From the Desk of Garrison Keillor|
A prolific writer, Garrison Keillor is a frequent contributor to newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and abroad. To the right, you find a selection of articles published since 1989, and a few unpublished pieces.
We Are Still Married
From The New Yorker
December 18, 1989
One day last August after the vet said that Biddy had only months to live, Willa and I took her for a cruise around Lake Larson on our pontoon boat. She was listless and depressed from the medication, and we thought the ride might cheer her up, but she sat with her head in Willa's lap, her eyes closed, and when a flock of geese flew down and landed alongside the boat she paid no attention. I felt desolate to see her that way, and angry at other boats zipping around without a care in the world, and so when we got home and I found a message on the answering machine that said, "Hi, this is Blair Hague at People magazine, and I'd like to come to Minnesota and do a piece about your poor dog," I was relieved to know that someone cared.
Willa and I discussed it that night, and although she felt that a pet's death is a private matter, eventually I convinced her that we should agree to the story as a tribute to Biddy and also because, as Blair said on the tape, our experience might help others who were going through the same thing.
Blair arrived on Thursday with Jan, a photographer, and he explained that they wanted to live with us, so they could do a better job. "You get more nuance that way," he said. He had lived with a number of people in order to write about them, including Joe Cocker, Jean Shepherd, Merv Griffin, and the Pointer Sisters, he said. I could see his point, so they moved in, and Jan set up a darkroom in the laundry, which was fine with usone thing we realized, with Biddy dying, was that we didn't have many pictures of herand Blair got to work gathering background. Willa and I opened up our scrapbooks to him and Willa even let him read her diary. I wondered about that, but she said, "Honesty is the only policy. There's a lot about Biddy in there."
We lived in a two-bedroom condominium overlooking Lake Larson, and although Blair and Jan were extremely pleasant and help with the dishes and made their beds and kept the stereo turned down after ten o'clock, I started to feel crowded after a few days. I'd be shaving and Blair would stick his head in the bathroom door and ask, "How much do you earn a year, Earl? Do you consider yourself a religious person? Do you normally wear boxer shorts? Is that your real hair?" After work, when I like to sit down with a beer and watch television, he sat next to me. How would I describe myself? Had I ever wanted to be something other than a bus driver? How much beer did I consume per day, on the average? Was it always Bub's Beer? What were my favorite books? What was on my mind? What did I think of the future? What sorts of people made me angry?
I wanted to say, "People who ask too many questions," but I held my tongue. I did mention to Willa that I thought Blair was pushy. "The article is about Biddy, not us," I said. She thought Blair was doing an excellent job. She said, "I feel like he is helping me to understand a lot of things about us that I never thought about before."
Soon after they arrived, we noticed that Biddy was getting better. Her appetite improved, and she got so she like to go for walks again. I told Willa I thought we should tell Blair that there was no story. She said, "There's a lot more story here than you know, Earl. Biddy is just the tip of the iceberg."
Two weeks passed, then three, and Blair wasn't running out of questions to ask. He kept coming back to the subject of our marriage. "Do you feel you have an excellent, good, average, or poor marriage? Do your regret not having had children? How many times per week do you have sexual relations? On the averagejust a ballpark figure. Do you think Willa is happy?"
I said, "You ought to ask her."
"I have," he said
Right up to the day they left, I had no idea he was going to write the story he did. Once, he said, "As so often happens, the story changes as a reporter works on it. You start out to do one thing and you wind up doing something entirely different." I thought he was referring to Biddy's improvement.
The story was entitled "Earl: My Life with a Louse, by Willa Goodrich as told to Blair Hague, photographs by Jan Osceola," and the day it came out Willa took Biddy and moved to her mother's. I wasn't home so I didn't know she left. I was driving a charter to New Orleans. Some passengers picked up People in Des Moines, and as I drove South I could hear them whispering about me. In southern Missouri, a man came to the front and crouched down in the aisle beside me. "I thought you had a right to know this," he said, and he read me some parts. I couldn't believe the stuff Willa said about me! Me personal grooming, my food preferences, my favorite TV shows, our arguments. And her referring to me as "stubborn and unreasonable" why would she say that? In print!
