Host Garrison Keillor answers your questions about life, love, writing, authors, and of course, A Prairie Home Companion.
Send GK Your Question »
The Details of Tomato Butt
May 15, 2008 |
Post to the Host:
I teach 8th grade literature and attempt to cover as many genres as possible. I've now added "Story Telling" as a genre of American Literature, and we listen to some of your monologues as part of this. "Chicken" and "Tomato-Butt" are their favorites.
Fort Wayne, IN
You did right, Nancy, though I'm not sure 8th graders are ready to tell stories about themselves — I remember it as a time of horrible self-consciousness, and though kids today are way much cooler and savvier than back then, I don't favor making vulnerable people expose themselves to classmates. There was a vogue toward journal-writing in comp classes long ago that I had doubts about too. I favor letting kids enjoy the cocoon awhile longer. But I'm all in favor of them listening to other people —such as me, for example—tell stories about our sufferings and comeuppances. My sister, by the way, argues with the details of "Tomato Butt" and doesn't remember it the same way I do, but it's all quite vivid in my mind, the young man who yielded happily and quickly to temptation out of plain curiosity— what does it feel like to do the wrong thing?—and I've been yielding ever since. Chickens—a painful subject: I was so self-conscious about the fact that my father liked to get a few crates of chickens and butcher them in our garage and backyard, which nobody else in our neighborhood did. (We lived in the country as it was rapidly getting suburbanized.) All that clucking when we got up on a Saturday morning, and then the slaughtering, the blood, the terrible smell of the boiling water they were dipped in, and of course it was all to save money—we were a family of eight—but to me it seemed like such a poor-person thing to do, and I was all for subterfuge and my father was not. He was a country person; I am not. (In fact, I think I was in the 8th grade before he consented to store-bought chicken.) Chicken slaughtering and the home haircut and the handmedown clothes and belonging to a tiny fundamentalist sect, the Sanctified Brethren—that was the suffering of my rather happy childhood and I still talk about it, if invited to, which is not nearly often enough. Telling stories is the poor man's therapy.