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Red shoes, red tie, ready to go

Photo: Joey Gale

An audience of 2,500 from Drake University and the Des Moines community filled the Knapp Center to listen to Grammy award winner Garrison Keillor at the 27th Martin Bucksbaum Lectureship Series on Tuesday night.

Keillor took the stage in his traditional red tie, red socks and red shoes.  He started off with a folk song full of witty comments and antidotes and walked a full lap around the Knapp Center. Once back on the stage he casually shared his experiences of dealing with his 13-year-old daughter and said that when he was 13, it was a very different time.

Keillor presented his stories in his flat, deep voice with great pause and sense of nostalgia. He talked about how things were different when he was a child; parents pushed children outside to roam in packs, and in Minnesota there was never a snow day.

A poignant story in Keillor’s life was when his parents left him at a gas station on a road trip to Yellowstone National Park. Instead of immediately turning around when his parents realized the mistake, they left him to stay with Al and Lois, the owners of the gas station and complete strangers. When his mother called and asked if he was all right, he of course said yes.

“I was raised to be all right,” Keillor said. “You were not to think so much about yourself. Don’t pity yourself.”

What Keillor learned from this experience was that if you could write a story, “you could make sense of it and relieve your suffering.”

He once wrote a whimsical story in which he looks like a hero and his sister ends up in hell. When his mother read it, she laughed.

“If you could write a story and make someone laugh, you can get away with it,” Keillor said.

An underlying tone in Keillor’s speech was the importance of communication.

“You can get away without math and physics, but you need English,” he said.

Keillor was met with laughter and applause at every witty line.  The audience responded favorably when he said something that you didn’t expect.

Keillor never said if his stories were based in reality, but that didn’t matter for the audience members. They still laughed along right along with him as he spun his tales.

Cahlen Brancheau, a first-year student from Adel, Iowa, didn’t grow up listening to Keillor’s radio show “Prairie Home Companion,” but he discovered him as a preteen along with some of public radio’s other great programs such as “All Things Considered.”

“It’s got that nostalgic feel, and I’ve been known to love the nostalgic,” Brancheau said.

Brancheau said that the speech lived up to his high expectations, and he was excited to see the red shoes.

The program ended with a question and answer session in which audience members were invited up to ask Keillor questions. Instead of Keillor staying on stage, he walked right up to where the audience asked him questions.

When asked about his famed red shoes by a Drake student, Keillor said:

“I got to a certain age, and I can afford to be silly, and you should take advantage of that. When you get to my age and you never have another interview in your life… red shoes.”

Melva and the late Martin Bucksbaum provide funding the Martin Bucksbaum Distinguished Lecture Series as a gift to Drake. Martin Bucksbaum was a longtime member of the university’s governing board. Each semester, a distinguished speaker is invited to Drake’s campus for a lecture. Previous lecturers include Twyla Tharp, Dr. Azar Nafisi and Dr. Maya Angelou.


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