Has your family tried them, powdermilk?

We were driving home from church today. It’s a bright, sunny cold February day here in New England, and the roads were clear of traffic as we came home. It had been a good church service: an excellent sermon on Sabbathing even from church commitments, both my husband and I in the pews for once, a series of hymns with modern words and ancient tunes, and a little bit of honkey-tonk piano to round it out. I had my traditional post-service “Grande two-pump nonfat extra hot no whip mocha” in hand. The boys were goofing off in the back seat – being brothers. Thane has not had an “incident” in 24 hours. And Garrison Keillor was on the radio talking about Powerdermilk biscuits. My, they’re tasty and expeditious.

And I was washed over with a sense of well-being and contentment.

Well-being and contentment are not such common emotions to me that I fail to notice them. In fact, it’s been quite some time since I’ve felt them without threat looming at the edges of them, as though I better enjoy them now, quickly, because if I start thinking about the wrong things they will go away. No, I just felt happy, and like I very well might stay happy all the way through the end of the Superbowl tonight (and beyond, when the Pats cream the Giants!)

By the time the Ketchup Advisory board commercial came on, we were eating funny curly spaghetti-type pasta (bought from our local butcher), and giggling around the kitchen table. Garrison made a joke about radio, and how no one was listening to it, and it got me thinking.

I remember when NPR started being part of our life. It was shortly after we moved to Mineral, perhaps 1988, with the long car rides that entailed. Before that, we listened to oldies on the radio, and tuned in specially to listen to Paul Harvey. It was before the real rise of talk radio. With NPR, suddenly, the news entered my life. I struggled to catch up and figure out what the Iran-Contra affair was. I was completely snookered by an April Fool’s joke announcing that Starbucks was building a trans-continental coffee pipeline. I joked that I was getting my NPR PHD, and I listened all the time, even during lunch at school to Ray Suarez (who was infinitely preferable to Juan Williams IMO) while eating a pizza pocket and drinking apple juice. The theme song to “Talk of the Nation” still generates a Pavlovian mouth-water reaction and a great desire for pizza pockets.

These NPR shows were a very important part of my family’s lives. Every week we listened to a somewhat younger Garrison Keillor, after our own Protestant church services. He spoke of a world more familiar to us than the urban and urbane one that dominates most media. We too lived in a small town with a lake and a good network of gossip. Saturday mornings were also precious radio-wise. I woke early and joyfully (those of you who know me know how incredibly implausible that is – but true!) on Saturdays to take the hour and a half trip in to Tacoma to the Tacoma Youth Symphony rehearsals. My commute was accompanied by “Rewind” and “Car Talk”. I usually passed the Tacoma Dome as they ran the Car Talk credits. I remember I was leaving a rehearsal the day that Yitzak Rabin was assassinated, and was just old enough to weep for the chance for peace that bled out with his assassin’s bullets. My family would again gather in the evening to hear “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” trying to guess the quiz answers before the guests. If we perhaps scheduled it so we could be sure to catch our shows, well, that only made sense.

As I shared some of those same moments with my young and growing family, I thought of how lovely it is. The most precious of these radio shows are still on, with their original casts. Click and Clack are still there. Garrison somehow still finds new material in a gentler age that fades into memory. “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” is still wicked funny. (Rewind didn’t survive, but you take what you can get.) In tv, even the best shows only last a decade, if that. M*A*S*H only lasted 11 seasons. The entire world of media has fundamentally shifted in the fifteen or twenty years since I was a kid at home listening with my parents. Everything is change and newness. Except these things, which mean so much to me.

But for now, for at least this bright cheerful Super Bowl Sunday, Dusty and Lefty are still out there herding cattle on the prairie, just like they were when I was a girl. You can still win Carl Kasell’s voice on your home answering machine (as if anyone has one of those), even though he laid down his serious news microphone. And Car Talk’s official statistician is still Marge Innovera. And there are still bright Sunday mornings to be filled with the joy of living and family.

Truck day cometh

This time of year, my thoughts always trend the same direction. I turn on the radio in the Febrarian gloom, headed back from a late-running meeting at church. I’m greeted by the latest and greatest in politics, politics, disasters, the economy, politics and boring stuff. Oh! How I wish! How I wish a turn of the dial would bring me instead to my darling, my baseball. Ah, to be in the fifth inning and relax into the voices of Joe and the has-totally-grown-on-me Dave O’Brien. I needn’t hover, finger over the power button, in case the next story is about some horror my young son will question me about in detail.

Baseball is the most perfect of all radio forms. It’s interesting enough to engage the attention when there’s nothing important happening, but not so interesting you miss your exit (usually). The rhythms and patterns are utterly familiar and evoke the sense of warmth and the slow evenings of summer. It happens often enough that many of the times I wish it was on it is on. (I admit to lusting after satellite radio ONLY for baseball even more often!) There are no horrors lurking in the broadcast, no tragedies hiding under the rain tarp. Some of the most fun times are the worst games, when the broadcasters have completely given up on covering the action in any more than a perfunctory manner and have started riffing.

For all it’s reliable consistency, which is a joy, there’s always the possibility of the unbelievable. Ellsbury stealing home. A pitcher cracks a grand slam in a NL game. The tumult, the “what just happened?”, the impossible coming to pass, the million ways you can say “He’s pitching a no-hitter” without actually SAYING “He’s pitching a no-hitter”.

I can’t wait.

But, the winter passes! The frigid north once again turns its face towards the sun. Truck Day is February 12th!. The names will be different, the faces, the clutch hitters, the streaky ones. I’ll have to sit down sometime in April and figure out who the heck is playing this year. But it comes!