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Posts Tagged ‘Missouri’

I won’t do a reading/watching/listening digest today – how about a trip digest instead?Or perhaps a museum digest, for that is what this amounts to, I think.

This past weekend, we headed up Kansas City way for my older son to take a second look img_20181006_140933at Benedictine. We attended a Raven Day last fall when he was a junior, but now as a senior, he’s been accepted there for next year (as well as three other schools) and we thought it would be good for him to experience it as a seriously potential student – spend the night in a dorm, and so on.

I was originally going to drive up, as we did last year, but then I thought…why? It’s a solid 11-hour drive from here, which is comparable to what I used to do when my daughter attended William and Mary, and I didn’t mind doing it last fall – we saw Sights along the way and back , but for this three day weekend, I decided…nope. We’re flying.

(I lived in Lawrence for five years of my childhood – so this was a familiar sight.)

So, in and out of Birmingham with pretty reasonable fares. We left early Saturday morning, arrived in Kansas City about 1, rented a car and made our way down to, first, the College Basketball Experience for people to stretch their legs, then to a barbecue place for people to watch the Gators, and then to our hotel down in the Country Club district, which is this quite lovely early 20th century faux Spanish/Italianate shopping area. I’d booked this hotel, envisioning an evening of wandering around, but rain interfered with that plan – so there was some walking, but not much and it was wet.

(Note: the College Basketball experience is not worth the money. I guess if you are local and are having a birthday party, it might be, but not for a visitor – there just wasn’t enough to do.)

Sunday morning, youngest son and I went to Mass at the closest church (older son would be going with students in the evening), which just happened to be an FSSP parish. It was very interesting – a small church and packed for the 9 am low Mass (one of three Sunday Masses celebrated there) We didn’t hang around, but the people we encountered were friendly and welcoming and, yes, normal, in case you’re wondering. A majority of the women wore veils, but when I say “majority” I mean over half – by no means all. But veils are becoming an increasingly common sight at my own Cathedral parish, so that’s no big deal to our eyes at this point. Since it was low Mass, there was no music, of course. The church is beautiful and charming, but wow, it’s small and they could definitely use a larger facility.

img_20181007_123746Next stop, after checking out of the hotel, was at Winstead’s Steakburgers for a solid breakfast, then right up the road to the absolutely wonderful Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. What a treasure – with free admission, to boot. (Parking in the garage costs $10….)

I was very impressed with the collection, and we probably only took in a third of it (I’m thinking we’ll be back in the area regularly over the next five years, so…no pressure). I’ve put images of some of my favorites below with a bit of commentary.  You should be able to click on every image and get a larger one.

I didn’t know this about Rouault – that he had been apprenticed as a stained glass artist. You can see it.

I was moved by the descriptive note on this Manet. It prompted me to consider, once more, all the poor excuses I make….

On the far left, the work of a local artist, Wilbur Niewald, whose work I loved. It’s interesting that his work has become more representational over the decades – this is an early work called Facade I.  On the right is a fabulous lectern support – description in the middle. The fellow is struggle with the serpent, bracing himself, his clunky feet pointed inward.

On the far left, with note next to it, is an aquamanile – a water vessel used for ceremonial purposes, either secular or religious. Then a gorgeous terra cotta Madonna and Child (and others) from Tuscany. I didn’t take a photo of it, but the explanatory note was very good, explaining the symbolism of the various fruits on the border and even the frogs that are scattered in the group (a symbol of resurrection). On the far right, a small Bosch that was part of an exhibit about the layers in paintings. 

A wonderful and pretty large Asian collection. Enlarge that top left photo and see why I found it so enchanting – it flows with gentle, steady energy, and the figure embodies quiet joy. To the right up there is detail of a Jain chapel, then we have an amazingly thin jade disc with dragons and a wild Chinese funerary figure.

Also from China was the amazing statue I highlighted yesterday – from the 6th century: “Central Asian Caravan Woman Rousing her Camel While Nursing.” The best.

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Finally, these two John Singer Sargents – the top one, at least, is a study – not sure about the bottom. Both are completely absorbing.

