First things first. To answer “THE” Saint Louis question, I didn’t go to school here. I didn’t grow up in the city. I came from the “other” side, and I graduated from East Alton-Wood River Community High School in 1980, (and received my BA in Art and Design from SIUE in 1985). No. I did not grow up here, but I defected to Saint Louis, at least in my heart, from the moment I laid eyes on it. Loved the buzz and the noise. I was convinced that when Petula Clark sang about “Downtown”, she had to mean Saint Louis. I moved away and came back home in 2008. A lot has changed, and a lot has remained the same. I am a metalsmith/jeweler, as well as a photographer, and much of what I do is inspired by the Baby Boom era, and Route 66. I live right in the heart of midtown, in Grand Center, and from my perch overlooking the Fabulous Fox, I will be sharing my love of this city, as well as my observations on what is going on here and now, as well as some memories of what it used to be. I am often out on my Vespa, camera in tow, taking photographs all over town of anything that happens to grab me.
So, if you happen to see an older chick on a cream and navy colored scooter, feel free to say “hi” and tell me something you love about Saint Louis. AND, you can even ask me “THE Question.”
Oh, it was bleak. I gazed across the street past the empty driving range to what was left of the old Barry farm as the snow continued to fall. I thought of the early scene in Citizen Kane as I stared into the blinding whiteness. Another memorable birthday... for all of the wrong reasons. Unlike my brother who was born in September, who enjoyed late summer birthday parties and BBQ, I was born at the end of January. Back, back, back... my memory wound back to my eighth birthday. I was in second grade. My dad was to take me to see Disney’s “The Jungle Book”. It was showing at the old Lewis and Clark Theater that stood next to the round building where the Top of the Tower restaurant used to be. We were halfway through the line when they announced that the movie had sold out. And then my dear father had a brilliant idea. My dear, Sunday school teaching, choir singing father. My saint of a dad. Let’s go and see “Patton” , said he. I asked what it was about. He said it was like “Combat”. You like “Combat”, don’t you, LIzzie???? I was always daddy’s little girl, and I always watched shows like “Combat”, “Twelve O’Clock High”, “Branded”, and “Errol Flynn Theater” with him. Times were different in 1970. The notion of political correctness was unheard of, and as children, we played cowboys and indians, army, Robin Hood, and the like all summer in the back yard, in various bought and homemade costumes, cap guns and swords. And we thought it was just dandy. So I said sure dad, let’s go and see Patton. About halfway to the theater, dad told me it might not be a good idea to share that fact with mom, and to just tell her we saw “The Jungle Book”. After all, I knew the story, and all the songs. I had practically seen it, so... just as good. I kept my promise until sometime around June or July.
I have always seen the world around me through rose-colored glasses. I find treasures among the discarded, and castles hidden in the dilapidated. I love to discover family owned bakeries and grocery stores that are well-known only in their neighborhoods. It takes no more than an interesting steeple, or sign, to get me to turn onto a road seldom traveled. And sometimes, it is the things that are right in front of us that are most hidden; seen yet unobserved. Too often we find ourselves to be too busy, or in too much or a hurry to take the time to take a real look around us. We pass history on our daily commutes and never realize its significance.
I’ve been out of school for longer than I care to admit, and yet I still get the feeling that summer is officially here when school is out. From my apartment window I hear the calliope-like music of the ice cream truck as it winds it’s way up Washington Ave. I think of the many times I raced out of the house with quarters in my eager palms, sticky with summer kid sweat. I glance down to the street to see a handful of children dashing to the ice cream vender with rocket pops and drumsticks on their minds. A smile forms across my face as I witness one of summers fondest and most longstanding rituals take place before my eyes. Some things never change. Thank goodness for that. Soon I was lost in the memories of so many other rites of summer. The happy thoughts running through my head soon turned to to a feeling a bittersweet longing. So many of the places that bring such pleasant memories are gone. Not just gone, but long gone. Long gone, demolished, plowed under, and redeveloped. However, I knew it could not be all gone, not completely anyway. So one day in mid-June, I decided to make make a pilgrimage of sorts. I got up early and took the dogs on a long walk. Came home, loaded up my camera gear, filled the gas tank on my scooter, and set out to find the last Drive-In.
I spend a Sunday afternoon in the dog park with Fred, Winston, Cotten, Charlie, Hunter, Rigby, Roxy, Louis, Ellie, Ernest Borgnine the King Charles Spaniel, Tank, and the rest of the gang.
I never wanted to be one of those people. Oh, YOU know who they are... THOSE people who treat their dogs like they were humans. Worse yet, I didn’t want to be one of (cringe) THOSE women. Those childless single females of a certain age whose pets are basically their children. And yet here I am.
I should have seen the writing on the wall when the last restaurant closed and the store was cut down to three shopping floors. All the same, I was saddened when I read about the closing of Famous Barr, err, Macy’s, here in downtown Saint Louis. I ate my last bowl of Famous’ French Onion Soup several years ago, and it had lost that “Mad Men” glamour that I found so captivating when I was a little girl. Long gone was the record department where I purchased my first 45RPM, (Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites” for those interested”), the millinery department with all those amazing hats, the bakery, the couture department; all relics of another era now gone.