A brilliant sun punctuated the 27-degree morning as my family piled into a passenger van and motored into south St. Louis. The interior of the van was flooded with conversation punctuated by AM talk radio. Surrounded by my father, sister, brother and niece, I nestled into a “Day Tripp” dedicated to exploring St.Louis landmarks we always knew existed but never really “saw”. I also wanted to re-visit some areas where I lived but was too young to remember with full detail. The AM talk radio was eventually replaced with Son House as we entered the neighbohoods of south St. Louis, and the bottleneck blues served as a perfect soundtrack for what we viewed.
Watson Road @ Hampton Avenue
The first stop was the apartment building where I lived from the age of 16 months to three years. The two windows at the top right were kitchen windows, and the two left were bedroom ones, where Mom and I would sit on the bed and look down across the street at school children changing buses.
Eventually, we moved downstairs to the back of the same building. The porch and driveway have since been removed. I was nearly three by this time, and I remember looking down at my father pulling out of the driveway in his white-over-powder blue 1955 Pontiac 2-door hardtop. To the right of this picture was a car dealership–Hale Motors. He sold Willy’s Jeeps. Behind the dealership was their body shop, and mechanics worked in the garage with the windows open during the summer. I would walk down to the shop with a story book tucked uinder my arm, sit on top of a dirt pile where they could see me, and wait for them to come out to eat their lunches. They would then read my book to me. In those days, three-year-olds could wander around their yards and neighbors in the city without danger.
University City, adjacent to Washington University, is one of my favorite places to haunt. Fitz Rootbeer was a St. Louis tradition when I grew up, and this sign continues to stir memories.
Chuck Berry monument
Lunch today was at Blueberry Hill where Chuck Berry used to perform one Wednesday night a month until 2014. The place boasts the best burger in St. Louis, and we decided to enjoy lunch there and peruse all the memorabilia, including Chuck Berry’s Gibson hollow body guitar.
Berry used to own and operate The Southern Air restaurant in Wentzville, Missouri. Back in the 1980’s, I visited the establishment for lunch and saw him in the dining area, smoking a cigarette. I was taken at the sight of his magnificent hands, and am glad to see they’ve since been casted and installed at Blueberry Hill.
Once we returned home, we found Mom feeling better (she didn’t feel healthy enough for the day-long excursion). As we talked of our past and its memories, she expressed a willingness to jump back into my vehicle with me and visit the places I lived from ages three to five. They moved to Fenton, Missouri, west of St. Louis (and only seven miles from where they live now) when I was three, and settled on this street. Their apartment has long since been razed and replaced by the Fieser Nursing Home on the right side of this street. All the buildings across the street are the same as they were back then. On the nursing home site where our apartment stood was also the Fieser Funeral Home. They had a basement where they allowed Mom to hang laundry during the cold winter months. She was spooked by the old clothes of the deceased that hung all about the walls, and I was spooked by a large red furnace that made an incredibly loud noise when it kicked on. I thought it was something living that was going to eat me.
Mom and Dad now reside in High Ridge, in the home where I lived since it was brand new in 1961. But before we moved into that home, we would live in four other locations from my ages of three to six. This apartment was our home for a short time, and Mom’s only memory of me was my running all around the back yard pulling a red wagon with a toad loaded in it. Somehow I instinctively knew when the toad would leap out and I would immediately stop, retrieve it, and reload it to continue the fun ride. She also shared that when I got as far away from the apartment as possible I would stand with feet far apart, refusing to move until she would come all the way out there and carry me back to the house for a clean up. It had something to do with #2. It took me awhile to outgrow that. I’ll stop the story there.
We moved to another location in High Ridge shortly afterward. I have chosen not to visit or photograph it this time. All I will say now is that a mentally deranged woman owned the property and our time there was not good. My brother was born during our time there, and I was four years old. We then moved four miles west along Highway 30 to House Springs. The house where we lived is no longer there. Above, I photographed the rough terrain alongside Byrnes Mill Road where the house stood. I have dozens and dozens of stories to tell of my time there, because I was old enough to retain those memories and sensations. But that will have to come at another time. I feel I have rambled long enough on this one.
Thanks for reading. I’m still absorbing the memories of today’s visit, and more than two typed pages of material Mom and Dad shared with me as I questioned them this evening about those sketchy memories of my life between the time of 16 months and three years.