While I don't particularly like those distasteful Iowa jokes Minnesotans love to tell ("Iowa has artificial turf in its stadium to keep cheerleaders from grazing"), I've got to admit a soft spot in my heart for the land of sky blue waters. For one, they've got great writers. F. Scott Fitzgerald, for example, August Wilson for another, but most spectacularly, perhaps, Sinclair Lewis, the very first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize.
Unfortunately, if Sauk Center's great claim to fame were a corporation, it would be in free fall these days, not worth the investment. Who reads Sinclair Lewis anymore?--no one, probably, and with good reason. Most of Lewis is pure rant. It's sort of sad that Sauk Center makes a big deal out of its famous novelist because, Lord, knows, Lewis never cared a bit about them, mocking them royally in some of his most famous work. Read Lewis and you'll wonder why anyone lives in the Midwest amid the provincially peopled anthills some call small-towns. Honestly, make your way through Main Street today and you'll feel as if you just spilled battery acid over your best t-shirt.
If Minnesota had only Sinclair Lewis, most Minnesotans would be dunces or paranoid. Thank the Lord for Garrison Keillor, who basically does the same thing Lewis did, but actually has a heart, a real beating heart. "The News from Lake Woebegone" will probably never win a Nobel Prize, but Keillor's stories have done wonders for Minnesota's self-image because it's given them the healthy plateful of opportunity to laugh at themselves, lovingly. The difference between Keillor and Lewis is simple--Keillor enjoys his people; Lewis hated 'em.
I know the source of this old theater ticket--a neighbor gave it to me, thinking, of course, I was someone who'd like it--and I do. Like the little card from the Sherman Street Ladies, this little bit of history has, for years and years, been comfortably inhabiting the edge of my office bulletin board (which is not mine anymore).
So I wasn't there when Minnesota's most famous prophet came to Sioux Center's TePaske Theater in 1980. My young family was off to Wisconsin, where there are a host of other Lake Woebegones. But, like lots of other flotsam and jetsam I'm slowly recovering as I retire, this historic ticket came to me, and now I have to deal with it.
It's amazing to think of Garrison Keillor himself right here in Sioux Center, remarkable to think of him as a kind of traveling minstrel show through podunks throughout the Upper Midwest, here and there gathering a crowd. It's nice to think that, once upon a time he was just a goofy comedian on a bus tour, hoping to draw a crowd with little more than a bunch of fancy Ole and Lena jokes.
I wasn't there that night, but it's obvious that he was already bartering his talents under the banner of "Prairie Home Companion." I'm sure he did more than his share of poking fun at the very people who sat and guffawed at themselves in those fine, cushioned Te Paske seats, all of it done, oddly enough, in love.
The difference is distinct--or so it seems to me: Sinclair Lewis poked fun at us too, small-town Midwesterners; but Garrison Keillor does it with something Lewis knew absolutely nothing about--grace.
Even though I wasn't there, I think I'll keep this old ticket. In a way, I guess, it has its own testimony. And there's his name, after all, right up there at the top of this blog, where it's been since the day I started. I'll find a place for this old ticket.