Whenever I visit with my mother, it’s inevitable that my mind shifts to the experiences of growing up in St. Louis. I suppose it’s not uncommon for an individual to feel “haunted” as it were by the place in which he or she grew up. The memories of one’s formative years make an indelible impression.
Oftentimes, as last night when we enjoyed dinner with my sister and brother-in-law, our conversation turns to childhood memories: foods we ate (and hated) in childhood, people we knew way back when, places we frequented and how they’ve changed (or haven’t) through the years. It’s usually a pleasant walk down memory lane.
Sometimes when I’m in town, we drive over the river and visit the “old neighborhood” which is actually just another nearby St. Louis suburb. Though I spent only the first eighteen years of my life here, the memories of those years come flooding forward and it seems like only yesterday when those experiences first took place.
Sixth grade represents the beginning of an era for me, the period when I first began to be more keenly aware of the world around me … that there was, in fact, a larger world outside what I’d known with my family (both the immediate and extended family). Memories from sixth grade through high school are the ones to which I return most often when I’m in this city because those come from that crucial period when I transitioned from a child into an adult.
To celebrate the 5th day of National Poetry Month, here’s a nostalgic poem about an incident from sixth grade. The poem recounts the pangs of first “love” as I remember them. I’ve taken liberties in recalling my first “romance.” (I didn’t have a best friend named Kelly, but it worked with the rhyme scheme. If other parts of the tale are manufactured, perhaps my memory has been unfairly selective? A girl can be forgiven, right?)
Nevertheless, I think the poem accurately portrays a little girl’s broken heart due to the early disappointment of a perceived betrayal.
Growing up in St. Louis, I was surrounded by a multitude of historic buildings and beautiful monuments and homes. During my high school years, the Gateway Arch was being erected. I remember all the excitement when construction crews prepared to insert the final section (connecting the north leg to the south leg). Everyone wondered and worried whether or not they’d have a successful joining! Just weeks after my high school graduation, the structure was opened for visitors and tram rides to the top.
The picture at left is a study in contrasts with the sleek, modern Arch set as a backdrop for the Old Cathedral that has been on this site since 1834. Its official name is the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France. While another building (an inconsequential one-room log structure) preceded the Old Cathedral, the site has maintained its place because early settlers of the area insisted on setting aside specific ground in their community for a church. The first religious facility was dedicated around 1770.
Today’s Old Cathedral is an impressive Greek Revival building and I’m glad it still stands. The city of St. Louis has of course grown around the building, with roadways and interstate highway edging closely on its west side. (Of course, directly east is the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, a park area surrounding the Gateway Arch, and then the Mississippi River.) It’s a tight fit.
Most of the time when I return to St. Louis, I drive. However, when I have opportunity to fly into Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, I always consider it a treat. Often before landing, the airplane makes a wide arc all the way to the river, curves around the arch, the cathedral and all of downtown and makes its final approach coming from the east into the airport. For me, this magnificent sweep reminds me of this city’s expansive beauty.
I’ve already mentioned the muddy Mississippi. It’s a river in which I once water-skied! (I can attest to its muddiness, especially after it rains.) My fascination with the river always brings to mind writer Mark Twain. When I fly above the river, I feel as if I could look down on it for hours studying its twists and turns, the sand bars, the numerous offshoots that have been etched into the surrounding lands by Spring rains and floods.
I wrote the poem below after one such airborne arrival. It’s a longish poem and its focus was the connection of this town to the river. Yes, there are many other towns up and down the Mississippi, but I’m a St. Louis woman, so one can hardly expect I’d write about Cape Girardeau or Herculaneum!
If you take a look at the picture of the river, you’ll notice two bridges crossing the wide divide. One of these bridges is a newer structure built for interstate traffic. The one further north is the Chain Of Rocks Bridge, now a pedestrian and bicycle path that once carried traffic as part of Route 66. This is a narrow bridge known for its 22-degree bend about halfway across.
When I took driver’s education in high school, the bridge was on our route one day when I happened to be in the driver’s seat. I will never forget how terrified I was! (I’m guessing my instructor and the three students in the back seat were equally terrified.) Somehow I made it across without a mishap! I will never forget that experience.
Update: When I posted this earlier today, I did so with the sonnet using an unacceptable mixed metaphor that a fellow-blogger kindly brought to my attention. The editor side of my brain knew using fumble in a poem about baseball was incorrect (error being the proper term), but my creative side ignored the critique! Feeling the uncomfortable residue of egg on my face, I’ve made the necessary change! (The words work hard, but sometimes the boss is stubbornly wrong!) My thanks to doobster418 at mindfuldigressions.com for his generous input!
With College Football in its final wind-down and a Super Bowl countdown bringing us less than 30 days till game day, some sports fans are already anxious for the start of spring training. Growing up in a baseball town (St. Louis), I enjoyed knowing something in my younger years about the Cardinals … much less as I got older and then left home. (That probably moves me into the not-really-a-fan category, doesn’t it?)