All right then…

Then to the excellent and quite interesting museum dedicated to what’s been salvaged from the sunken Arabia steamboat. From the museum’s website:

The Arabia Steamboat Museum is a unique Kansas City attraction: a time capsule of life on the American frontier in the mid-nineteenth century.  It is not your typical museum.  Visitors have the one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience the everyday objects that made life possible for pioneers in the 1800s.  It is the largest single collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the world.

The Steamboat Arabia was one of many casualties of the perilous Missouri River.  The Mighty Missouri, as it was often called, is the longest river in the United States and has claimed nearly 400 other steamboats over its 2,500 mile course.  In September 1856, the Arabia was carrying over 200 tons of cargo intended for general stores and homes in 16 mid-western frontier towns.  The steamer was still fully loaded when it hit a tree snag and sank just 6 miles west of Kansas City.  Due to erosion, the Missouri River changed course over time, and the Arabia was buried underground for over a century – along with all of its precious cargo. Lying 45-feet deep beneath a Kansas cornfield, the Arabia’s payload was protected from light and oxygen and was thus remarkably well preserved.

Using a metal detector and old maps to guide the search, an amateur archaeologist began the search for the lost steamer.   Located a half-mile from the present river’s course, 5 men and their families would begin the adventure of a lifetime … recovering the Steamboat Arabia.  What they found will astound you.

Being a private museum, it’s not free, but it’s worth every penny of admission. Begin with the tour – it’s very helpful and engaging to have a human being set the event and objects in context. It’s just amazing to be able to walk amid this array of quite ordinary objects, clean and looking as if they could be put to use right now.

(By the way, no human beings died in the accident. The only life lost was a mule.)

We then made our way up to Atchison, with a stop to watch some Vikings football and eat. Once in Atchison, I dropped my older son off on campus, and my younger son and I were able to visit with one of my former students, from ages past, who happens to be married to a Benedictine faculty member – delightful.

Since I’d been to the event last year, I didn’t feel the need to go through it again, so after checking in with the older one on Monday morning, younger son and I headed up to St. Joseph, Missouri. We might have done some nature in one of the local state parks, but it had been raining so much over the past two days and still looked a little threatening, so I thought – I really img_20181008_115443don’t want to tramp around in the mud and wet leaves and perhaps get rained on again – so St. Joseph it was.

What a delightful surprise. A surprise, but not surprising, because every time I travel, even five miles from home, I encounter something new to me, some corner of human life that’s intriguing, a chance to learn about more ways in which human beings do things differently – and are so deeply the same.

This time it was the Patee House Museum – a HUGE local history museum in building originally constructed as a hotel, but over the years used as a women’s college (three different times), headquarters for the Pony Express, the Union Army and, for most of the 20th century, a shirt factory.

It’s now filled – and I mean filled with artifacts from St. Joseph’s history. Much of the downstairs has been divided and fashioned to be like period shops and businesses, other rooms (the ballroom, bathroom, ladies’ parlor and so one) furnished to look as they would have in the hotel’s heyday. There’s a train engine in the former courtyard. Exhibits cover topics like the Pony Express (headquartered here during its short history) and the Buffalo Soldiers. There’s a carousel. And cars. And Walter Cronkite’s father’s dental office equipment. And a piece of rope from the horrible final lynching that happened in the town – in 1933. And just… a lot of stuff.

Well worth the $6 admission.

Next to the Pattee House is the house where Jesse James lived and was shot by the Ford brothers. It’s been moved here from its original location, but it’s also filled with interesting memorabilia from the period and from the exhumation and DNA confirmation that the body was actually Jesse James’. Made me want to read Ron Hansen’s book, which I never have.

Then it was time to head back to Atchison, where we stopped by the river – in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, who rested there on July 4, 1804 and, as the placard said, “ate some corn.”  The head of the music department had kindly responded to my query about M having some practice time, and so we headed up the hill, found the department and he spent an hour getting to play on a nice Steinway baby grand  – very much appreciated!

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Over the next few weeks and months, we will be hearing much about Shusaku Endo’s great novel Silence, and, of course, of Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation, which was screened this week in Rome.

