St. Louis. The city of my birth, my socialization within a supportive circle of family and friends, my education in a decent public school system, my spiritual foundation in All Saints’ Episcopal Church. But, over time, a place I remember for trees, vacant lots, and corner taverns.
Trees. Dick Gregory once opined that St. Louis would not experience the rioting so common to other rust belt urban communities in the 1960s. Too many trees whose shade relieved the adverse effects of destructive outrage stoked by the summer’s oppressive heat.
Vacant lots. It seemed that every block in the segregated city corridors had one. Some overripe with weeds. Others with abandoned buildings of broken windows, collapsing roofs, and decaying foundations. The neighborhood despoliation, depressing. The decay, in part, a manifestation of municipal abdication of responsibility, hidden, like Poe’s purloined letter, in plain sight.
Corner taverns. Small and homey, some with darkened, barred windows and narrow, gated doors. Set at street-edge, making the blazing neon signage of invitation a siren call impossible to ignore. Rivaling in number the many churches and offering their own brand of religion or opiate to relieve the pain of living with the daily drudgery of little opportunity for betterment.
When Pontheolla and I began to focus on our retirement years, she, with typical kindness, asked, “Would you consider moving back to St. Louis?” With memories stippled by images, painted on the canvasses of historical record and personal experience, of racial inequality, I answered, “No.”
Still, I hurt…and hope for my hometown.