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Dear Mr. Keillor: Prairie Home

August 25, 2004 |

Dear Mr. Keillor:
Prairie Home was a Saturday night tradition at my house. When I was little, I took my bath fast, so I could listen to your show. What were big traditions you remember growing up?

Elsbeth Shenk

Elsbeth,
On Saturday night we took baths, so we'd be nice and shiny for Sunday School. With six kids in the family it was a long process, and in the winter the house got nice and steamy. This was before daily bathing or showering was common. There was a radio show called The Sunset Valley Barn Dance that we used to listen to, hosted by David Stone, and I seem to recall “Gunsmoke,” starring William Conrad as Matt Dillon, which was very real and thrilling indeed. Our radio was a big floor-model Zenith, with pillars on either side of the cloth that covered the speakers. It was a luxury to lie on the living room floor and hear the opening theme song and let your mind drift away to Dodge City or Wistful Vista where Fibber McGee and Molly lived or whatever small-town auditorium the Barn Dance was broadcasting from. On Saturday nights, my dad's uncle Lew and aunt Ada often came to visit, and brought a box of sugar wafers, which was carefully divided among us, and we sat and ate our ration slowly, listening to Uncle Lew tell stories about growing up in Charles City, Iowa. He had a lovely husky voice and cleared his throat in a very articulate way, and we sat, freshly bathed, munching candy, until we were driven up to bed. The really good stories were told after we left, I'm sure. I lay in bed and thought about which verse I'd recite at Sunday School in the morning. You were supposed to choose a good long one and memorize it, and this performance in front of your aunts and uncles was an important ritual. It showed you weren't heathen and you weren't dim-witted either. And then I drifted off to sleep.

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