This is a novel that is very easy to misunderstand, and I am very interested to see what Scorsese does with it. By saying “easy to misunderstand,” I am not suggesting that there is only one way to “understand” or interpret the novel, though. Not at all. I do think that Silence Endothere are unquestionable misinterpretations, however, and most of them come out of a lack of awareness of the Japanese, particular Catholic, as well as personal context  out of which Endo was writing.

In other words, you can’t fruitfully read Silence if your only frame of reference are 2016 culture wars and ecclesiastical and theological divisions. Silence is not about that. So forget it.

So yes, I’ll be writing more about it in the coming weeks – this very short piece I wrote years ago for Ligouri still stands up. As I say in the beginning, it was so short because that was the mandate from the magazine – write 540 words….oy.

Anyway, what I am working on is a study guide for the novel. I am doing this just for myself and anyone else who is interested, and I’ll make it available as soon as I finish it – hopefully next week. It will be amended once I see the film, but I did want to put something out there sooner than that. I’m sure that many parishes and other groups will be using Silence as a group study focus over the coming months, so I just wanted to join the fray and put what I hope will be a helpful resource out there. It will just be a free download – no signing up for mailing lists required!

Anyway, this is accidentally pertinent. In doing all that reading for women and the Reformation, I came across this really interesting article in a book on early modern women and religion. 

“Women Apostles in Early Modern Japan, 1549-1650” by Columbia Theological Seminary historian Haruko Nawata Ward tells stories that we don’t usually hear, as our focus on Japan during this period is, naturally enough on martyrdom. You can probably access much of the article by searching Google Books – since you probably don’t want to pay $150 for a copy..

Anyway, Ward uses documents from missionaries to tell the stories:

Working in the difficult environment of Japan, and always understaffed, the missionaries relied heavily upon laity in the work of evangelization. They quickly recognized women’s contributions and the importance of collaborating with women in their shared apostolic mission. …

…The best known of these was Naito Julia, a former abbess of a Buddhist nunnery, who was inspired by Jesuit missionaries and established a society of Christian women catechists called the Miyaco no bicuni (Nuns of Miyako). Women catechists’ success in converting people is well documented by the Jesuits; however, because of their success the government banished the Miyaco no bicuni from Japan in 1614. The Jesuits continued to record the history of these women, who became contemplatives, during their exile in the Philippines until 1656.  ….Women catechists of Julia’s society took the three vows of virginity, poverty and obedience under the supervision of two Jesuits. Following the Jesuit model, these women were active evangelists, preachers, teachers catechizers, baptizers, pastoral leaders, and religious debaters. 

The details of the community’s life were recorded by Jesuit Juan de Salazar after the group had been exiled to the Philippines. He felt it was important to preserve their history.

Usually she taught non-Christians Christian doctrine, catechizing them so that they would be converted to our holy faith and be baptized, and at the same time, she attended to the teaching of Christians, instructing them so that they would be ready to confess and receive the holy sacrament. And she was so busy with these holy ministries that regardless of her deep desire to retreat so as to make the [spiritual] exercises of our father Saint Ignatius, she was seldom able to obtain them from the fathers of our Society because they were continuously sending her to evangelize in various kingdoms, cities and private houses where our own could not go. 

Moreover, the Jesuits granted Julia full authority to baptize on their behalf. Salazar explains that Japanese noblewomen of the highest rank would not speak with men, not even Buddhist clergy. Julia opened the door for the conversion of these women: not only was she a noblewoman of royal blood which allowed her access to other noblewomen, but she was also gifted with intelligence, prudence, and versatile knowledge of Buddhist doctrine and was thus able to differentiate “false” Buddhist teachings from the “true” teachings of the Catholic faith. Julia was apparently very successful at this task: “Convinced by the reasoning of Lady Julia, many ladies of Japan with their daughters and families accepted our holy faith and received baptism by her hand because we [the Jesuits] were not able to administer it. 

Incidentally, traditional barriers between the sexes throughout Asia were a major reason that Protestant denominations began sending women as missionaries to the continent during their great missionary century, the 19th.

This cultural reality also sheds light on the purpose of female “deacons” in the early Christian church. There is certainly ambiguity about this role as it was lived out in the Church, but what is consistent is that it was not at all the sacerdotal diaconate related to the presbyterate and episcopacy, and existed so that women could be ministered to in certain ways in a culture in which the taboos against male and female interaction outside the family were strong.

