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Thanks for the Memories, St. Louis!

Spring break and Jack’s work trips don’t always coincide, but when they do, we try to take advantage of the opportunity. This time, Jack had a conference in St. Louis, and we decided it would be fun to join him for a day trip to see a city that the older girls don’t remember visiting and most of our children had never been to at all, save for an occasional drive through on our way back to Nebraska.

For me, St. Louis is nostalgic. My dad grew up there, and we’d visited some of his family members when I was a kid, and stopped by the Gateway Arch, Grant’s Farm, and ate for the first time at Steak ‘n’ Shake. Though Jack and I only planned for a twenty-four-hour stay with our family, we made sure to make the most of our time there. 

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We timed our arrival precisely when Jack finished with his conference (give or take a few minutes for him to wrap up), and by then, all our stomachs were grumbling. After dropping off Jack’s rental, we stopped at a local ramen restaurant to fuel up. Though I still enjoy the occasional package of cheap, dried ramen, Jack has gotten the rest of us into the authentic stuff, with seaweed and marinated eggs. The kids gobbled it up with pleasure. The next phase of our evening was checking into our Airbnb to drop off our luggage and go do some more sightseeing.

Turns out, the Airbnb company (which has several units in the area) told another family the wrong address, so when we showed up, there was already a set of luggage in the living room. Awkward. We drug our stuff back to the van and went to get floats at Fitz’s while the company sorted it out.
Fitz’s is in a college-y part of town, and the nightlife was thriving, so there was a bit of a wait for us–honestly, with a party of nine, there’s always a wait. No big deal. We visited a nearby Chuck Berry’s statue and listened to him play Johnny B. Goode. Across the street, we strode past Blueberry Hill, where Chuck played over a hundred concerts. Once we were called back to be seated, we ordered a hodgepodge sampling of Fitz’s delicious floats, which were so generous we couldn’t possibly finish them, even though everyone had buddied up to share. Sugared up and up past our bedtimes, and finally figuring out a solution to our Airbnb dilemma, we could go crash and get a decent night’s rest.

One of the nice things for us is when traveling west, we’re close enough to the time change that we “gain” an hour, which means we can sleep in and still be early enough to stuff that we’re first in line. The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is probably the most iconic structure there, and was number one on our to-do list. Google Maps took us on a slightly ghetto route to get there, but seeing some of the less fortunate side of St. Louis is also part of the experience of seeing the city. Plus, it led us to free parking by the Mississippi river, so, win.

We ran around the park for a while, but knew we were on a tight timeline if we were going to see everything. We went in, bought tickets, experienced airport-level security for the first time (the kids thought it was fun emptying their pockets and walking through a metal detector), and were on our cramped little tubes and up to the top in no time.

I remember the feeling of anxiety when reaching the top as a kid, and felt it in a small measure again as an adult. The peak is 630 feet in the air and sways in the wind, for crying out loud! Not exactly a comforting feeling. I did appreciate that our stay was limited to ten minutes at the top in order to accommodate the number of guests the arch allowed. We got off, looked over the city, got back on the capsules, and spent another half hour perusing the museum and souvenir shop.

In the same downtown area, we also drove past the old courthouse, which is a beautiful building with a fascinating history. Not only is it one of the few original remaining buildings from the original St. Louis downtown due to age, fire, and city restructuring, it’s the sight of some iconic court cases, one being the Dred Scott case. Evelyn had recently discussed Dred Scott at school, and gave us the abbreviated version of his case, in which, over the course of a decade, he, his wife, and daughters, sued his owner for their freedom. Unfortunately, they lost.

Claire almost always laughs hysterically when posing for a photo.

The entire morning was well spent at the arch, and by the time we left, we were all famished. Whenever we visit a new place, we try to find restaurants and foods that are unique to the area–if there’s one thing I detest, it’s going to a chain restaurant when I want to experience local cuisine. Crown Candy Kitchen has been a part of St. Louis since the early 1900s and though it was guaranteed to have a wait, we went for it.

The weather was gorgeous, there were benches, the manager knew how to get people in and out quickly, and outside, there was a quirky man playing homemade steel drums when we showed up. Plus, we were guaranteed milkshakes, malts, and giant BLT’s if we were patient.

