This weekend, we took a three-day family vacation down to the historic St. Louis to visit our first-ever friends from law school.
It was late summer in 2009 and law school had been in session for less than a month. We all stood around awkwardly in the stifling heat at the picnic designed for students and their families. Most of the other couples had kids or seemed to already know each other. Matt and I stood around, my social husband trying to guide us to a few people to introduce ourselves when I spotted them a few picnic tables away. They stood together looking just as awkward and uncomfortable as us. I hinted to my husband that we should head in their direction when they caught my glance. The four of us smiled tight, uncomfortable smiles as we made our way, dripping sweat, across the pavilion. By the end of the afternoon, we had long forgotten how comfortable, hot, and alone we were. It all started with an afternoon swapping "how he proposed" and "how the hell we moved across the country" stories, and it still hasn't ended. We have a history, these St. Louisians and us. One we grew when we made a smooth 5 hour drive on a weekend promising beautiful weather to explore the city named for a king.
Our Host was born and raised in St. Louis, so he was very familiar with everything - juicy mob stories, record-holding parks, St. Louis-founded restaurants. He knew the back roads and gave us a spectacular tour of the true St. Louis-style neighborhood. We ate at all the off-the-beaten-path restaurants that only the locals know that make you give thanks to the Lord for your tastebuds.
And, we learned, no trip to St. Louis is complete without a tour of the beloved Budweiser factory.
(Abigail let Matt carry her for a whopping 45 minutes before breaking down in tears and insisting that I carry her for our entire 3-day trip).
Rife with history, the Anheuser-Busch company is a huge supporter of the local community, and as a result, the community loves them back.
Although I guess when the mascot of your company is a gorgeous 2-ton horse dressed up in his Sunday best, how could anyone not like you?
When we weren't sampling free beers and admiring 6-foot tall horses (6 ft to the shoulder) we were visiting the 100% free St. Louis zoo (2nd in the nation, dontcha know) and its 100% free art museum).
Our Hostess was an art history major who graciously showed us the museum's highlights in the 30 minutes we had before they closed. I only recently developed an appreciation for art and it was the first time I'd ever been in an art museum. As I walked around the huge, open rooms and stared at the neatly arranged paintings on the wall, my heart was still. As I stood in front of the giant waterlillies mural by Monet, my soul was stirred. My body could feel the greatness of the painting and the painter in a way that my words couldn't express. I felt as if I was standing in front of something very sacred. I fell in love with the work of a painter by the name of Paul Cornoyer (Plaza after the rain). I can't wait to visit Chicago's Art Museum now.
Real life Sunday in the park, anyone? We attended Mass at the most beautiful Cathedral Basilica I've ever seen in my life while Abigail and our Host's 8-month-old took turns yelling in the middle of Mass only to hear their own voices echo.
But, of course, we couldn't leave St. Louis without a pitstop at the famed arch, which, tradition holds, you must touch.
And the Mississippi River. Abigail has been in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Mississippi River before her second birthday.
This was the first time Matt and I have ever been to the Mississippi and also the first time we've ever been out to the southern Illinois/St. Louis area. St. Louis is far more mid-western than Michigan. It feels like an insult to IL/MO to even call Michigan a farming or mid-western state.
As we stood in awe of the Great River, I began to gather a deeper understanding of how vital this body of water was to all those cities lined up at its banks, all those piers and warehouses that clutter up the view, all those families so very long ago.
And while we stood on the banks of the Mississippi, I saw the coolest thing I've ever seen in my life.
A man living in a canoe. A dead ringer for Johnny Depp's character in Pirates of the Caribbean, this man was the real-deal. His stack of bags, the blue milk crate, the rope that probably holds up his tent in the rain, the skulls decorating the back of his boat. It's the coolest thing I've ever seen in my life. I desperately wanted to know his story, hear his history, find out what he wanted out of life. But it seemed very inappropriate to run up to him in my tourist gear with a camera in one hand and a baby in the other and interrupt this journey man. So I just let my soul be touched by the mysterious being that is the man in the canoe who was docked at the Arch.