In 1613, Julia and her companions were arrested, publicly humiliated (stripped naked in public) and tortured. They would not renounce their faith, so the shogunate expelled them from Japan. They arrived in Manila in 1615, and lived there, in a different way of life: enclosed now, rather than active, but dedicated to prayerful support of the Jesuit missions.

The Society saw to it that the women received adequate donations to sustain themselves, noting that they ‘only cared about the greater glory of God and obtaining the greatest happy progress for the Province and our Society of Jesus, whom they, like a sweetest mother, keep i the most intimate part of their hearts.’ 

She tells the story of many more, some martyrs and some beatified and canonized. As I said, I read this article in an anthology, but Ward has a book on the subject Women Religious Leaders in Japan’s Christian Century, 1549-1650.   

As I keep saying in my very boring way…if you want to stay sane in the Crazy Present Moment…read history. It helps. It really does. 

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You might know Elizabeth Duffy  – writer, long-time blogger whose writings are now featured, not only on her own website, but at Image. 

Well, she’s got a new gig – along with two other women, she is making music as Sister Sinjin. They have an Advent/Christmas-themed album about to be released, and the music is lovely. Check them out here.

— 2 —

Some politics. Last week, I wrote about the election, encouraging readers to reacquaint themselves with the the ideals of separation of powers and limited government and consider what a good idea that is. A couple of related articles. First, from Reason (trigger: Libertarian)

In December 2007 presidential candidate Barack Obama told The Boston Globe that if he won the 2008 election, he would enter the White House committed to rolling back the sort of overreaching executive power that had characterized the presidency of George W. Bush. “The President is not above the law,” Obama insisted.

Once elected, however, President Obama began to sing a different sort of tune. “We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation,” Obama announced. “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone…and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions.”…

…..Perhaps you can see where I’m going with this. Once President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office in January 2017, he too will have a pen and a phone at his presidential fingertips. Should Trump grow weary of the constitutional limits placed upon him, and decide instead to ignore the Constitution and wield unilateral executive power, he won’t exactly have far to look if he wants to find a recent presidential role model to emulate.

— 3—

And this one – yes. I associate myself very strongly with this, by Michael Brennan Doughterty, in The Week – “How America’s Elections are Ruining America.” 

The presidential election increases our sense that all issues are national issues. Even people who say they are addicted to politics often have no idea what is happening in their state or county government.

Ask the 10 people around you at work about Donald Trump’s conversation with Billy Bush. All 10 will have an opinion.

Now ask those same 10 people who represents their district in their state’s lower chamber. You’d be lucky if a single one knows the name.

How in the world is a political system in which power is devolved to states through federalism supposed to work in an information environment like this?

One cause for the gigantism of our presidential election is the gigantism of the executive branch. The federal government employs more than 2 million people in the process of governing us. Our next president has to hire thousands of people just to take full possession of the office. Of course it is immensely powerful. And one problem for reforming the presidential election to make it tighter and shorter is that there is hardly anyone in the political class that stands to gain from doing so. The longer the campaign, the longer people get paid to work for it, or report on it. It’s easier to be seen and be hired for a nice job in journalism from the lowly position rewriting press releases about a presidential campaign than from your beat uncovering graft for a weekly newspaper in Wyoming.

But make no mistake: This system of long elections makes us more anxious, weakens bonds of civic trust and peace, debases the value of our citizenship, and corrupts journalism and our culture. And we’re going to start it all again before you recover from this one.

— 4 —

Today is the memorial of St. Rose-Philippine Duchesne. I really, really thought I had written about her…somewhere. In a book? Here? But apparently not. I must have researched her when I was teaching. Anyway, here’s her story from the Vatican website and here is a link to her shrine in St. Charles, Missouri, a fact which infuriates me because it shows how what I thought were Mad Travel Planning Skillz failed – we were in St. Charles a few years ago, and I had no idea this shrine was there. Grrr. I was so fixated on Lewis and Clark, I didn’t even look into the Catholic history…fail. 

