If memory serves, it was 1968. I had just moved from the arctic plains of South Dakota to the snow-blown streets of Minneapolis. I was returning to work from lunch one day, and over the radio came the dulcet tones of a university college student by the name of Garrison Keillor.
I recall he was extolling the virtues of a product called Powdermilk Biscuits. He said they came in a familiar blue box and were not only good for you, but they were expeditious.
The name resonated, and although I had never heard of Powdermilk Biscuits, I found myself scanning the grocery shelves for the familiar blue box.
I tuned in every day after that as Keillor presented an hour-long program he called “A Prairie Home Companion.” The cornerstone of the show was a place called Lake Wobegone, a small town out by the lake where life drifted along at a comfortable pace, and everybody knew everybody else.
By the time I realized Powdermilk Biscuits were fictional, Keillor had introduced a number of other sponsors from Lake Wobegone. Key among them was the Chatterbox Café where a man could have a cup of coffee with friends and share the news of the day. You didn’t have to have inspiration at the Chatterbox, Keillor said. Sooner or later inspiration would just naturally come to you.
Other sponsors included Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery, which claimed that if you couldn’t find it at Ralph’s, you probably didn’t need it anyway. Jack’s Auto Repair and Dry Goods specialized in hats for big and tall men. And Bertha’s Kitty Boutique pleaded with listeners to stop saying they were going to get their cat fixed because it implied there was something wrong with it to begin with. The Duct Tape Council and the Ketchup Advisory Board rounded out many of the broadcasts.
According to Keillor, all the folks at Lake Wobegone were extremely humble ands self-deprecating. For example, no one would ever dream of flying first class, he said. That would be putting on airs.
No one ever bragged about anything they had done either, he said. The best anything could ever be was, “not all that bad.” As an example, when the Rev. Lundquist won a trip to Hawaii one winter, the folks back home wanted to know how it was. His reply: “It wasn’t that bad.”
Fast forward 40-plus years and I guess I’ve tuned in to “A Prairie Home Companion” just about every week. At the news of his retirement, someone asked me what I thought of that long-running broadcast
I told them I thought it wasn’t all that bad.