"Our children are punishment for what we did to our parents."
FRED LOOMIS BROKE HIS PARENTS' HEARTS when he met Louise, Mrs. Loomis. He fell in love with her, and she was a Catholic. And that just about destroyed his parents. They were free-thinking New Englanders. They were Puritans at heart. And to them the Catholic church was the very seat of ignorance and darkness and superstition. People kneeling in the dark and praying to some statues. Their hearts were utterly broken that their son, whom they had brought up better, would go off and do this. And so, he had to leave town. He was a disgrace to his family. They were in mourning because he had married a Catholic. And he moved out to Lake Wobegon. He was our druggist. And to see him fill prescriptions and sell orthopedic appliances and bandages and such, you would never guess that he'd been such a black sheep back East.
He had two children, Fred and Louise, they had, they had a girl named Francis who took orders, the order of St. Clare, and went off to a cloister, and thereby fulfilled the ideals of her parents who were Catholic - Fred had decided to become a Catholic - and they had a boy named Max who grew up and was a little older than me; who grew up and went off to school and wasn't quite sure what to do with himself, and then he came back home and he broke his parents' hearts.
Our children are punishment for what we did to our parents. He broke his parents' hearts by falling in love with a Lutheran. She was a Tollefson, Christina Tollefson, she was coaching a girl's softball team, she was tall, she had blonde hair, she wore cutoffs and a sweatshirt and he saw her and his heart went out for her. He fell in love with her but she was there with her boyfriend and so Max didn't do anything about it, but then she saw, he saw Christina shove this boyfriend, and there was something about the shove that told him, "That's not a boyfriend, that's her brother." So he finagled an introduction to a girl named Karen who was a friend of Christina's and who was giving a party and they were there at the party in Lake Wobegon and Christina was standing in back of the house. It was dusk and she was drinking a beer. She saw a young man come walking across the yard towards her, smiling and holding out a hand, and before she could say anything, he put his right foot into a hole in the lawn, and he staggered forward and he cried out in pain, "Awwwww."
There was a hole there that Karen's dad had meant to put a pine tree in and he'd filled it with water, but he'd forgotten the pine tree. It was a terrible moment. He was embarrassed because here it was right in front of her he'd done the dumbest thing a person could ever do and he was humiliated. But she kind of liked him. She liked him an awful lot. And you know it isn't our intelligence that leads us to fall in love with each other. We're not drawn to each other on the basis of intelligence. When we are attracted, there's a kind of a dumb look that comes over our faces and it's that that we see in each other. Seeing other people at their dumbest is what romance and marriage are about.
So they fell in love and, of course, the Loomises were devastated. Mrs. Loomis went off to Father Emil to ask if insanity is a possible grounds for annulment. "Yes, it is," he said, "but you should talk to the young people first."
Fred was so distraught, he got in his car to drive back to Amherst to put flowers on the graves of his parents. And between here and Minnesota, on a perfectly clear day on a straight stretch of road, he ran his car off into a tree, and he was crippled and in a wheelchair. Came back, lived in the house as a recluse after that.
Mr. Loomis said to Max, she said, "It's - I have nothing against her because she's a Lutheran. Some of my best friends are Lutherans. But it's that you're Catholic, and she's a Lutheran, and so your children are going to be nothing at all."
"Well, mother," he said, "We'll bring up our children to respect both faiths, and when they're mature they'll chose what they want."
But to grow up respecting a faith is not the same as to grow up in a faith, clinging to a faith, holding onto it for your life.
They moved away to Minneapolis, and they went to a Catholic church for a while and then they went to a Lutheran church and then they split the difference and they went to a - sort of a - liberal Catholic church where people played guitars during mass and sang songs that sounded an awful lot like they were singing the praises of Coca-Cola. A church at which people hugged each other for a long time afterward, and they brought up their children in this warm and nurturing environment, exposing them to art and to good music and to books and to stories and friends coming in and out, it was a lovely, lovely home.
Their children were raised in this beautiful environment, and just a couple of weeks ago, their oldest boy, Max junior, came home and broke his parents' hearts. He came home and announced that he was a Republican. He came back.. He was wearing a shiny suit that they had never bought for him. They never bought their children suits, here he was in a suit. His mother reached over and touched it, it had a strange sheen to it. She'd raised her children in all-cotton clothes, this was polyester.
"What is this?" she said. "Well," he said, "It holds a press better. It's easier if you have to travel around the country in this thing, it doesn't get wrinkled."
"Where're you traveling to? I thought you were in school. You're just about to get your degree. Your major in music..."
"No," he said, "I've decided to drop out. I'm not interested in music anymore. I'm going around for the Republican Family Coalition, and I'm organizing students for Dole."
"Noooooo, OHHHHHHH, Oh, but we thought that you loved music. How can you do this? Ohhhh, honey, please, please don't."
He said, "I know that you and dad mean well, but well-meaning people have brought this country to the very edge and I've been reading a lot about this in the last couple of months, and I want to be among the people, who are gonna make things right.
"Oh please, don't," she said, "don't honey. Just think about..."
He said, "I have thought about it." He said, "I didn't know who I was until I became a Republican."
Well, I don't know how they'll ever get over the shame of it. Goodness knows, their hearts are broken. But that's a part of being a parent. Our children regularly come back and they break our hearts. They've always done it. But it's not the worst thing. If your heart is broken, and you experience sorrow, it does make you kinder to strangers and to children. Having had your heart broken, you look around you, and you take care of any child in your vicinity. And you know, when one story ends, another story always starts.
That's the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.
-- Garrison Keillor, excerpted from monologue, March 4, 1995
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).