A 70-day voyage across the Atlantic brought the five nuns to New Orleans, where they rested briefly with the Ursulines before resuming their travels in a paddlewheel steamer up the Mississippi to St. Louis.

The Bishop knew that they were coming but had no house in the city to accommodate the five nuns. A log cabin in St. Charles became the site of the first free school west of the Mississippi. That first year saw three little St. Louis girls come as boarders and 21 non-paying day students who came when they could during that long, bitter winter. The following summer the Bishop took the Religious of the Sacred Heart to Florissant, a village on the other side of the Missouri River, where they conducted their school and Mother Duchesne established her novitiate for the Society.

In 1828 the Jesuits built a parish church on the former (and present) school property and asked the Sacred Heart nuns to return to St. Charles—to that same log cabin which was known as the “Duquette Mansion” because it was the biggest house in town—and conduct the parish school. They did so and finally, in 1835, built their first brick building, which remains the center of the Academy of the Sacred Heart’s sprawling complex.

Mother Duchesne established other schools in Louisiana and Missouri. She was finally allowed to travel to Kansas at the age of 72 and made a very frustrating attempt at teaching the Indians. The Pottawatomi language proved even harder for her than English had been and so her superiors decided, after one year, that she should return to a more comfortable life in St. Charles. The lesson that she had taught the native Americans was a valuable one; the Indians called her Quakahkanumad (woman who prays always) and revered her for her deep devotion to “the Great Spirit

— 5 —.

In case you missed it, one of this week’s Living Faith devotionals was mine – November 16. 

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Peace-of-mind suggestion: Every time you are tempted to fight about politics with someone on Facebook or Twitter…read a poem instead. 

Or the Bible.

Or this week’s grocery ads.

Anything  but that. Not the interest in politics (I’m obsessed, myself), but the arguing on social media about it. Nothing will come of it but ill-informed preening and virtue-signaling, and your time is better spent on …anything else.

— 7 —

Advent begins in a week!  The first Sunday of Advent is November 27.

 Here is the devotional I wrote for Liguori this year. It is perhaps too late to order them in bulk for your parish, but you can certainly order an individual copy – here (Amazon). 

Link to (Liguori site) English version.

daybreaks

Link to (Amazon site) Spanish version.

2016 Advent Devotional

Link to excerpts from Spanish version.

And an endorsement from Deacon Greg Kandra!

“This ravishing collection brings Advent and Christmas, literally, home. In brief essays that are by turns inspiring, surprising, and unexpectedly moving, Amy Welborn helps us see the coming of the Christ child in things we take for granted. This captivating little book is one to read, treasure, share, give—and read again!

But…do you want something…right now? Okay, how about this:

Here’s a digital version of the family Advent devotional I wrote for Creative Communications for the Parish. Only .99!

And don’t forget…Bambinelli Sunday. 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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That trip is done – we returned home about 6 this evening, relieved to see that Rocky was still with us.

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No, he wasn’t left loose while we were gone. He’s just chillaxin in his freedom.

(When you watch videos related to “my snake won’t eat” as I have been doing lately, you see how many snake owners keep their ball pythons in nothing more than Sterilite plastic drawers with torn up National Enquirers for bedding, so you think, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t worry…”  But you still do.  Because he’s growing on you and you have NO BLOODY IDEA what you’re doing.)

(Speaking of snakes, my exercise podcast this evening was almost a parody of BBC earnestness, which is like NPR earnestness but far more charming and far less pompous.  It involved a woman accompanying a herpetologist who was going to show her adders that live in Scotland.  So they tramp about the moors or what have you looking for the adders – which he knows are here because this is where they live – but without seeing them.  It’s fifteen minutes of two Brits, in hushed tones, breathlessly talking about how lovely the adders will be when they finally come out.  It was, indeed….breathtaking. But perhaps not in the way they intended…)

(Yes, they finally saw an adder, but the buildup was something else.)

— 2 —

We last left the merry party in St. Louis.  The next day found them till in St. Louis, at the City Museum:

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For those of you who don’t know about it, the City Museum is an extravagant, lush, stimulating play space that encourages exploration and daring.  The place is full of tunnels and mazes, and chances to (safely) climb to great heights.

