A Prairie Home Companion from American Public Media

The Old Scout
Why Iowa Matters
October 30, 2007

Bright chill October days of sweet dry smells, smoke and apples and pigskin, memories of touch football games on grassy fields strewn with dry leaves. "You go deep," our QB said, thinking that a big lanky kid like me must be a good receiver, so I galloped deep looking back over my shoulder, but I was not, in fact, all that terribly interested in actually fighting for possession of the ball. I was brought up to share, not to snatch things away from other people.

Aggressiveness was not a prime value in my family. Only two of my fifteen uncles played football and not one of them was a hunter. They were gardeners, not warriors. Gentle godly men with husky voices who leaned against cars and talked quietly about manly things which, for them, included:
  1. Cheap Things That Are Better Than Expensive Ones
  2. The Peculiarities of Neighbors
  3. The Relative Merits of Makes of Cars
  4. Amazing Coincidences in Everyday Life
  5. The Art of Raising Strawberries
  6. The Absurdities of Urban Life
  7. Road Trips, Past and Future
Sports and politics didn't loom large in their world. So when I tune in to talk radio and hear guys ratcheting on and on about the home team betraying them or how much they hate Hillary, it has an exotic tinge for me, like hearing space alien dialogue in a movie. My male role models didn't raise their voices. They stood with their backs to a 1947 Ford and looked off across the field and murmured.

- So what's going on in your neck of the woods?

- Oh, not so much. Keeping busy.

- How's that car of yours running?

- Got us to Idaho and back.

- So how was that?

- Well, she burned a little oil but she was getting almost twenty miles to the gallon.

Gas mileage: they lied about that, though they were Christians and all. It was a main bragging point. And now oil is $93 a barrel and I hear owners of hybrid cars brag about gas mileage — they can read it right off the instrument panel. My uncles would've loved that, and also the GPS map on the dashboard — my dad would've driven around and around in circles, just to watch that blue dot moving along the street plan of Minneapolis.

The radical feminists of my day did not grow up with men like my uncles, or perhaps they forgot, and other intellectuals who explore maleness do not include the Men Leaning Against The Car Murmuring archetype, but I remember them well, especially on these golden Saturdays in late fall, the gentle voices of the philosophers of the driveway.

What they say is that life is made up of a richness of small things and you need to keep them all in perspective. Read the Bible but don't forget to cover your strawberry beds or change your oil. Go places, see things. Don't get carried away. Moderation. Don't get mad. Don't make things more complicated than they are. If you're too busy to stand around and talk, you're not living right.

Some of us veered away from their example and galloped into the stone canyons of careerism, which has warped us somewhat. We are expected to give up our lives for work. We have a tendency to obsess and orate and that is something the driveway philosophers didn't go in for. They were a chorus, not an audience, and they spoke softly and contrapuntally of the wonders of the world, the benefits of pruning and mulching, the qualities of apples, the science of forecasting winter by observing woolly caterpillars, the plans for flooding the backyard to make a hockey rink, the difficulties of growing roses, the trials and tribulations of plumbing.

The driveway philosophers are still with us. Whenever I escape from my stone canyon, I find them here and there, talking uncle talk. They constitute a large invisible bloc that looks at candidates for public office and gets an intuitive sense of who is real and who is not. They know that politicians live in stone canyons and hire smart designers to create their personas, but they check out Hillary and Obama and Giuliani and Romney and they wonder who knows about gas mileage, who has a normal relationship with children, who can truly appreciate a really good apple. And that's why Iowa is important. It's a major state of driveway philosophers.

© 2007 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, INC.



From the Desk of Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor
Photo by Cheryl Walsh Bellville


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