Passing through Creve Coeur




When I go home to Missouri, one of the first things I do is take the Creve Coeur exit for a Lion’s Choice “extra rare roast beef double cheese with hot sauce to go, no fries.”  The sandwich is worth it, but it’s a complicated stop.  You can find your way off the freeway and into the parking lot, but good luck getting out.  One bad turn and all those twisted, converging alleyways could take you just about anywhere you don’t want to go.  You have to know the way.

* * *

Not counting a quick emergency trip in November 2011, last week was my first time home in 5 years, and five years, it turns out, is long enough to lose your landmarks.  The day I picked up my brother’s kids for lunch, I realized I’d forgotten the exit for his house.  Was it before the Kohlfeld Distributing plant or after?  How far from I-55?  And even if I took the right exit, was it then a left or a right, gravel or paved?  What kind of sister forgets the road to her brother’s house?

* * *

Around the time my mother died, I was finishing up my undergraduate degree and taking French when I learned what creve coeur meant.  Who would name a town “broken heart?”

* * *

IMG_0439The day after leaving my brother’s house, I stopped at the churchyard to put yellow flowers on our mother’s grave.  After only a minute or so, I could not figure out where, exactly, I was supposed to stand.  Was I right on top of her?  I stepped back.  My mother hated to feel crowded.  I stepped back again, and then again, until my feet hit pavement.  I looked around.  Where was everybody?  Without really deciding to do it, I then found myself driving out Hwy 61 to my mother’s farm.  Her husband still lives there, it was his farm to start with, but he and I no longer talk and it’s been almost a decade since I’ve driven that far out 61.  The road was the same.  The farm was not.  My mother’s house that no longer looked like my mother’s house.  Her garden was grown over with tall grass and weeds; her lawn had not been mowed; the 3 giant pecan trees that used to line the left side of her driveway had disappeared; her porch swing was missing.

The windows were shut and white shades were drawn and even the white shed had four new white metal doors clamped tight into the ground.  The driveway — gravel when she lived here — had been paved over.  As sure as I was that her husband wasn’t home, I didn’t dare drive up.  I didn’t want to crowd him either.

* * *

Who would name a town “broken heart?”  Someone with a broken heart.

* * *

I parked in the middle of the road.  I stayed put, stayed in my car, and rolled down all the windows.  I snapped one photo.  Then two.  Tractor fuel, so familiar, blew on the breeze as I drove away, and for the first time I can remember in the 30 years I’ve been leaving Missouri, I headed back to the airport and kept driving right through Creve Coeur without needing my special sandwich and its complicated exit.


23 thoughts on “Passing through Creve Coeur

  1. girl in the hat

    Beautiful writing, Teri.
    I was just muddling over this idea the other day– I realize that I’ve lived many places, mostly in my 20’s, which I could not locate on a map. I have mental pictures of my bedrooms in these places, but not the houses or the streets themselves. I spent an hour on googleearth trying to jog my memory, but the details are completely gone. Maybe we only have room for the most important places. In any case, I am glad to know it’s not just me.

    1. Teri Carter

      Yes, even google maps can’t always help. I used to never get a map from the car rental counter — I’d say, “I don’t need a map, I lived here!” Now I take 2 maps, one for the car and one for my purse and I’m still lost.

  2. Averil Dean

    There is something indescribably awful about revisiting a place you once knew well. You feel you should still have your bearings—after all, the house hasn’t moved—but everything about the scene is disconcerting, as if you woke one morning to find all your rooms rearranged. Only you’re the intruder. Everyone else knows where things are; you only know where they were. It’s a lonely feeling.

    Your writing just kills me. I’ve read this three times, imagining you in your car.

    1. Teri Carter

      That is exactly it, Averil. Like waking up in your own house with all of the rooms and furniture out of place, an intruder — a cautious intruder at that — in your own space.

      Who would think you’d need a map and directions in a place so familiar you didn’t used to need street names to find your way? (These used to be my kind of directions: “Turn left at the old church and go down snake hill. It’s the house with the orange swing set. If you get to the Kwik Stop you’ve gone too far.”)

  3. Angie LaForest

    I remember seeing your Mom at the Kelso gym years before I knew you. I think it was a wedding. She was wearing a blue shawl and appeared to be very uneasy. I noticed she seemed very frail, but beautiful.
    So when you say she didn’t like to be crowded, that might explain why she looked like she wanted to be anywhere but there!
    I wanted to say hello to her, because nobody was sitting with her or talking to her, not even your step dad, but I was more timid in those days. I wish now I would have. I hate to see someone that looks alone in a crowd.

