Coming to Missouri is a lot like coming home. It’s all really familiar. Cody, the dog, knows me and the entire family. I know where all the light switches are. The bed is comfy and the pillow are almost as good as the ones at my permanent address. But, I really should start at the beginning.
My husband, Jeff, is Missouri-born. He was born in Southeast Missouri State Hospital, in Cape Girardeau, which stands on a bluff, and from which you can see the mighty Mississippi River. Cape Girardeau is a pretty place — fairly small college town — and, the same town Jeff returned to in order to attend Southeast Missouri State University on a full-ride scholarship, and where I went to graduate school at the same time.
Jeff’s mom and his brother, Glenn, used to leave in southeast Missouri, and now live in St. Louis. We have visited family in Missouri at least once a year ever since my husband and I graduated, got married and moved away to Iowa and then out to Denver, Colorado.
Jeff’s parents got divorced shortly after our daughter was born, so we first visited Brenda, his mom, down in southeast Missouri, then after she remarried Larry Colvin, we visited her and our new extended family in St. Louis. As our family grew with the addition of our son, it quickly grew after that time with the addition of Larry’s family, adding step-brothers and step-sister and their families. We suddenly had a whole new extended family in St. Louis.
Jeff’s mom, is one of my favorite people — I know that I am lucky to have a fantastic mother-in-law. I would love to have her live in Denver with us, but I wouldn’t want to push her. She’s a recent widow — she (and we) lost her husband, Larry, this January. Larry and Brenda were a great team, and there’s a huge lack of him in her and our lives. From time to time, there’s something I see that I want to show to Larry, a joke I think he would like, or a topic to argue with him about, and then I get very sad, coming back to the reality that he is gone. I can’t even imagine how tough it must be for Brenda.
On the plus side, she has her son Glenn who still lives with her. He moved in when his health, which had been pretty poor for years, took a serious downturn. On this serious minus side, in late December, early January, Glenn was going through a serious health crisis. While Glenn was in the hospital after getting a liver/kidney transplant, Larry suddenly had an aneurysm/stroke and died just days after this incident! Jeff’s sister Amy was there during this time period, staying with Glenn, then supporting her mom after Larry’s aneurysm. Amy had to head home after a long time off work. Jeff was actually in the airport, about to board the plane for St. Louis — coming to support both brother and family, when I reached him with the news of his stepfather’s death. After Jeff arrived in St. Louis, he arranged for my ticket, so I could come for the funeral, too.
We don’t usually fly to St. Louis. We’ve been driving to Missouri for school Spring break then Fall or Winter break for almost every year — for about two decades now — as our daughter is now 20 years old. For the past five years or so, the trips have been seeming easier and easier. For one thing, the kids are older (our son is 16), and communicate with actual words (rather than crying, yelling, or whining), and have learned to appreciate their siblings. We also go consistently in October, rather than November or December, so the weather is better. And, although it has taken years for Kansas to change, they finally raised the speed limit through Kansas to 75 mph, so now we go between 75 and 80 mph without worry. This has seemed to cut our total travel time down by more than an hour from door to door.
Over all these years, a beloved tradition was Larry greeting us with the hearty, “How was your trip? Or “You made good time, huh?” But the following question was always, “What would you like to drink?/What can I fix you to drink?” Larry was always an excellent host, very hospitable and welcoming. He called himself a “functioning alcoholic,” so that might have been that. In his defense, Larry saw some action in Vietnam, and some more action in his 35 years as a police officer in St. Louis. He had trouble sleeping, and took to wondering the house and smoking near the French doors in the kitchen at the wee hours in the morning. When he found out I was a writer, he made me promise that I would never make police officers perfect — never make them pure of heart — in my books. Since I have read (and loved) Choirboys and The New Centurions by Joseph Wambaugh and plenty of other stories with police that did what needed to be done to put away some dirtbag criminal, I promised I would follow this directive.
I have missed Larry’s booming laugh, and his jokes, and his devil’s advocate positioning for and against pretty much everything for the sake of a discussion about pretty much everything. He was a warm and generous person — proud that he had made something of himself from his literal “dirt poor” roots, and this house seems way too large and quiet without his physical presence in it.
But visiting Brenda and Glenn infuses me with warmth. I miss my doggos, but there is Cody, the Border Collie who’s lived here for the past five years (adopted after a relative had passed away down in Texas). Cody is smart and sweet, and almost makes up for the physical lack of our hounds. Glenn and Jeff are about two years apart, and they are both nice guys, and Glenn has the same wicked sense of humor — quick with a rye observation, double entendre or innuendo.
I have reconciled to gaining or at best, maintaining, my weight in Missouri, since everything is wonderfully, deliciously fried — breakfast, main dishes, desserts, water. Ok, maybe I exaggerate a bit, but it is definitely more fried food than I normally eat, which is hardly any (outside of the occasional French fries). I try to be careful and do my best, surrounded by so much temptation.
Being here is being with family we like as well as love, which is always a pleasure. I can remember that I love Brenda, I love Glenn, and that beating myself up is wasting precious time while I am enjoying the visit. Everything else is doesn’t matter.