At 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday, 01 September 2021, I said goodbye to my life in Kansas City. The only witness to the passing of an era greeted me from behind an industrial four-wheel dolly with a cheerful smile.
“You’re the lady lawyer who moved to California in a tiny house, right?” he asked, as we took the elevator to the 3rd floor. I admitted as much. “You used to have an office not far from here and then you shared an office with that nice lady lawyer in Independence, right?” He grinned.
I asked his name, and he told me he was Dane and that he lived in the same house where his parents had raised him. As he loaded my ten boxes onto his cart, he explained that his father had died a while back and his mother needed help with her florist business at first. He stayed around for the company. “Slinging flowers is hard work,” he told me. “But my mom loves it.”
He bent to put stickers on the last vestiges of the Corley Law Firm, which he would ultimately haul to join the other fifty or so boxes in the records storage facility. “These are good boxes,” he observed. “From the old owners. I worked for them. A lot less paperwork but I never got a raise. Now I make good money but there’s a lot of paperwork.” He shrugged his shoulders and started filling out a form. Then he scanned the labels and had me sign, twice — once on a digital panel and once on the paper. He spared me a rueful smile and said, “See?”
We walked together to the elevator and down to the storage center entrance. I had advised him to stop outside the gate, due to construction which rendered the exit impassable for a heavy van. My friend Sheldon learned that lesson on the previous day. Dane and I stood at the gate, talking about road construction, the changes in Kansas City, and life. Then he solemnly shook my hand and told me to enjoy California and to let them know if I needed anything. I stood by my rental car and watched him push his dolly toward the van and load my client files into the back. He turned and gave me a little wave. Nice man, that Dane. Probably his parents raised him well.
I had dinner that night with Paula Kenyon-Vogt and her husband Sheldon. The two of them give me hope for the world, with their rosy cheeks and their easy manner with one another. I had culled out two bags of trash, standing at a make-shift worktable that my dear friend Kimberley Kellogg set up for me in her parking lot. I asked Paula if I could buy an extra trash sticker and put the bags on their curb. “Buy? What is this ‘buy’?” she replied. “Are we your friends or not? You can put your trash on our curb.” That might be the new gold standard for measuring friendship.
At dinner, we talked about the pandemic and Paula’s work as a home infusion nurse during this challenging era. Then, to my great delight, I learned all about fantasy football which unbeknownst to me, Sheldon has played for fifteen years. We talked about their daughters and my son; and their grandson who has turned out to be an incredibly smart, kind, young man. The glow of their love suffused itself around me. I left adrift in the calmness that the two of them exude.
In the morning, before heading to St. Louis, I met Genevieve Casey for breakfast at a snazzy new place in Westport. I can’t do justice to Genevieve. She’s fifteen or so years younger than I am, but if I could be Genevieve when I grow up, I would. She displays qualities that I admire from afar: Empathy; compassion; creativity; and kindness. Her beautiful soul shines in every photograph she takes, in the conversations that she holds with people, and in the work that she does as a counselor. She and Paula K-V have similar auras, I think; whatever color shimmers for the truly beautiful among us.
I said goodbye to Genevieve, to Kansas City, and to the remnants of the life that I began here in 1980. I interrupted that life to spend five years in Arkansas between 1987 and 1992, returning with a ten-month old. Now that baby has turned 30, owns a condo, and fights for workers’ rights in Chicago.
That young man, my sister Joyce, and my brother Frank hosted me at lunch on Saturday in St. Louis. They chose a vegetarian restaurant for me, because I mostly eat plant-based (with the exception of eggs, butter, and the occasional fish, because, I live near the ocean). Joyce orchestrated most of my four-day visit to the city of my birth and where I lived for most of my first twenty-five years. We had lunches, and dinners, and gooey butter cake. We drove to the cemetery where my parents and my little brother are buried. We cruised Cherokee Street and held a private boycott of a Greitens-supporter’s antique shop.
A new friend, Beth von Behren, met me for breakfast on my actual birthday. Our conversation seamlessly resumed where we had left off at our first meeting in California four months ago. Beth has known my brother Frank for three decades. She and I only connected this year, but I feel as though we’re kindred spirits. Both writers, women living alone, and “of a certain age” but not yet willing to assume a rocking chair and watch the world flow by our porches. I like her. She’s got spunk.
My son and my sister and I did the Central West End for lunch today. My old stomping grounds looked the same, and yet, I know they have changed. For one thing, the Puma no longer lives in a three-story house on Maryland. Joyce Kramer retired and decamped to Florida, where she lives in a high rise with 400 folks. Once in a while she calls me, her New York accent unabated from her many years in the Lou. Talk about spunk — she invented the stuff. St. Louis lost a good one when she moved south.
Most of the restaurants and stores in the CWE have new names and owners. We walked a block or two in search of an open place and finally got Thai food in a storefront that surely was something else on my last visit. Over noodles and curried soup, we talked about politics, pickling, and pets. Then we took Patrick to his Soulard AirBnB, and Joyce went home to St. Peters. Now I sit in the fading light in the basement apartment that I rented for my visit, surrounded by precious adornment hand-made in India: Ornate wall hangings, embroidered bedspreads, jewel-tone paintings, tassels, golden globes hanging in the corners.
In the morning, I will drag my suitcase out to the rental car and make my way to Lambert-St. Louis Airport. By and by, the plane will rise into the summer air. Missouri will fall away beneath me. I will head west, to the life that I began making for myself on the far edge of the country. I will close my eyes and say a silent prayer. I will leave the past behind me, in this flat Midwestern state. From time to time, I will return. But when people ask me, From where do you come, I will smile and tell them, California. I’m coming home.
It’s the sixth day of the ninety-third month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
Before I let you go: If you are on Facebook, please consider donating to my Birthday Fundraiser for Rose Brooks Center. You can find the link HERE. If you want to donate but do not wish to use Facebook Donation, you can give at their website HERE. Thank you for supporting this worthy cause. Now please, enjoy a few photos of my birthday trip, in the below-linked gallery.
This gallery might move slower than you expect. Please be patient. Hover over each photo to see my captions. Please enjoy.