As a youngster, though, I played baseball almost everyday with my brothers … all summer long. My older brother is two years older, my younger brother eighteen months younger, and we spent lots of time together in those days. Yes, I was definitely a tomboy.
Because we played baseball together, I learned how to throw properly, I became a decent batter and an excellent fielder. I practiced frequently so as to avoid any legitimate criticisms that I “played like a girl.” Other boys in the neighborhood joined us on the back lot for games, but I don’t remember any other girl being in the company.
Unlike my brothers, my interest in baseball cards was nil. But I managed to absorb some of their talk about players on the Cardinals team, so I knew who the players were and what positions they played. The concept of batting averages and other intricacies were lost on me, but I knew enough about the best players to use their names in our back-lot games and sound reasonably well-informed … for a girl!
Occasionally, I’m a bit wistful for bygone days when it was the children who organized enough players to field opposing teams, arranged a place to play and proceeded with their games − completely apart from adult supervision. Films about sandlot baseball evoke my memories of pleasant days at play.
Today, thinking about the conclusion of another football season, I thought this sonnet would be an appropriate poem to share. I still enjoy “playing catch” but I do it differently than when I was a child.
For some of us, closing out the year 2013 means saying goodbye. Death is never pleasant; we have treasured moments to remember, but it’s not the same as having your flesh-and-blood loved one with you.
(How thankful I am not to have lost anyone close to me this year!)
Because I’m a people-oriented person though, my attention is usually caught by the newspapers, magazines and television that run retrospective pieces on famous or infamous or otherwise well-known people who’ve left us during any given year. These lists include names of people with whom we may be familiar as well as names of some who are unknown to us.
One list that attracted my attention was a list offered on the World Magazine website. This alphabetical list included six pages of names (and a small bio for most). As one might expect, a few names included on the list were people whose web of influence touched me in some way. I pulled out ten names that meant the most to me.
What girl in the 60s and 70s did not know Annette Funicello? As a youngster, she shone brighter than most of the other Mouseketeers. She sang, danced and won the hearts of viewers everywhere. For me, she was a picture of grace, always smiling, exuding sincerity and warmth, a role model to emulate.
Not everyone will know who Dr. Howard G. Hendricks (Prof) was, but I remember him well. When my Beloved attended Dallas Theological Seminary, Prof was a favorite instructor and along with his wife Jeanne, they generously hosted students and wives in their home, teaching us as we shared delicious meals together.
The next name might seem a bit odd: Tom Laughlin. This actor and screenwriter (many other things as well) brought Billy Jack to the screen when my Beloved and I were young married folks. (One of my school classmates had a bit part in the film, so naturally I wanted to see the movie.) My Beloved and I found the film sort of campy.
Being a gal who grew up in St. Louis, the name Stan Musial was a household name. He started his career in 1941 with the Cardinals. He had a restaurant (Stan & Biggie’s) he operated until after I left the city for college.
One of the pivotal books I read during my early years of marriage and parenting was Disciplines of a Beautiful Woman by Anne Ortlund. I never knew her personally but her book influenced me to train (discipline) my inner person for the purpose of developing true beauty.
Another woman whose influence was strong was author Edith Schaeffer. She wrote many books, but her book Hidden Art encouraged me to make my home an expression of beauty and peacefulness.
My love for music is embedded in my soul. My parents were early mentors, especially my daddy. He loved to hear George Beverly Shea sing the sweet hymn How Great Thou Art, and I pretty much cut my teeth hearing this song as well as others Shea sang (I’d Rather Have Jesus, The Wonder of It All etc.). My daddy often sang solos in church (an occasional duet with me) and though he was mostly self-taught in music, I always thought he sounded a lot like Shea.
When you’re married (as I am) to a lover of sports, the name Pat Summerall will be familiar. Of course his connection to our home state doesn’t hurt, but I just remember sitting with my husband (again, we were young married folks) viewing football and hearing the genial Summerall explain the game to me. I learned a great deal from him.
Margaret Thatcher of course was a role model for many women, particularly those of a conservative persuasion like myself. As first female Prime Minister in England, the Iron Lady inspired me with her tough-minded (but always ladylike) approach to politics and government. Her friendship with President Ronald Reagan increased my admiration for her even more.
Finally, I must mention golfer Ken Venturi. (Again, being married to a lover of sports and most especially a lover of golf, I’ve learned to love the game myself.) Since Venturi’s actual golf career ended in 1961, he is most memorable to me via his distinctive broadcasting voice. Yes, I’ve even learned to watch golf with my Beloved … though I much prefer to play the game instead of watching it on television. Listening to Venturi in the broadcast booth helped his love for the game spill over to me.
There’s another golfer in the list − Miller Barber − and while I recall his name and that he was a golfer, that’s about all. (My Beloved could probably regale me with stories of the man’s career. I can’t.)
So, we say goodbye to these men and women, influencers all. I am grateful for the impact each had on me. Heeding this wisdom from Mark Twain, may we each live fully now, today and each tomorrow God gives us: “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”