My mom grew up in St. Louis and moved back there (to Webster Groves) after she and my dad divorced. I was grown then, so I never actually lived there, but it was home base, where all we kids returned for Christmas and family reunions. It holds a lot of memories for me, as well as a few stray friends. We decided to swing by for one last visit before turning west.
My Old College Roommate
Sooze and I lived together my last year at University of Michigan. We had a funky two-bedroom apartment in the second story of an old house, and we rented the couch to a third friend, Malcolm. It was a congenial arrangement that worked just perfectly in that loose, “whatever” kind of way that comes with youth. All three of us were in the Theater Department, and Malcolm and I both drove cabs in between classes. Sooze was a year older, in the MFA program, and she was the only one of us who actually succeeded in her dream of becoming an actor. Rightfully so. Her talent was clear from the start.
One of Sooze’s first acting positions was with a theater company in St. Louis, and she ended up buying a house not far from my Mom’s. So almost every time I visited Mom, I also visited Sooze and we’ve kept in touch over the years. Interestingly, Sooze’s most recent role was Alice B. Toklas in a play written by one of my dad’s first theater students, Win Wells. You can see a peek of it here: Gertrude Stein and a Companion.
Sooze is going through a tough but exciting life transition, which involves packing up and selling her large Webster Groves home. We wanted to give her a hand. We didn’t have long, but for a day and a half, we rolled up our sleeves and pitched in. We got Sooze’s grown daughter’s room packed up, put several items to sell up on Craig’s List, repaired cabinets, hauled boxes to Goodwill and books to a Child Center, ate, drank, talked, hugged, and generally had a good time. It was a bonding visit that I’ll always remember.
Mom’s Old Boyfriend
When my mom met my dad, she was actually engaged to Werner, and she broke off the engagement to go out with and eventually marry my dad. Later in life, after divorces and Mom’s return to St. Louis, they reconnected. They were close for years in a sort of on-again/off-again way that my mom was known for, and Werner was often a part of our family visits.
Werner has kept in touch with all of us kids, and he’s followed our travels via the blog all year. He wrote recently and said he’d love to take us to lunch if we made it back to St. Louis, so we called and took him up on it. At 90, he’s still living alone in the old brownstone he bought and renovated in the 70s. The house is just off Lafayette Square in downtown St. Louis, which at the time had fallen into disrepair. Most of the houses were vacant and boarded up, and the once stately neighborhood was considered a slum area. But Werner bought his place for $4,000, worked to renovate it, and joined the Lafayette Square Restoration Committee. That area is now one of the nicest neighborhoods in St. Louis.
Werner took us to lunch at Crown Candy, a popular candy maker/ice cream parlor/restaurant since the 1920s. He had taken me here with Mom years ago. It’s a fun little place that’s changed very little over the years. Its neighborhood has not fared so well as Werner’s, but there’s been a recent effort to revitalize the area. It was shocking, though, to see how much of downtown St. Louis is just falling apart. In some places, it looked like a war zone. There is a big racial and class division, which was highlighted this last year in nearby Ferguson.
Sister’s College Friend
My sister went to Webster College, and that’s where she met her dear friend Mark. They were inseparable then and stayed close over the years. Mark and his partner, Jeff, live near Webster Groves and in the last years that Mom was there, they would often take her out to the opera or to dinner. They were wonderful with her, and with all of us kids out of state, I know it meant a lot to Mom. When it came time to fix up and sell Mom’s house and her rental property, Mark stepped in and oversaw all the work that needed to be done. He and Jeff were unofficial heroes during that hard time.
We’ve stayed in touch since then, and I did a website for Mark’s painting business (www.marktillmanwalls.com). One of our nights in St. Louis, Mark and Jeff invited us over for dinner, and we had a wonderful time talking together for hours. If we lived closer, these are people I would want to see all the time.