I have always wanted my niece to marry her longtime partner, because then her name would be Nanette Krebsbach Krebsbach. Just like New York, New York, it’s a name so nice you want to hear it twice. It’s a good name. It is strong and Germanic, and I always thought it had too many letters like many ethnic names that have been handed down over generations.
The name Krebsbach appears in Midwest phonebooks more than I can count, which means the families arrived and multiplied. So, whether it means “crab stream” or “habitats of a great tributary” is of no importance to me. The importance is in the people I knew who carried the name proudly and who influenced me.
The name might sound familiar to fans of Garrison Keillor. For 42 years, his “Prairie Home Companion” show was on the radio and he wrote a number of books on Lake Wobegon days.
For Lake Wobegon fans, Krebsbach is a name associated with Minnesota, which only tells me the whole Midwest is populated with these German immigrants. The “Prairie Home Companion” couple of Myrtle and Florian Krebsbach are legendary. In fact, aren’t they the ones who have children above average?
When Garrison Keillor introduced his cast of fictitious characters in his “News from Lake Wobegon” segment “Prairie Home Companion,” he knew he was hitting close to home with his humor. He shared tales of ordinary people who were recognizable to anyone who grew up in a small community in the Midwest. People who listened could recognize familiar personalities.
I was a latecomer to this radio phenom. Our whole family attended a live show in the Fitzgerald Theater one October during a school break. Our sons were taken aback when Keillor started talking about the Krebsbachs of Lake Wobegon.
The whispering began. “Mom, Mom, they are talking about your family.” The snickering started as well as we listened to tales of small-town life. Why he was telling funny stories about my family was a mystery to them, but they were fascinated.
The stories of Florian Krebsbach, the owner of the Chevy car dealership, hit close to home. They knew my dad was a car salesman at Feldner Chevrolet. They began to wonder if I was a ghost writer for the show.
Keillor speaks of Eloise Krebsbach running for mayor and I always wondered how my cousin Eloise felt about that. Her brother, Donnie Krebsbach, was mentioned more than once in the Lake Wobegon stories. Wasn’t he the cousin who lived with us for a while in real life?
A few more shows over the years and listening now and then told me he was using my whole family to depict life as I knew it, minus the Powdermilk Biscuit Plant. The universality of community living is not lost on any of us. People knowing neighbors and acting on their behalf is a gift in this mobile society.
Keillor is traveling with his stories around the country this year, making a farewell tour with his wonderful talent, great stories and touching humor. When you grew up a Krebsbach and knew each of his characters by different names, and some by the same name, you know fiction is just one address away from reality. Although he says his tales were set “south of the truth,” many of us recognize the place as our own.
As for Nannette Rose Krebsbach, she is as real as they come. Her marriage is not imminent, but no one would notice. There would be no discussion of her taking the name of her spouse. People would just assume she did. But would she hyphenate it? That is the question.
One thing I know for sure: Where I came from, the women were strong and the men were good-looking. I also know that my own three children are above average, because Garrison Keillor told me so.