Our guest blogger John Craib-Cox is the proud father of a son and two grandchildren in London and a daughter and granddaughter here in Chicago. He signed up for a memoir-writing class shortly after his wife Tessa died unexpectedly on July 17, 2012. That was four years ago today. She was 67.
Tessa Craib Cox was born in England and met John when she was on a graduate fellowship at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1970s. Young newlyweds John and Tessa moved to Chicago in 1974, the same year A Prairie Home Companion first aired. The poignant piece he read in class last week about Garrison Keillor’s final appearance as host of that show is a beautiful reflection on love, family, nostalgia and loss.
by John Craib-Cox
In 1974 Public Radio began to broadcast A Prairie Home Companion. At the time, with two small children and few satisfactory baby sitters, weekend evenings were spent in our apartment and this program became a welcome source of entertainment.
The host, Garrison Keillor, was roughly our ages, and had a familiar dry sense of humor and similar musical taste. This proved to be a winning combination. Friends also liked the weekly program and it provided many shared subjects for conversation.
Many of our friends had grown up, like me, in the Middle West and found Keillor’s Lake Wobegone reminiscences struck a familiar regional note. Our children liked the ragtime music heard on the broadcasts. They would dance whenever the band played something bouncy and up tempo.
Throughout the ’70s we weekly would listen together to Garrison Keillor on the radio, and whenever he was at Ravinia Park we would be in attendance. Keillor had a wonderful sense of the absurd. As they grew, our children would laugh whenever he referred to the freeze-dried mouse morsels obtainable at Bertha’s Kitty Boutique.
After several years the Prairie Home Companion ritual faded in favor of other activities. Then Garrison Keillor left for New York. It was never the same again. Keillor’s first New York program opening monologue opined that it was rather odd to be starting to broadcast from a city where most parked automobiles had a dashboard sign saying “No radio.” That thought wasn’t enough to hold us, however. We ceased to tune in, save on the very rare occasions when we were driving and could find nothing else to listen to.
A wave of publicity alerted me to the impending final program. I made certain to be at home to listen to the broadcast. With the exception of the telephone call from President Obama it was more or less the familiar program that we had started listening to in the 1970s. This final broadcast became a receptive sponge for melancholic feelings contrasting the unchanging nature of the program over 42 years and the totally changed nature of my life in the 42 years since the first broadcast.
As it drifted into the final half hour, the clouds of melancholy became thicker and I became sadder. Suddenly the telephone rang. A friend calling from Italy. I was brought back into the present, making plans for my August trip to London.