Sumus Quod Sumus—A Revisit To Lake Wobegon


Recently I finished reading Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor. Anyone who has heard A Prairie Home Companion radio program by Garrison Keillor will immediately recognize Lake Wobegon and its denizens.

The Latin phase Sumus Quod Sumus means “We are what we are”.  It is the motto inscribed on Lake Wobegon’s crest.

According to Keillor, Lake Wobegon means “the place where we waited all day in the rain”.  As he explained in the book, Wobegon was a Native American name and he liked the sound of it for this fictional small community in central Minnesota with its descendants of immigrants from Norway and Germany.

Like any small town it has its myths and legends coalescing with actual history—in this case fictional history.  The denizens have their foibles and children tolerate and secretly rebel against what they perceive as injustice to their natural inclination to experiment and to explore.

Religion played a major role in the lives of the people.  The two main churches in town were Catholic—Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility and Lutheran with a small sect of Sanctified Brethren who viewed themselves as “the last remnant of the true Church.

Their views of the Catholics and Lutherans were not conducive to ecumenism.  The Sanctified Brethren’s life style was one of austerity—no beer drinking, novels, jazz, pop music, playing cards (except Rook and Flinch), dancing, holding hands (male and female), movies, television, women being audible in the service, strict observation of the Sabbath (Sunday), no pants for women, etc.

All Brethren drove Fords”.  The Chevrolet dealership was owned by a Catholic and no true believer would buy from a Catholic because they knew what Catholics were.

One would hope attending a cotillion once a year would add a bit of spice to the dolorous existence that religion in the extreme exacts from its adherents. A bit of earthly fun is not sacrilege.

Having said that, people have the right to adhere to their belief system, but the problem arises when that belief system excludes all others from religious fellowship and taints them with the brush of false doctrines because they are not the “chosen few of God”.  This is when intolerance spreads which leads to injustice against the “unholy”.

Overall it is a fascinating assortment of tales about people living their lives in a small town.  Based on my travels, the book is pure Americana.

The lifeblood of this country is found in the hamlets, towns and villages where people go about their business.  Their way of life has not changed much over time.

The book ends with a story about a man in his Buick driving in a blizzard on a fool’s errand to buy a carton of Pall Malls at the Sidetrack Tap. Of course he runs off the road a quarter of mile from his anxious wife and children who did not want him to leave home in the first place, and he left the carton of cigarettes on the counter.

A pretty dumb trip.  Town was a long way to go in a blizzard for the pleasure of coming back home. He could have driven his car straight to the ditch and saved everyone the worry. But what a lucky guy. Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have which once you have it you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known.  He takes deep breaths and the cold air goes to his brain and makes him more sensible.  He starts out on the short walk to the house where people love him and will be happy to see his face.

It sums up the human experience in general.  Perhaps, it takes being off the road in a blizzard to realize that fact of life on this planet traversing the cosmos—the best place to be is where one is loved as the storms of life transpire.

The book is 337 pages.  From a personal perspective it was never boring or tedious.


G. D. Williams       © 2020

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