    1. Teri Carter

      Oh Angie, bless you for sharing that. My mother lived in Kelso for 25 years and never felt she belonged. It’s not the easiest place for an outsider, especially a self-conscious outsider and with that particular husband. Thank you for wanting to be kind to her.

  4. Angie LaForest

    You are right, outsiders are not welcome with open arms. My mom went through the same thing for many many years. I guess we understood how she felt, and Wade, well thats a whole story right there! I say no more!

  5. sherrystanfastanley

    So, beautiful, Teri-as always. Visiting your old home is probably the most bittersweet experience there is for anyone.

    When I was scouting out my town for houses a couple years, I spied a condo development right behind the cemetery where my father’s ashes are. It was a great neighborhood, and the only condos I had found that allowed real (not electronic) fences. Strangely, one of them went on the market right after I sold my house–the night before I planned to make an offer on another house.

    I discovered, after I moved in, that I can see the mausoleum where my dad’s ashes are right through the trees–it’s literally a two-minute walk past my backyard. I suppose some people may find that weird.

    But this weekend, I’m planning to go over for a little visit with my dad. I think I’ll take the dog. And have a cocktail in hand.

    1. Teri Carter

      And that was just meant to be. Your dad’s ashes so very close you can glance through the trees and say cheers, or walk your cocktail right over there and have a visit. I love this story.

  6. Josey

    gorgeous. you can feel it. such great writing.

    those moments of reflection are so important–sitting in your car looking at something that was once so familiar. it’s good to accept those windows we have and simply just be with them. i applaud you for driving past the cemetery and letting yourself that that in. it was a gutsy move. many would have entertained the thought than found something else more pressing they should be doing.

    the creve coeur/broken heart thing…i couldn’t come up with a better name for a town if i tried.

  7. jpon

    Your recent posts encouraged me to Google map some of the places I’ve lived. The street views are remarkable–there’s the house I grew up in; there’s the first house I bought. They are what I remember, and yet they are different from the pictures I’ve carried in my mind all these years. None of these places looks as welcoming as the home where I live now. Memory adapts to fit our present reality. It becomes a device by which we explain and justify ourselves.

    1. Teri Carter

      Oh my, “a device by which we explain and justify ourselves.” I once drove around town and took photos of all of the places we lived. Not one house looked like I remembered, and when I got the photos developed (back in the day when you had to have photos developed) the images of those homes seemed completely distanced and foreign.

  8. Paul Lamb

    Thomas Wolfe spoke to this same thing. Except for the Lion’s Choice sandwiches, which are divine.

    I moved away from STL nearly 30 years ago, and each time I go back I see things that have changed, almost as though what’s in my memory was never actually in the real world ever. I realize I don’t belong there, but that leaves me with figuring out where I do belong, and so far, no answers with that either.

    1. Teri Carter

      That is the original Lion’s Choice and I’ve, without fail, stopped there on my way in and out of town for 30 years, even if it’s not a mealtime. It’s one of those strange, comfort food markers. Add that I have rarely eaten a Lion’s Choice sandwich anywhere else and you’ll see how strange I really am.

      You don’t belong in your old town, and you don’t know where you do belong. I tend to envy people who have never moved out of the zip code they grew up in and have never needed a map to find the grocery store. I wonder what that kind of familiarity would feel like?

      1. Downith

        I tend to envy people who have never moved out of the zip code they grew up in and have never needed a map to find the grocery store. I wonder what that kind of familiarity would feel like?

        Here’s your sister, Teri.

  9. Downith

    When I went back to my old hometown to visit my father a few years back, he had ended up in a retirement home that was about a 3 minute walk from my school. I had gone through that intersection twice a day for years and nothing about it looked familiar. NOTHING. It made me so very sad.

    1. Teri

      I had that same feeling on this last trip home. The most familiar corners looked nothing like they used to. Nothing at all. As if you don’t feel lost enough already, right?

  10. Angie LaForest

    Yesterday I took my daughter Gracie to the home that her great great great grandpa built in Kelso and the only home I ever knew until I got married.
    It was strange walking through the rooms of my childhood. I was so pleased that they had preserved it as it had always been. With the exception of the addition of central air and a garage.
    I got to show my daughter the room where her grandpa and great grandpa were born in. No, Gracie they didnt go to the hospital in those days… lol
    My mind was flooded with so many happy memories. Christmas’s, birthdays, and just the everyday normal life of a farm kid.
    I could write a whole book about my old home place and its history. Yesterday was so special for Gracie and I. Its a day I will never forget.

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