Discovering A Home Away From Home

Posted: July 3, 2011 in Love and Marriage
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I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around the idea that it was only two years ago that my wife and I first spent a weekend in St. Louis. Before moving to Missouri, my only impressions of that city were taken while passing through on the interstates during family trips across the country.  It always seemed like a place I would never want to go on purpose.

Once we started living in southwestern Missouri, people kept telling us how much they liked going there.  When they heard that my wife was Italian, they would always talk about something called “The Hill.”  It’s an Italian community in the middle of St. Louis, where most of the businesses are still family owned and operated.  Even though I didn’t believe that we would like St. Louis, we figured that at some point, we better go find out what the fuss was all about.

It was exactly two years ago, over a Fourth of July weekend that we booked a hotel for a couple of nights and set off.  We quickly discovered that the St. Louis of my negative perceptions from the back seat of my parents’ car, and the real city are two very different places.  We spent a great weekend discovering that there is so much to love about the city, that we couldn’t imagine why we’d never gone before.

First of all, there’s The Hill.  I can’t really describe it to you other than to say that when you’re there, it’s like you’ve left and gone somewhere else entirely.  It’s the place where people like Joe Garagiola and Yogi Berra grew up.  There’s a sense of community that you just don’t find anymore in the United States, and the people there hold to so many of the old traditions. In the bakeries and shops, you’ll sometimes see three or four generations of family running the place.  The pace is slower, and people take time to talk.

The food, of course, is wonderful.  You can choose everything from a casual deli, to a fancy, full-course formal restaurant.  There are bakeries, Italian groceries, and much of the pasta, sausage, and other foods are still made locally, by hand.

Nearby is Forest Park, which is about 500 acres larger than New York’s Central Park.  It is home to many attractions and is a beautiful place to spend time.  Downtown is the river, where there is no shortage of things to see and do.  There is culture, entertainment, atmosphere, and a world of diversity to see and experience.

That first time we went, I wasn’t sure if we would really grow to love it as much as we have, or if it was just infatuation with something new, but before we even left to come home, we were already making plans to go back.  We had visited the St. Louis Art Museum and the St. Louis Zoo, had a picnic in Forest Park, and done the tourist thing around the Arch.  We’d had one of the most memorable meals of our lives at Charlie Gitto’s on The Hill, and we were all but ready to pack up and move there.

Since that weekend two years ago, we have taken at least a day trip to St. Louis almost every month.  As educators, we only get paid once a month, so it’s usually the Saturday after payday that we go.  We always eat on The Hill, shop for authentic groceries and foods that we can’t get at home, and spend time in Forest Park.  We always look forward to our time there, and we’ve not only never gotten tired of it, we’ve grown to feel more and more that it is a type of second home to us.

Even while our marriage was deteriorating, we would still go, and for that short time, we were always “us” again, and there was hope.  That’s why it’s so difficult for me to grasp the thought that it was just two years ago that we first visited.  That would have been during the period of time following my failures as a husband, but nearly a year before we separated.  I suppose that in finding St. Louis, we found something new that was only ours.  We were writing a new chapter of our lives that could have changed our marriage for the better, without having to go through the sorrow that we ultimately did.

When it came time for the restoration tour, there were some things involving our beautiful city on the river that needed to be taken care of.  Of all the stops on the tour, there may not be any more significant than these.  I’ll share them in tomorrow’s post.

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