I lie in a dark hotel room, the dimness broken only by the blinking lights on various chargers. My son and I have come to St. Louis to visit family. The sound of early morning travelers on Highway 40 has wakened me. Only briefly do I fight the morning. My mind moves from sleeping to that state of alertness which defies return to dreams.
We spent three hours on a deck overlooking an erstwhile farm yesterday, with my cousin Paul and a friend of his, trading stories, laughing, marveling at the intricacies of two generations disparate enough to be from different planets. Paul's breathing grew labored as the afternoon waned. Little else drew attention to his fading health -- certainly not his air, bright and uncomplaining. We came away with the warmth of his smile still lingering on our own faces.
We drove to the city for dinner. I knew my old breakfast place had closed, but had not heard about Duff's, where I'd spent so many nights in college and graduate school. The news of its demise dismays me. Even though my visits to St. Louis occur infrequently, I want to imagine that, like Brigadoon, it never changes. Perhaps my disappointment at not being able to have their fish and chips spoiled my appetite; whatever the reason, I did not enjoy my meal at Bar Italia. But the company saved the evening: my friend Joyce Kramer, the New York expat, with her stories of meeting "Bobbie DeNiro" before he reverted to his full name and embraced fame. We strolled down to her home on Maryland for coffee afterwards, making our way past the crowded tables of Central West End cigar smokers and chess players.
About thirty feet from Joyce's front walk, three tiny children broke away from their mothers to fling their arms around our legs and greet us. Clad in minuscule coats, wearing backpacks no bigger than wallets, none could have been more than two feet tall. They toddled back and forth between us and the two women who stood adjusting a baby carriage, murmuring, watching for anything alarming. Joyce leaned down to zip one of their jackets, clucking, fussing. I lifted one and hugged him, feeling his lightness, wondering what genetic code produces children no bigger than dolls. The mothers reclaimed their offspring; we cooed over the baby; and they moved beyond us, towards the frozen yogurt shop.
After coffee, my son and I reversed that path, passing, in turns, the hostess from Bar Italia and one of the waitresses, off-duty, oblivious to us now, morphed into their better selves. The swarm of humanity on the sidewalks amazed me. I strained to imagine where all those people lived. Some most certainly came from the suburbs, packing into cars, enduring bumper to bumper traffic, passing three times around the block before finding a space in which to squeeze their vehicle. The women's shoes baffled me with their tall heels, thick platforms, and rounded toes. I watched them walk, picking their way around cracks in the sidewalk, chins held parallel to the ground, shoulders squared. I can't recall ever being so young, so bold, so comfortable with myself.
The sun's rays sneak under the curtain, and the roar of traffic has increased. In a little while, we'll breakfast with my sister, in St. Peters, and later on, we'll dine at the restaurant where one of my nieces works. We're stepping our way through this trip, restaurant to restaurant, embrace to embrace. I crave coffee, but don't want to awaken my son before time. So I linger in the darkness.
I think about the contours of this city where I spent my youth, which I can no longer navigate without the GPS on my son's phone. I ponder the poignancy of my memories, of Paul's memories, of his faith, of the words he spoke, looking skyward, to my lost brother. "We love you, Steve," he said. I touched his arm; his eyes found mine, and in that moment, in the silent exchange between my cousin Paul and me, I realized that I truly had come home. I might be a stranger here; I might not recognize the highways and the corridors of this town. I might have a place where I belong that lies distant from here. But the roots which anchor me germinated in this ground.
In the darkness of the parking lot of our hotel last night, we spoke to a family gathered around the back of their SUV, drinking, eating, talking. "Who won?" I called out, referring to the baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals. "We did," came the glad reply. "And who would 'we' be," I asked. "We're from Wisconsin," they told me, leaving me to infer their Northern allegiance. I waved my hand in the dim air, saying, "But I was born and raised in St. Louis!" They chuckled; and I responded with another little wave. As I turned away, one last comment drifted across the asphalt: "Maybe tomorrow!"
Saturday, April 12, 2014
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The Missouri Mugwump™
- M. Corinne Corley
- I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.
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