It was touch and go for a few minutes, fighting over ridiculous things like who got to sit on top of the cake statue or why I wouldn’t allow them to play on the curb of a busy street, but we were eventually seated. The quaint little diner was excellently maintained, and the staff knew their stuff. Since we couldn’t all fit in a booth, we split up but still sat close enough that we could swap food and try each other’s desserts. That’s one of the occasions where everyone is generous because there’s more than enough to go around..
All fueled up, we next headed to the Science Center. It’s a free spot and right next to the zoo (also free!) and is another place I remember going as a kid. It’s interesting how a place I haven’t been to in about thirty years still dredges up memories.
Peter didn’t appreciate being offered as sacrifice to the animatronic T-Rex.
The building was busy, but we found pockets of unoccupied spaces to explore. The center is devoted to all things scientific, from archeology to energy sources to space to mineral collections. It’s the kind of place we could spend an entire day at, and admittedly, some of them didn’t want to leave, but we had one more adventure before making the trek home.
Henry explaining how he figured out how to use a microscope.

If you’ve never heard of The City Museum in St. Louis, you might want to look it up. I had more vague, happy memories about visiting it during my childhood visit, and driving up to it inspired a renewed sense of aw. There’s a bus hanging off the roof, for starters.

I don’t think there was one highlight of the trip, but I have to say, The City Museum was a heckuva lot of fun. Other than sliding down a whale’s throat, I don’t have a lot of memories at The City Museum, but I know that the building has changed a lot in the last thirty years.

Jack’s and Evelyn’s faces say it all.
I don’t remember The City Museum being quite so chaotic, but it was an incredible, twisty, imaginative maze, and at the entrance, it bluntly says, “NO MAPS.” In a traditional sense, it’s not like any museum I’ve ever been to. It has some really cool bits of architecture saved from other buildings that have since been demolished, but otherwise, it’s more of an art museum. There are endless metal slides, tubes, stairways, and bridges that lead to any number of places.

If Wonderland were a real place, it’d probably be as confusing as The City Museum. If dreams were a reality, they’d probably be similar to The City Museum. As quirky and odd and overstimulating as the place was, it was also amazing. It’s meant to inspire adventure and wonder, and since any parent with any desire to preserve their children would feel a sense of apprehension, parents are encouraged to follow their children down the rabbit hole.

As a family, we shimmied through underground tunnels, treehouses, castles, whale’s belly’s and down ten-story high slides. Once, we found ourselves in a dark, slightly dank tunnel, and Kate was convinced we’d accidentally found ourselves in the underbelly of St. Louis. When we poked out at the other end of our harrowing journey, we found a tank of Doctor Fish to nibble our cuticles. See? Weird.

I’m not entirely certain how long we were there, but I think we easily could have spent days exploring there. We might have lost our grip on reality, but it would have been fun, haha!

Like all good things, our time in Indiana had to come to an end. The farm requires special accommodations to leave it longer than a day, and we were already imposing on the kindness of friends to watch the dogs. Reluctantly, but also with tired feet and sleepy children who had stayed up late the night before and missed their naps, we said goodbye to St. Louis.

The drive home was fairly uneventful. We were aware of potentially severe weather at home, but other than the distant flash of lightning and occasional gust of wind, we didn’t have any trouble on our drive.

When we hit Indiana, the rain started, but it wasn’t until about ten minutes from home that we were surprised by a tornado warning–somewhere nearby, a tornado was on the ground. As a Nebraskan, I have a healthy respect for tornados. I drove aggressively through the tangle winding of back roads to our house–I was not about to get caught in a tornado in a van with my entire family–while Jack had his head out the window, listening and watching for any sign of a tornado. With the help of prayers, we could make it home, and hurry inside with no incident. We all slept downstairs, and other than the power going out, a few bad dreams and periods of heavy rain, it was restful.

That would be why we didn’t have power…

The next morning, we still didn’t have power, so we ate cold cereal, got dressed, and ran errands together up north where they had power. We ate out for lunch and did some sightseeing away from the worst of the storm while on the way home. The damage could have been worse if the trees had leafed out, but most of what we saw was limited to juniper, cedar, and pine trees, and lots and lots of power lines. It was sobering and humbling to see the destruction so close to home and we were reminded again of the blessing it was to arrive safely.

Adam represents how we all felt after that twenty-four hours.
It was (literally) a whirlwind twenty-four hours for us, and chalked so full of memories, that we are still processing it. The good, bad, and scary solidified us even more as a family, and is a reminder how blessed we are for the life we’ve built.
Thanks for the memories, St. Louis! It was wild!
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