In New Orleans, I discovered that the man had skipped some of the worst parts. Willa said she had often wanted to leave me. She said that I was uncaring and cold, that Biddy's illness didn't mean "beans" to me, and that I had talked about getting another dog soon. She said that I had "Victorian ideas about women and sex." She said I was often personally repulsive. To back her up, People printed three pictures with the story: Me in my shorts, bending over to adjust the TV picture; me with my mouth open, full of baked potato; and me asleep on the La-Z-Boy recliner, in my shorts, with my mouth open.
I tried to reach Willa at her mother's, but she was in New York, and I saw her the next morning on "America, How Are You?" Essentially, she told Monica Montaine the same stuff, plus she said that I was "compulsive." She said, "He walks around humming the same tune over and over, usually 'Moon River.' He taps his fingers continuously, and he taps his foot in his sleep. He compulsively rips the labels off beer bottles. And at dinner he always eats all his meat first, then the potato, then the vegetable." Monica Montaine got a big kick out of that. "Sounds like he's missing the Up button," she said.
Two days later, someone from "Today" called and wanted me to get on a plane to New York and join Willa on the show for a dialogue. He said, "I think the country would like to hear your side, Earl." I told him I had no desire to engage in a public debate with my wife over matters I considered personal. Willa did the show herself, then a number of other daytime shows, and though I made appoint of not watching, my friends were starting to ask questions. "Is it true about the almost total lack of any attempt at communication?" a guy at work wanted to know. "And you wearing socks in bedany truth to that?" He said the story had given him a lot to think about.
In October, Willa testified before a House subcommittee, revealing new details about our marriage under oath. Several congressmen expressed shock at what she said about my lack of affection, my "utter insensitivity" to her needs. "What was he doing all this time while you were suffering?" one asked. She said, "He watched football on television. He played seven different types of solitaire. He carved a new stock for his shotgun. He acted like I didn't exist." That was the quote they used on "ABC World News Tonight."
I was lonely as winter approached. I'm not a man who can live by myself. Some men are cut out for the single life, but not me. So I told my boss I was available for all the charters I could get. I spent November and December mostly on the road, going to Orlando six times, Disneyland four, making two runs to San Francisco. Meanwhile, I read in People that Willa had sold her story to Universal Pictures and was in California ironing out some wrinkles in the deal. The next week, she got a call from the Pope, who expressed hope that efforts would be made to reach a reconciliation. "I'm ready any time Earl is," she told the Holy Father. She told him that although she was not a Catholic she respected the Church's view on marriage. "It's a two-way street, though," she said.
Finally, we met in New York, where I had driven a four-day "New Year's Eve on the Great White Way" tour and was laying low at the Jaylor Hotel, and where she had rented a great apartment on the upper West Side and was on her way to a cocktail party. We met at her place. It was in a new building on Broadway, with a beautiful view from the twenty-fifth floor. Biddy was living with her, of course. Biddy looked wonderful, though she was a little hostile toward me. So were Willa's three friends, who worked in publishing. "What do you do?" one man asked, though I was sure he knew. The other man mentioned something about socks. The woman didn't talk to me at all. She kept telling Willa, "We've got to get going the invitation said five o'clock." Willa kissed me goodbye. "Let's be friends," she said. "Call me sometime."
I did call her, four or five times, and we talked, mostly about her projectsshe was writing a book, she was being considered as a substitute host. We didn't talk about our marriage until one day in April, when she mentioned that Biddy was sick again, and she said she missed me. Biddy died a week later, and Willa brought the body back to Minnesota for interment. She came to the condo for dinner one night and wound up staying.
My friends can't believe I took her back after all those things she said about me, but I can't see where it's any of their business. I told her there was no need for her to apologize, so she hasn't. She did scrap the movie project and the book, though. The substitute-host deal fell through when the regular host decided he wasn't so tired after all. Except for our two dogs, Betty and Burt, we're almost where we were last summer. The ice has melted on Lake Larson, the lilacs and chokecherries are in bloom, soon the goslings will hatch and their mothers will lead them down to water, and everything will be as if none of this every happened.
Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).