Thursday, October 5, 2017

This very special trip to Missouri

The Bend Bridge over the Meramec River

Good grief and hallelujah, it was so great to get back to Missouri after an absence of two years. Two years! How did I let the summer of 2016 slip past without a quick trip to see the folks I love? This trip was all the sweeter for the absence, but mostly because this guy came with me:

We are posed here in front of the infamous "big red barn" on Old Bend Road just a few yards from the farmhouse where my mother lived for a while with her grandmother, Bertha Gifford. Showing my son the farmhouse where his grandmother lived, where some of her ashes are scattered, was one of the highlights of this trip for me. He said later, as we were driving away, that he felt "serene." This did not surprise me; it is the same feeling I've always had after spending time at the farmhouse. Others see it as the "House of Mystery" and some have claimed to have seen apparitions here. I've never felt any presence other than light and peace. We were fortunate that Tim Fiedler, owner of the farm with his sister, Joyce, was gracious enough to walk us through the old farmhouse... and I could show my son where his grandmother, eighty years ago or so, took the mule upstairs to her bedroom....

In the foreground here is Ginger Collins Justus, one of the most amazing people on the planet, and next to her is Marc Houseman, historian extraordinaire and also one of the most amazing people in my life. Ginger took this photo while I was demonstrating some very complex karate moves. 

Marc and Ginger are trusted companions while I'm in Missouri, introducing me to countless interesting places, adventures and food items:

Marc is in his favorite pose here--resting in peace--at a beautiful old mausoleum that we wandered through. This was after we'd had lunch "on The Hill" in St. Louis, an Italian community so strong I wondered why my cousins hadn't moved down from Illinois to live here:

The day before, they also introduced me to deep fried pickle chips. Yes, Missouri, good job!

More than menu choices, though, I was deeply grateful for their help with the two speaking engagements I did, hosted by the libraries in Pacific and Sullivan. Marc answered questions and helped with book sales, Ginger did the same--and took photos:

Folks turned out in large numbers to hear more about Bertha Gifford. To me, the most treasured person present was David Gail Schamel. His older half brothers, Elmer and Lloyd Schamel, died while under the care of my great-grandmother. Mr. Schamel always shows up when I speak in Pacific, and he is always incredibly gracious, sharing photos of his brothers and this time, a photo of his beautiful great-granddaughter. I always look forward to these events as they give me the opportunity to meet readers face to face, some of them, like Mr. Schamel, direct descendants of people who were living in Catawissa or Pacific in those same decades Bertha lived there. The night I spoke at "The White Chapel" in Sullivan (photo directly above), I also met young Emma. She asked a question during the Q & A portion ("Does anyone still live in Bertha's house?"), and after the event came up to give me the portrait she drew of me while I was speaking:

It's a pretty true likeness, don't you think?

It's probably clear why some of these Missouri folks have become true friends over the years. Their warmth, grace and acceptance encourages and inspires me, and makes me yearn every year, as spring folds into summer, to see them once again.

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