If you are within five hours of this place…it’s totally worth it.  Your kids will thank you, love you and be super grateful.  For five minutes before they resent you again.

I knew we would spend a good deal of time there on Tuesday….I didn’t anticipate it being all day – from just past opening to almost closing time.

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Yes, you can climb in the planes.

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Very Gaudi-esque, I thought.

 

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Even the aquarium is quirky.

— 3 —

After we left the City Museum, we stopped at the St. Louis Science Center, just blocks from our hotel, and advertised as free.  We’ll go for free, especially if we just have an hour to kill before that closes.

Well…yes…free admission…but with a $15 parking fee.

Oh, well.  We’re on vacation.   We took it in anyway, and at that point, an hour was just about right. As far as those damn places go, it seemed okay.   They played around with some structures, but what amazed me was the fact that they spent probably 20 minutes on math puzzles.  I mean, they’re both sort of mathy – but I didn’t think they were that mathy.

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Finally.

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— 4 —

The next day, we hit the zoo, also “free.” Yes…”free” because of yet another $15 parking fee. (You could park on the road in Forest Park of course…but then you’d have to walk a mile by the time we got there…..). The St. Louis Zoo also has several attractions that cost money – a stingray petting tank, the children’s zoo…so “free” goes out the window pretty quickly.   (We didn’t do any of that stuff, anyway.)

It was a good zoo, albeit with a confusing layout.  The highlights for us were hippos, one o which slipped in the water and spent several minutes masticating a fish, without much success, as well as the reptiles.  Of course.

(I learned that Marlin Perkins – he of MUTUAL OF OMAHA’S WILD KINGDOM! fame had been director of herpetology at the zoo back in the ’20’s.  They had a huge python that refused to eat, so they had to force feed it, and they did so publicly, drawing thousands to the spectacles.  

That story gave me an odd sort of hope for our Rocky, who has yet to eat for us….)

The Herp building was old, classic and gorgeous.

9-year old Michael, the animal lover in our group, did remark on the way to the zoo, though, “You know…now don’t think I don’t want to go because I’m saying this, but sometimes..well, sometimes I feel sorry for the animals in the zoo.  They say it’s good for them because it saves endangered species, but I don’t know…I still feel bad for them.”

And who can disagree?

— 5 —

In my preplanning, I’d thought we would hit the art museum after the zoo.  But then I looked at the museum’s holdings and thought…I don’t know if it would be worth it at that particularly juncture in time with this party.  So then I thought we’d do the history museum, partly so we could visit the exhibit on the 1904 fair and by doing so, do some sort of homage to our own Vulcan.   

But the zoo took longer than I’d expected, we were all a little weary and were going to be moving on to Memphis afterwards, so I made an executive decision that we needed a different sort of space before we hit the road again, and so we went to the Basilica instead:

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— 6 —

Now, some of us have done one or all of these St. Louis sites before.  We went to St. Louis about 9 years ago – both boys were born, I know – and we went to the City Museum then, but Joseph, who would have been 4, didn’t remember any of it.

The time before that, as I mentioned in my last post, occurred when Joseph was a tiny baby and I was speaking at the St. Louis Eucharistic Congress.  The three of us were touring the Basilica, and as we reached the area behind the altar, we encountered a Cardinal.  I don’t remember who it was, but he was European, and must have been there for the Congress.  I think it must have been Schotte.   And so there we were, Mike and me with our two-month old, and the Cardinal stopped, said hello, and blessed the baby.

Yesterday, I walked behind that altar again, Joseph, now 13 at my side, and another Michael. I paused and told Joseph the story, and felt a slight twinge, but not a terrible one. Mostly I felt gratitude and hope, because if I didn’t, what was the point of being there?

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— 7 —

Our meals improved during those last two days, thank goodness:

Lunch on Tuesday at Rosalita’s Cantina down the street from the City Museum was good, higher end Tex-Mex.  There was a statue as well as an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the wall at the front door, with a big plastic box affixed, inviting donations to St. Cecilia parish.   Invitation accepted!

Dinner that night was on The Hill – Anthonina’s Tavern, mostly because I told the boys they had to have toasted ravioli if they were in St. Louis.  They were doubtful (because they always are), but actually loved  and devoured it.

