Age · Baby boomer · My Thoughts

Baby Boomers, Here’s A Must Read!

Older woman in orange flowers - Baby boomers

Baby boomers, how are we going to handle our 70s and 80s and beyond? Do those numbers strike dread and fear in your heart? If so, I have a book that might help! Garrison Keillor’s book, Serenity at 70, Gaiety at 80: Why You Should Keep on Getting Older, grabbed me because of the title. Serenity at 70? Gaiety at 80? My baby boomer heart knew he might have some answers for me.

On my next birthday, June 27—just a couple weeks away—I turn 69! Therefore, I face my last year in my sixth decade, and seventy looms ahead. My husband is 81, turning 82 in September, so we qualify for this book and the topics Garrison addresses with his usual sharp wit and consideration.

Why I Bought This Book

Lin and Larada Miller, 10th Anniversary Picture. We are Baby Boomers!
Lin and Larada

After purchasing this book for us, but before we read it, Lin and I had a heartfelt conversation about him buying a greenhouse. Sounds like a simple topic. Before this conversation, any time he discussed it with me, I responded positively. His garden graces our backyard, and it is gorgeous! So a greenhouse seemed like a logical addition!

One afternoon, he stated with strong yet controlled emotion, “We need to talk about the greenhouse.” I wondered about this because we had been talking about it off-and-on for months, but I heard something different in his voice this time.

“How do you feel about it? I’m 81 years old. What if I buy it and never get to use it?” he queried, looking start into my eyes.

I knew my response had to match the seriousness of his question.

“I think it’s a brilliant idea, because you’ve researched it for months. Also, you’re not the type of person to buy anything impulsively, so I know you will use it.” His hidden implication of his death caught me off guard.

He had more to say: “But what about Kathi’s greenhouse? She bought it and never got to use it. Is that an omen?” Kathi is his deceased wife who died of melanoma and a dear friend of mine.

Again, I knew my response had major implications!

“We can’t sit here, waiting to die just because we’ve hit a certain age that many think is over-the-hill. We have to keep pursuing our passions until we die. Buy it!”

From that conversation and an advertisement I saw for Garrison’s book, I bought this book, thinking he might have thoughts on the subject and he did!

Importance of “Prairie Home Companion”

When talking to Baby boomers, most connect Garrison Keillor with “Prairie Home Companion,” and to understand Garrison’s book, here’s an explanation:

A Prairie Home Companion is a weekly radio variety show created and hosted by Garrison Keillor that aired live from 1974 to 2016. In 2016, musician Chris Thile took over as host, and the successor show was eventually renamed Live from Here and ran until 2020.

The show is known for its musical guests, especially folk and traditional musicians, tongue-in-cheek radio drama, and relaxed humor. Keillor’s wry storytelling segment, “News from Lake Wobegon,” was the show’s best-known feature during his long tenure.”

While at Colorado State University from 1982 to 1986, one of my best friends followed this radio show religiously. I’m sad to say I never did, but she talked about it often, so I knew about Garrison’s humor and wit and the woes of Lake Wobegon.

Researching, I found his radio shows on YouTube:

Enjoy! I plan to some forty-plus years later!

Several years ago, I bought a poetry collection book, Good Poems, that Garrison edited. I loved this lively collection, but didn’t remember the reason for the collection.

“Every day people tune in to The Writer’s Almanac on public radio and hear Garrison Keillor read them a poem. And here, for the first time, is an anthology of poems from the show, chosen by the narrator for their wit, their frankness, their passion, their ‘utter clarity in the face of everything else a person has to deal with at 7 a.m.'”

Fast forward to 2009, some friends invited me to see Garrison in a theater at the Popejoy Theater Complex in Albuquerque, and what an entertainer he is—songs, poetry and stories filled the evening with background music! Laughter, too!

Why, As a Baby Boomer, I Loved This Book

This short 96-page tome delighted me from the beginning with a seventeen-page preface—a sizeable piece for such a small book. Immediately, his response to our world today captured me, “Not My Problem,” or NMP. He added, “I’m no longer from here,” and later repeats he’s a tourist here now. What freedom, and that’s one interesting, continuous message throughout the book.

The simple format of four chapters adds to the mystery of the book: 1) The Deadly Precipice, 2) The Rules of the Game, 3) A Night in the ER and 4) Legacy Is Posterity’s View of Your Posterior and One Posterior Looks Much Like Another. In each chapter, Garrison addresses key age-related topics in a stream-of-consciousness manner, like we were sitting on the sofa with a drink and talking about aging.

Peppered throughout the book, he shares personal poetry and limericks. I just noticed one of his limericks decorates the cover of his book:

“Old folks like Lena and Ole

Choose to dance sprightly and slowly

And thus stay upright

But the gentle delight

They find is quite joyful and holy.”

Above all, I truly enjoyed how Garrison identifies key simple events in his life and how they changed everything: an insightful teacher directed Garrison out his class into another that matched his talents and moved him forward toward his life’s goals. I laughed at how he got into the radio business for forty years, which changed his life. Also, I marveled at how a trip to Nashville changed the direction of his radio show.

Throughout the book, he references his relationship with his wife and their major differences and wonderful compatibility and the influences of his hometown of Anoka, Minnesota, his family and the church.

While reading, I laughed often at this light-hearted book, full of wit about the age I am in and headed towards, then I would spin quickly because of a thought-provoking passage where I knew his truth about aging was my truth. “Old age is foreign territory and you should enjoy it as you would if you’d picked up and moved to Paris.” Garrison Keillor, “Serenity at 70, Gaiety at 80: Why You Should Keep on Getting Older,” (2021): 52.

Finally, Baby boomers!

In addition, Garrison’s book helped me laugh at this phase of my life, step back and be thoughtful and consider it with warmth and acceptance.

Let’s end with his humor:

“The five stages of aging are: nameless dread, the crisis of bad news, self-pity and disgust, a revelatory experience, and then contentment and maybe even happiness.”

Garrison Keillor, “Serenity at 70, Gaiety at 80: Why You Should Keep on Getting Older,” (2021): 42.

So, Baby boomers, what do you choose? I choose happiness.

What are your thoughts on aging, Baby Boomers? Garrison Keillor?

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