A friend of mine said to me yesterday, “I always forget that you are from St. Louis.” I forget, too, but I did grow up there even though my family never really fit in. My dad was from New York City and my mom was from Boston. We got New York magazine, The New York TImes, and The New Yorker delivered to our house like clockwork. When my dad’s company moved my parents to St Louis from Cambridge, my mom says it was a shock. She had never been further west than Vermont. During the first weeks they were there it was over 100 degrees and my mom was struck by how ugly the city was. St Louis was not Harvard Square. It was not even Commonwealth Avenue. She and the other Boston wives started a sewing circle called “The Back to Boston” club. But not one of those ladies ever moved back east.
At my elementary school, we studied the Trappers and the Traders, Lewis and Clark, and the Indians. We went on field trips to Cahokia Downs. We stared at the Indian rock painting of the Piasa bird on the river bluffs. We picked peaches in Illinois. We went on float trips down the rivers and learned how to identify water moccasins. When the Mississippi overflowed, we helped sandbag and, later, when we were in high school, we had parties on the river boats. Spring came in March. It was hot by April. We had maids. The magnolia trees showered blossoms down on our streets. In my neighborhood we sat in a tree across from the vacant lot and the Chase Park Plaza hotel and drank beers and smoked cigarettes and dropped the cans on the ground. We did not think anyone could see us. I wanted to run away to California and hang out with Grace Slick and the Grateful Dead. Instead, I went east to college. I have only been back to St. Louis four times since I graduated from high school.