On Monday, I sprang an impending trip to St. Louis on my friend Joyce Kramer. My son and I loitered on her steps less than forty-eight hours later. We had lunched at O’Connell’s Pub and dawdled at the Coffee Cartel. I had scored a $3 copy of the third K.O. Dahl book at the Big Sleep. We had selected her hostess gift piece by piece at Karl Bissinger’s. The moment had arrived.
Without much fanfare, Joyce settled us around her dining table and opened the chocolates. I glanced around at the home where we have stayed so many times on prior St. Louis visits, at plant sitting in a pot shaped like a head complete with face, the Pierrot sitting on a window sill gazing down at a pig-shaped watering can, the towering image of a graceful woman, the pressed metal palm tree, the sheaf of pussy willows. Each piece seems odd contemplated alone; as a collection, the decor precisely suits the dwelling’s owner. I am oddly comforted by the crazy familiarity of the place. The pots still hang from an ornate wrought-iron rack; the glitter of the kitchen tile still startles me; the stainless steel appliances gleam as brightly. Joyce herself seems only to become more vibrant as time erodes the rest of us with its unforgiving ravages.
Last evening, we talked of changes in her life and changes in mine. Patrick told her a little about his graduate program but he mostly listened to her philosophies, her adventures, and her New York memories. We chose a restaurant, loaded ourselves into her Prius, and scored a parking space close to our destination. I don’t know how the hours retreated without notice; but much later, we made our way home through a sudden rain satisfied, amused, entertained, well-fed.
At five o’clock this morning, I surrendered to sleeplessness and scrolled my way through stale messages and a few more pages of a book on Kindle. And now I am drinking coffee that Joyce staged for me before I fell asleep. I had only to push two buttons and the beans succumbed to the machine’s internal grinder, then nestled in the basket beneath the shower of water that turned them to this delightful beverage.
Here in the Central West End, another of my angels dwells. She has known my son for more than a decade; she has welcomed us every time we presented ourselves, regardless of how little warning, notwithstanding her own constraints. She waxes wise; she showers us with her broad New England laugh; she tells stories that feature the neck sizes of famous people from her prior life as a clothing designer. I never tire of The Puma (as she is known). I feel comforted among her angels, and serene standing in her shadow.