, just does NOT apply here.
Also this week, Mary met me at a local café for veggie burgers and a chat about Ana, my incarcerated pen-friend in Florida. Mary had intentionally “Crossed the Line” at Ft. Benning to protest the funding of Central American Wars back in the 1980s. She was sent to prison for her trespassing decision. To read the full story, see pages 139 and 140 of my book Northern Shores Souther Borders (click links to see pages). Ana has been in prison for 35 years and believes she has been unjustly denied parole. Read my 2021 essay on Ana’s journey for justice. This was likely NOT the usual discussion overheard from this corner booth.
After lunch, I crossed the street to CatTales, our local used book store, also featuring new books, crystals, precious rocks, and incense. I ordered some vocabulary books for the clinic and bought How the Grinch Stole Christmas in Spanish for myself! Yes, they actually do translate Dr. Suess into Spanish!
My other winter discovery in town was my favorite CHOCOLATE CALIENTE! The Abuelita brand usually came in chunks looking like hockey pucks, needing to be dissolved in a quart of milk, culturally frothed up with a wooden-carved hand beater while singing: Bate, bate, chocolate.
Now, Abuelita comes in powder form perfect for the single cup of cocoa! You can still sing the song while you stir.
In Garrison Keillor’s world, “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon” was a supposed glance into the simple life of small-town Minnesota. It was not then nor is it now, a quiet or simple life.
February is a collection of Ground Hog’s, Valentine’s, and Presidents’ days. That covers a lot! Some days, like the movie, seem to be a repeat of everything gone before. Valentine’s Day represents romantic love, but flows into family, friends, gardening, going out to lunch, and sipping a favorite drink. President’s Day reminds us of our history – good and bad – a common denominator. Did you catch the “State of the Union” speech?
Is it a Quiet Week in your Lake Wobegon? Have you asked anyone about their story? What part do you play in this “not so quiet” but ever so fascinating week? Stories unite us.
Enjoy this 8 minute snippet of Lake Wobegon, from February 27, 2016, and get a taste of how it works: