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May is a beautiful month with a hopeful sound to it (I may write a novel, I may take tango lessons, I may buy a schooner and sail the Atlantic, I may survive the journey), but here in Minnesota, snowfall is still a slim possibility, and I can imagine going out for a walk one morning and with my glasses fogged up from my mask, I hit a patch of ice and slip and fall, twisting, waving my arms and a vertebra slips loose and I land on my left hip, hear something crack, lie with my leg bent funny, thinking about getting up but not yet, and I’m not angry, I don’t call on God to damn anything, but I know I have entered a world of pain and an endless odyssey from Mayo to Sloan Kettering to Cleveland Chiropractic to Chicago Shiatsu to Sister Faith Atkins at Holiness Baptist in Luttrell, Tennessee, and wind up in a mindfulness class in Tallahassee where a woman named Maple leads us in deep breathing exercises and shows us how to exhale all our stress and anxiety. A sudden fall can do that to a person. You feel invigorated by fresh air and you take long strides and look up at the greening of the maples and in one horrible minute your life changes to a quest for relief of lower back pain.

I am a cheerful man but I know that life-changing disaster is ever a possibility and so when I arrive safely at home and I have not been attacked by a herd of pigeons demented from having eaten garlicky croutons pigeons are allergic to, I feel grateful. And thus I go around in a mood of gratitude all the day long.

That's the day we get together in an abandoned mineshaft and smoke Luckies and drink straight gin and sing ribald songs. If we’re going to be free, why go halfway?

But sometimes I think of my ancestors who were run out of Rhode Island in the 18th century. They were good conservative people but 1774 was the wrong time to take a public stand for law & order and rebellious colonists drove them away at gunpoint and stole their homes and property. My Crandall ancestors should have been preeminent figures far before those petit bourgeois Rockefellers and the immigrant Kennedys. While the rest of you are shooting off rockets, the Fourth of July is a painful memory for some of us. I look at those elegant mansions of Newport and think, “This should’ve been mine.”

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On the other hand, if the Crandalls hadn’t been driven north to Canada with only whatever household goods they could carry with them, they never would’ve married the impoverished Keillors newly arrived from Yorkshire, and then where would I be? And if my conservative ancestors had triumphed over Washington and Jefferson and the radical democrats and held onto their fortunes, how well would I deal with being a multibillionaire today, owner of eight or ten homes, the private jet, the hired pals, the pharmacologist available 24 hours a day? Not well, I venture to say.

And then I think about my luxurious childhood, the half-acre of garden, half of it in sweet corn, the summer evenings when I was sent to pick corn for supper, the water already boiling on the stove, and I husked as I walked to the house, the ears went in the pot, and we sat down to feast on corn twenty minutes removed from the stalk. Eating fresh sweet corn was a delight not readily available to billionaires in penthouses high above Manhattan. It strengthened your faith in a loving God.

I know three people who, though they live in the city, still maintain a backyard garden plot and fight against wily squirrels and raccoons who have infested city neighborhoods thanks to leash laws that prohibit free-range dogs. Our dog ran free back in my childhood and squirrels stayed up in the trees and we harvested corn and strawberries with no squirrel bite marks in them. The leash laws were passed by liberal nannies who have an urge to restrain and restrict whenever possible, and so my gardener friends find their tomatoes and strawberries nibbled at by rodents, their delight is dampened, the republic sinks into despair.


Someday liberals will require persons over 50 to wear shoes with steel cleats between November and May in order to prevent falls of the sort I dread, and that’s the day I take up skating again and eating steak tartare, and join a smoking society and get together in an abandoned mineshaft and smoke Luckies and drink straight gin and sing ribald songs. If we’re going to be free, why go halfway?

Garrison Keillor
Prairie Home Productions