|Historical Louisiana, Missouri|
My dearest David,
Do you remember that time we crossed the Mississippi river from the town of Louisiana, Missouri, over an old iron bridge to Illinois? I was driving (unusual in itself back then), and when that old bridge loomed ahead, so very frighteningly narrow it looked! that I could not glance right or left but could only think about getting over safely, as quickly as possible. You would have liked to explore the town but said we would do it another time. Time, however, ran out for us. And so on my first solo drive across the country, 2,000 miles from Arizona to Michigan with a lively, challenging puppy as my companion, I decided to see the town of Louisiana, Missouri, for both of us, for you and for me.
Oh, my goodness! There was much more than I had anticipated! Remember when we explored Hannibal? Louisiana has only maybe one-sixth the population of Hannibal and of course lacks the Mark Twain connection, but it was obviously once a very wealthy, important, and thriving community. The civic and commercial buildings, as well as the many elaborate houses, attest to that history. I thought several times of your love of symmetry, whenever I saw examples of it in beautiful buildings, especially the most simply elegant.
But it wasn’t only the grand that I took note of for the two of us, because we always had an eye, each of us, for small, simple, even hidden-away treasures in the places we explored.
Wandering around, then, willy-nilly, growing giddier all the time, I stumbled on the old high school and the old hospital...
...and also found many modestly small houses that spoke to an early history.
Now, looking back, I find an online slide show of the town’s history. It focuses mostly on downtown commercial buildings, rather than on homes (I have photographed both for you), but the musical background and the visual comparisons over the decades are poignant, are they not? “Reflections of time,” indeed! These days -- more than ever, now that you are gone -- I reflect continually on the passage of time and the passing of individuals and eras. You will also see the old iron bridge among the images in the slide show. The past, after all, persists in the present, in community as well as individual memories and in material culture.
Well, my darling, I kept turning corners and going around blocks and driving farther and farther from U.S. 54 as scenes beckoned me onward, because once I had the idea of seeing the town for you, as well as for myself, I couldn’t stop looking and trying to record what I saw. “I’m a very visual person,” you would often remind me, and so there I was, caught up in an impossible quest, trying to be the “visual person” for the two of us. But what can I say? You are in my heart every minute and every mile….
I did have one brief, strange encounter. Standing back to get an entire downtown building in my camera’s viewfinder, I stopped to express amazement at what I was seeing to a young man getting out of his car. “You live here?” I asked. He responded, “Louisiana? Yeah. And I’d trade all this” – he waved his hand to encompass everything in sight – “for one McDonald’s.”
Can you believe it? My immediate thought was that there was no need whatsoever for him to wish for that impossible “trade,” when all he had to do was move to some other town, anywhere in the country! What kept him there, if he despised the town so? And could he have been serious? He would “trade” the unique and irreplaceable for the utterly mundane and ubiquitous? And then I thought, of course, of the conversation you and I would have had as we drove on from that encounter and how we would have remembered our time in France and the way Europeans treasure their history rather than wishing it away or actually tearing it down. We would also have hatched various schemes for bringing livelier times back to Louisiana, filling the beautiful buildings with attractions to invite visitors to come, explore, and hang around a while, because that was a frequent theme in our cross-country conversations – the potential in neglected and overlooked corners of America.
|So much potential!|
I’m not sure how long I wandered excitedly around Louisiana, but eventually it was time to move on, time to cross the Mississippi to Illinois again -- and there I was in for a shock. The old bridge was gone! In its place was a new, sleek, easy concrete span, not frightening in any way -- not frightening, but it made me burst into tears. I wanted the old, scary bridge! I wanted it to be the way it was! And I realized that what I wanted was -- of course! -- I wanted back that day with you! How many times in the course of my drive from Arizona to Illinois (Illinois to Michigan yet ahead) have I remembered the way you complimented my driving on our way from your cousin Jim’s place back to Dos Cabezas after that surgery in Phoenix? And I think now that if you could see me on the road, you would be confident of my ability to handle the trip, and you would also be glad that I have that little obstreperous puppy, Sunny Juliet, to make me smile and even laugh once in a while.
We are doing our best, sweetheart. I am doing as well as I can, missing you so much. The puppy, never having met you, doesn’t know what she’s missing, so it’s easier for her. But we are doing our best. And I will keep looking at the beautiful world for both of us as long as I live.
Such wonderful and varied images, Pamela. And a poignant dialogue with your beloved too.ReplyDelete
Beautiful town. Beautiful words. I imagine he's heard them.ReplyDelete
Thank you for this. I love your voice. Can feel your grief. Sending so much love. 🙏💖ReplyDelete
Previous comment from Charmaine (I don’t want to be anonymous.)ReplyDelete