Woebegone but not forgotten

July 17, 2016 • Posted in careers/jobs for people who are blind, guest blog, memoir writing, radio, travel, Uncategorized by

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.

Today's guest blogger, John Craib-Cox.

Today’s guest blogger, John Craib-Cox.

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.

Cheryk On July 17, 2016 at 1:11 pm

I’m going to miss listening to Garrison on Saturday evenings. Luckily they are rebroadcasting some of his old shows this summer and last night there was a show on that originally aired in 1997. What a treat. Thanks for you memory, John.

John On July 18, 2016 at 10:58 am

Startling to know that something that was a familiar part of our lives for so long is now only available in rebroadcasts and there will be no more new programs.

Marcus On July 17, 2016 at 1:21 pm

so interesting to read how your life, in many ways, mirrored that of the life of Prairie Home Companion. The way this ends even seems like what Garrison Keillor has planned –things will be different for him now, and at times he may miss how they used to be, but sounds like he’ll keep busy and travel, too. Like you, John.

John On July 18, 2016 at 11:00 am

Thanks for the comment. Hadn’t thought of the parallel of Keillor ending 42 years of broadcasting and now off to something new.

Susie and Wayne On July 17, 2016 at 10:04 pm

Oh my. How many Saturday nights we have remained in the car listening to fellow Minnesotan Garrison Keiller, when we were supposed to get out and be somewhere. I shared his warm memories of the “dales” (as in Southdale, Ridgedale, Mondale….) and will miss his drole wit.

But time moves on, and toward happy times. Thoughts of fun in London inevitably make me grin….

Susie and Wayne

John On July 18, 2016 at 11:05 am

Susie you are so correct…staying in the car to listen to the rest of the sketch (all eight ears listening to the very end). Many “driveway moments” and now off to new adventures in London with Josephine and John who just turned five.

Regan Burke On July 18, 2016 at 12:24 am

John. I had no idea we had Beth Finke in common. This is a wonderfully written piece about your family life. I wish I could read some more 500-worders on Tessa and the kids. I wonder if Beth has many more like us – friends from the each others’s past who end up in her classes. I once had a friend come to our class who couldn’t stay because someone from her past was in the class. Beth has some kind of crazy mojo. I miss you, my friend.

John On July 18, 2016 at 11:09 am

Regan, you certainly shared listening to some of these broadcasts with us. It is amazing that we are connected through Beth, she is terrific and a terrific teacher. “Knew” her from her bits on WBEZ and now to have a celebrity as a teacher is something else.

Carol Abrioux On July 18, 2016 at 1:10 am


After reading your blog which I really enjoyed, I have to tell you I had the same sadness after Garrison Keilor’s last broadcast, but no phone call from Europe or elsewhere to lift the heavy pall.Then I remembered, that I had never read his books. I can remedy that and read them at broadcast time with my dog sitting on my lap as she did for the broadcasts, and felt better.
Sorry you’re in Beth’s other group so I won’t hear more of your memoirs.


John On July 18, 2016 at 11:14 am

Carol, the Memoir groups are great, I am so glad that Lois suggested I join. our comment reminded me of Groucho’s statement: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” Keillor’s books are fun to read, very dry wit similar to that of the program.

Ann youngren On July 18, 2016 at 7:37 am

John, this is so poignant. Well done. I wished your piece could have continued, but realized that it is perfect as is.

bethfinke On July 18, 2016 at 9:49 am

Thanks for commenting, Ann.

Hearing John read this aloud in class was a privilege. I sat at the front of my seat for the entire reading, and when he got to the end and stopped so abruptly, I felt exactly like you did. I wanted more.

I sat back then, and it only took me a quiet second to realize. The essay was, as you so accurately say in this comment, “perfect as is.”


John On July 18, 2016 at 11:18 am

Ann, glad you enjoyed reading it. Beth is a very good teacher who encourages stopping when the time is right rather than going on and on. And, of course there will be pictures of new things from London.

Ben Squires On July 19, 2016 at 9:24 pm

Beth and John: Susan, my late wife, totally loved the Memoir Groups she attended in the Chicago Cultural Center and those that became part of the activities of the Lincoln Park Village. She wrote some 200 memoirs and we have copies for daughters Amy and Sarah. The title of one was: “Why I married Ben” It took a while for me to actually read it and found that she had captured in her words, elements of our life that I had missed. That is the kind of memoir to experience! Best to both of you; enjoy London, now a very different place from 1945 when I was serving in the Army Air Force as a B;24 Tail Gunner. Ben Squires

John On July 19, 2016 at 10:04 pm

Ben, I agree, the Lincoln Park Village Memoir Group is terrific. I am a newcomer compared to the 200 Memoirs that your wife generated. IT is a good tool to focus ones view of the past and produces tangible results.The memoirs are a permanent record of my past recall.Having Beth to guide us means that we produce something readable rather than run on written messes. I am very glad that I joined the memoir group. What London area field did you fly from?

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