Thank You, Thank You, Thank You

Garrison Keillor / Garrison Keillor's Website
Thank You, Thank You, Thank You Garrison Keillor. (photo: Paris Review)

I come to Thanksgiving in a cheerful mood, counting the blessings, starting with the new pig valve Dr. Dearani’s team sewed into my heart three months ago, which enables me to type this sentence and saves some poor soul from eulogizing me and getting it all wrong. My legacy is that I sang gospel songs and told immature jokes on public radio and thereby took up arms against pretense. “There was a young man of Madras” and “How Great Thou Art,” I love them both dearly. It horrified thousands of managers and vice presidents but I got away with it.

As a Minnesotan, I’m aware that my state is the No. 1 producer of turkeys, an ugly ill-tempered bird with a sharp beak and a single-digit IQ and no redeeming qualities except the meat. Minnesota used to produce computers and semiconductors but then Apple and Microsoft took the business away, and now our state produces 45 million turkeys a year, which means that in early October, there is a possibility that the birds could rise up and take over. We have only six million people, many of them elderly and easily confused, and if a strong westerly wind hit the penal ranches and the fowl panicked and a feathery wave swept east toward the cities and the National Guard assembled a wall of snowplows along I-35 and the stampede flowed over the mountains of carcasses and ten or fifteen million birds hit Minneapolis, late-night comics would feast on us and my state, which gave you Prince and Robert Bly, would be a joke.

And then there’s the GPS lady in the dashboard who leads us through mazes of 18th-century streets in New England towns and there are no more of those “I told you to turn left” arguments. And Google, which lets you type in “Now thank we all our God” and it gives you “With heart and hands and voices, Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices; Who from our mothers’ arms” and so forth. And YouTube, where “Going to the Chapel” and “Under the Boardwalk” and “Sugar Sugar” and all the hits of my youth are instantly available when needed, no need to rummage through the 45s. And my WordPerfect software that makes a squiggly blue line under “Leviteracetem” until I correct the spelling to “Levetiracetam.” (My old Underwood typewriter didn’t care one way or another.)

And then I think of the phone call I made in 1992 to the sister of my sister’s classmate. I had called her, at the classmate’s suggestion, six months before to invite her to lunch and she said she couldn’t, she was going on tour with an orchestra in Asia. She was excited about going to Indonesia, Brunei, and Malaysia, which she hadn’t seen before, and I was impressed and wrote her number on the wall and six months later called back. We had a long lunch at a seafood joint on Broadway at 90th and so at the age of 49 and three-fourths I found a partner for life.

She was a freelance violinist in New York, living in a walk-up apartment on 102nd, a woman who loved her work and endured the vicissitudes of freelance, namely the occasional poverty, and never asked help from family. I was a successful writer. I lived in a little bubble, isolated, chained to a computer, a veteran of two unhappy marriages to women I made even unhappier. She was an inveterate walker who on her tour of Asia had ventured alone into strange cities, climbed hills to see temples, braved the language barrier. In New York, she kept her spirits up through penurious periods by walking six, eight, ten miles a day around Manhattan, Central Park, museums, living on crackers, cheese, and coffee.

I tried to impress her, bought box seats at the opera, took her to classy restaurants, and of course she enjoyed that, but what she liked most was good conversation. She was endlessly curious. I told stories about my evangelical upbringing, about the writing life. She is very honest. She is a hugger and my friends and family like her better than me (I’m a shoulder patter). She loves people. She’s adorable. I’m lost without her.

There is an old man in New York
Who is cheerfully popping the cork
In sheer thanksgiving
For the pleasure of living,
Thanks to Jenny and a small piece of pork.

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