If you like Prairie Home Companion, you undoubtedly appreciate Lake Wobegone. The ultimate fantasy home-town, it’s fully of hokey parades, eccentric characters, and a great deal of what we hold dear of the “good old days.”
At the heart of Lake Wobegone are values – personal, community, family. Some we recognize amongst ourselves; others are curiosities to those observing, but all define who we are.
I’ve lived in a few Lake Wobegones in my life. Of Hoonah, for example, it can be said that the good-looking and strong and above-average are fairly well-distributed, and not limited by gender. Scappoose, a smallish place in Oregon (or, it used to be), could boast of well-known and, at least to my knowledge, well-regarded clergy and educators. My math teacher was the local newspaper columnist who reported on every happening of interest, including 5/8” seams on all the wedding dresses. He understood the value of tradition. I wish he’d recognized the same in my approach to algebra (fingers and toes don’t divide well).
You have to wonder – at least I do – what, about growing up, our kids will compare to Lake Wobegone. Sitka, perhaps, could parallel the family fishing boat to the family farm. Juneau’s preoccupation with everything government could as well be discussed over coffee at the local café as more intimate gossip, such as editorials in the Sentinel or harbormaster popularity, but somehow the intimacy of small town news is lost in the Capital City. Maybe it’s the Wal-Mart and Fred Meyer factor, the not having to patronize your local grocer who could also be your second cousin, or the fact that half your family might have had the same English teacher until she retired at 73. A lot of cousins, aunts and uncles, and even parents fit into 50 years of teaching in one town, but what teacher anymore has a taproot that long?
In my favorite Wobegones of yesteryear, on any given Easter the house would be filled with baskets – straw, plastic, woven, sewn – and eggs of all colors, some with crayon decorations, other with stickers, and the smell of vinegar would have permeated everything along with food dye on the hands of young and old alike. The feast would be no small affair – Jello salad, mashed potatoes, chicken or turkey or salmon or roast beef, pies, rolls, and juice with fizzy 7-Up. There would be a main egg hunt, then another, and another until there were no more good places to hide, and finally the kids would complain they were too full of eggs to eat. Once the large pitted olives and deviled eggs came out, stomachs up til then too full to accommodate supper suddenly found room for a few “pollywogs” plucked from the ends of blue and red and green fingers. Easter was a fun holiday, almost as much so as Christmas, and surely more relaxing than most as it was all about spring weather and hide-n-seek. Hard to go wrong when play is part of the celebration and chocolate covers everything.
My youngest spent 6 years out of state seeking an education that was more tradition than anything else, and she’s acclimated a third of her life outside of my direct influence. That makes tradition important to me. That she appreciates values instilled in her lineage is testament to her sisters, who successfully shouldered the responsibility of making sure she lived up to Mom’s standards. That all the girls stand together on key values the entire family identifies with would make their grandmother proud if she was alive today. I think if any of us needed to find the heart of our traditions and values it would be with my mom, who established them solidly in her children and grandchildren, to be passed on with laughter and love and serious concern for others. Although I doubt she ever heard Garrison’s traditional droll sign-off, she would agree that, in her estimation, we were all strong, good-looking, and above-average. Looking at the sons and daughters, nieces and nephews today, I’d have to say she wasn’t far off.
All-family tea party in the attic; attendance mandatory, absence not an option.