What connects Whoville and Lake Wobegon?

What connects Whoville and Lake Wobegon?

We drag our memories wherever we go, and that’s why, as I watched the rain fall and listened to the hiss of tires as the traffic passed, I had what can only be termed a Grinch interlude.

Then again, I’ve always understood, on some deeply engrained molecular level, what makes him not only anti-Christmas, but anti-social. It’s a feeling that has only intensified since the winter of 1966 when, as an 11-year-old, I became aware of a kindred spirit.

Dr. Seuss tries to give the Grinch the benefit of the doubt — blaming his sour mood on something trivial like his shoes being too tight — but that’s where most folks miss the point, preferring to believe the reason was “his heart was two sizes too small.”


It was the shoes.

Few things are as annoying as a pair that doesn’t fit right. I know this to be true since, over the last three weeks or so, I’ve been afflicted with not only the hassle of walking around in discomfort, but also having to deal with the hoops involved in exchanging them.

Over the internet. On a computer. It’s like I’m Grinchy all the time.

As I write, I’m on my second replacements and, honestly, I’m unhappy, but once you head down the rabbit hole of online shopping, you’re pretty much at the mercy of unseen forces.

So that’s how I found myself, uncomfortable, my feet pinched and pained, and all I could think was how many people were being made unhappy by the rain coming down on a summer Saturday.

I was in such a Grinch-like frame of mind, subsumed with bile, that I began making a mental list of what and who was getting wet.

Backyard barbecues, beach weddings, camping trips, baseball games, flea markets, church socials, walks in the park, hikes in the woods, lawn mowing, garden weeding, kids birthday parties, car washing, vacation sightseeing, al fresco dining, walks on the shore, family reunions, class reunions, golf outings, bike rides, kayaking, canoeing and water skiing, all manner of concerts, gun and ammo shows, and, my favorite, all those retired rich guys with their Hemingway beards, steering their expensive mid-life crisis convertibles, some young chick riding shotgun, getting soaked to the skin as the clouds poured righteous liquid fury.

Oh, yes, my friends and faithful readers, my imagination was in full-throttle overdrive, generating so many images of unhappy people having their days ruined even as my shoes pinched tighter.

And then, like the Grinch, I thought of something I hadn’t before.

Garrison Keillor, of all people, strolled into my consciousness and reminded me that what I was witnessing wasn’t a bad thing; in fact, it could actually be viewed as a blessing. I was late to the “Prairie Home Companion” party, only becoming aware a couple of weeks before its NPR finale in summer 1987. I was amazed at Keillor’s way with the words, the folksy way he told his stories.

His signature monologues always began with the words, “Well, it’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my hometown,” and for the next 15 or 20 minutes, he spun tales that were often humorous, sometimes poignant, sometimes earthy, but always enjoyable.

Keillor began his farewell address with these stage-setting words:

“We got a wonderful rain on Tuesday, one of those long, slow, soaking summer rains that you always need. T’was a lovely rain … and I listened to it as it came down on the roof, falling, falling … What lovely sound: a slow, slow rain, just a whisper.”

He proceeded to sketch a series of vignettes revolving around how the all-day rain affected the lives of various members of his fictional hometown, a place where “all the women are strong, the men are good-looking and the children are above average.”

So is there a through-line that connects the Grinch and Garrison Keillor? I think so, and it has to do with life’s peculiar genius for holding a mirror just high enough for us to see ourselves as flawed.

None of us wants to be petty people, but sometimes we are. No one is proud of their foibles, but the only way to correct them is to study them. All of us struggle to be the very best versions of ourselves, despite the odds against ever achieving such a lofty goal.

I guess I’ll get used to these shoes, maybe take a walk in the rain.