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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.

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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.

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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.

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