A Prairie Home Companion from American Public Media

The Old Scout
No Time for Dithering
July 30, 2008

Another paradise day in our old river town and we linger over supper in the backyard and talk about the dry weather and bats (Do they eat three thousand mosquitoes per night? No, says the family biologist.) and cousin Bruce's truck farm besieged by suburban yards and of course Barack Obama's audacious trip to Iraq and Europe, meanwhile the sun goes down and little candles come out and a fresh pot of green tea and nobody feels the urge to get up and go. We are taciturn people, but give us a paradise night, balmy, a slight breeze stirring, candles burning, and we are on the verge of vast intimate revelations —"I became a writer as a way of drawing attention to myself. I admit it. It had nothing to do with truth and beauty. It always was about Me! Always!"—and I realize it's my duty as host to say "Well ..." and stand up and start clearing the table, otherwise we might stay too long and say too much.

I talked more than usual since my wife and daughter, who do most of the talking around here, are gone gallivanting around Prague and Paris and I am starved for company. Nobody is bursting into the room in her wet swimsuit and throwing her arms around me. There is very little bursting or throwing going on, just tap-tap-tapping and the turning of pages.

I have been left behind to do some work and to water the flowers and also because I'm not a good traveler. My need to see great castles, churches and museums is at an all-time low. What I really want to see is Wyoming and every morning I wake up with a strong urge to get in the car and go. Drive away from the rigmarole of business and find the high range and stand there amazed and gaze at the glittering stars, just like in the song.

I can't remember a summer I loved so much as this. This is a factor of age—time is more precious when there's less of it remaining—and partly it's anticipation that the dogs of war who slipped in the back door eight years ago will soon be gone. In a month, the Republicans will convene a few blocks from my house and I'd like to stand across the street with a sign, but I can't come up with the right wording. "Bleaughhhh," maybe, or "Arghhhh."

I stood watering the flowers this morning and then went upstairs and made my bed, two minimum-wage jobs that I am not well qualified for, apparently. But there is yet time to learn. As long as your mother is alive, you are still young, and mine is holding steady at 94, a tall tree shading us from mortality. Whenever I need to feel youthful again, I can trot out to Mother's and there is my high school graduation picture on the wall, the solemn self-important youth of the spring of 1960, who—so long as I stay away from mirrors—I maybe still am.

It's no surprise that John McCain likes to bring out his 96-year-old mother Roberta, I suppose. The problem is that she is a lot perkier than he. The gentleman has had a few bad weeks, thundering in a dithery way about America's enemies, looking vaguely purposeful campaigning up and down supermarket aisles as if he couldn't remember what kind of cheese he'd been sent to buy. He surely will hit his stride after the Republican convention, but at the moment he looks to be eight years too late. The brash Bull Moose independent of 2000 has made all sorts of accommodations since, abandoning common sense when necessary, and his unsteadiness the past couple weeks makes his age an unspoken issue: Anyone who remembers the Iran-contra years and the president who couldn't remember is not anxious to see a genial oldster dithering in the Oval Office. There is more to the job than flashing a big grin. You do need to make sense now and then.

And now I realize that in writing about Mr. McCain I have left the hose in the flower bed and may have drowned some geraniums. There is a pool of standing water in the bed. I have soaked up some of it with a sponge, but I may need to call in a geraniumologist. Talk to you later. Keep the faith. The truth is marching on.

© 2008 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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