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Lake Wobegon Census

June 29, 2009 | 4 Comments

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My dad came from St Rosa, MN so I know some of 'Lake Wobegon' country. I have often wondered why the strong German Catholic culture of that area was not featured/storified in your work, as opposed to the Norwegian Lutheran culture.

Jim H.


I lived in St. Cloud and Freeport for about four years, Jim, and I found the German Catholics closed off to outsiders. I lived in a farmhouse (cheap rent, beautiful landscape, no interruptions, you could write all day and all night) in a predominantly German Catholic area — New Munich just to the south — and found it hard to engage people even in ordinary conversation. I could understand reticence, of course, and even suspicion, but I simply came to think of it as an alien culture, hostile to people like me. I had a few Catholic friends, and a friend who was a priest and who had literary interests and a fine sense of humor, but I had no sense of confidence telling stories about Catholics. And the great novellist and short-story writer J.F. Powers had preempted the field with his "Prince of Darkness" and "Morte D'Urban" which I studied in college. He was a favorite writer of mine, and last Monday I visited his grave at St. John's cemetery. Telling stories about German Catholics with Powers listening to the show would've scared me to death. He did not tolerate fools gladly and I had no wish to be one of them.


Dear Garrison, saw you Monday night at the Chautauqua Institute. Once again (we've seen you live 6 times now) the show was everything we hoped for and more. Enough gushing. The opening round of songs while you walked the entire expanse of the auditorium, even up to the standing room only area, got everyone into the act. No one felt left out - I thought that was a classy move on your part. Then the 90 plus minute monologue, with several characters and subplots, complexities beyond my imagination, and a wonderful mix of both new themes and old ones with a new twist (the 26 ministers on a 22 foot pontoon boat with a charcoal grill, the sail surfer, etc.) kept the audience in an uproar. My biggest problem was sometimes not hearing the next punch line because all were still laughing at the last one.

I also thought you went out of your way at the book signing. I got to speak to you, but thought for sure Ginny would miss you - she was the reference librarian driving all the way from Buffalo - but you were standing there for two hours, speaking personally to each of us, letting all the admiring women have their picture taken with their favorite author, and so Ginny did get to meet you in the end. Thanks for a wonderful evening.
Rock and Ginny

Wow, you hit the german nail on the head with that analysis. We've lived here 13 years and have found it to be every bit Minnesota nice, but also not very open or welcoming to outsiders. As you suggested the communities are pretty set in their ways and in the circles.

The Lutheran Church is often referred to as "the other church" for example.

Maybe they just weren't as funny as the Lutherans! Largo, FL

My dad (from St Rosa) had 81 first cousins, and they would often all get together for giant peanuckle games and beer at one of the cousins' farms in the Melrose area. Perhaps with numbers like that they were bound to be closed to outsiders - who needs outsiders when you are in such great numbers, and are above average farmers to boot? Too bad for them.

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