Wednesday lunch was the Courtesy Diner after the zoo – it’s right across the interstate – a diner experience is always fun with kids.

Wednesday night in Memphis, we walked down to Beale Street, just because that’s What You Do – there was some sort of motorcycle convocation which was interesting but deafening.  We made it quick at the Blues City Cafe which was nothing special, but nothing awful either.

Thursday lunch, also in Memphis, was at Central Barbecue, right across from the Lorraine Motel, which was kind of odd, but I guess okay…


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(And don’t even scold me about not finding the perfect Memphis BBQ…I do what I can where I am with the people I’m with….)

More on Memphis in the next post…

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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Late last week, I decide that we’d take a little road trip.  Camps were done and over, Scout trip, Florida & South Carolina family trips are around the corner and here were these few days….

Let’s go!

We have read a lot of Twain this year.  Joseph read “The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” and The Prince and the Pauper on his own and we’ve read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as read-alouds.   I’d never been to the Twain boyhood home in Hannibal, it’s not horribly far…

Let’s go!

We have been to St. Louis (Hannibal is about a hundred miles north of St. Louis) before – a couple of times, but they were both pretty small, and neither remember a bit of it.

(I was telling Joseph today about his first trip to St. Louis.  It was 2001, He was about two months old, and I was speaking at the St. Louis Archdiocesan Eucharistic Congress.  As per usual, we decided to take in a sporting event.  In this case, we walked into a Cardinal’s game the very moment Mark Maguire hit (I believe) a Grand Slam (or at the very least a regular home run…but I do think it was a Grand Slam).  The place erupted, there were fireworks, and poor little tiny Joseph lost it…and still is not a baseball fan to this day….)

We left Sunday after Mass and were in St. Charles by 6.  Joseph slept all the way through Tennessee and most of Kentucky. I had “St. Charles” and “picturesque” associated in my subconscience for some reason, but what I didn’t realize was that it was the actual starting point of the Lewis Clark expedition, marked by  many plaques and a super-sized statue, with dog.

"Amy Welborn"

 

"Amy Welborn"

 

"Amy Welborn"

Missouri River

 

 

 

"Amy Welborn"

A bonanza of toads in the tracks.

 

 

A nice evening at the Missouri river-front park, although I can’t say much for the absolutely mediocre and fingers-drumming-on-table- slowly-appearing meal at the Trailhead Brewery.  Strike one for meals!

Up early to head up to Hannibal.

A librarian friend of mine asked if it was “touristy.”  Well, every other business is “Mark Twain” this or that, but is that surprising? Other than that, it doesn’t have a touristy vibe at all.  The little riverfront main street, while as typical as you’d expect isn’t a developed as the St. Charles equivalent, with far fewer restaurants and shops.

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

On “Lover’s Leap” – name comes, of course, from Romeo and Juliet-ish myth with a Native American setting. Hannibal and the Mississippi down below.

We hit the cave first, though.  I didn’t know how admission to the cave worked, how the tours were timed or how busy it would be, so I wanted to get it out of the way so I wouldn’t be wondering about those issues all morning.  We arrived just as a tour was getting started – we missed the movie, but go the rest of the tour.  It was your typical cave tour, with scripted corny attempts at humor and the ritual pointing out of formations that seem to resemble animals.

While pricey, it was worth it if you’re interested in getting a better sense of Tom Sawyer – for this was the cave Twain based the story on, with several landmarks, including the cross that marked the treasure spot, clearly seen.

cave

For his illustrations, Norman Rockwell came to Hannibal for research.  He was struck by the cave, for all other illustrations up to that point, had depicted a cave dripping with stalactites and so on – it’s not the case. It’s a mostly dry cave marked by stack-like formations of rocks and narrow passageways. 

Now back up to town.

The museum “complex” is well-done.  You can read about it at the link, but in essence what your ticket buys is admission to several small houses   – the Clemens home, Becky Thatcher’s house, Judge Clemens’ office, Huckleberry Finn’s house – and two museums – one close to the Clemens home, the other, larger one, down on Main Street a couple of blocks away.

(Of course when we say “Becky Thatcher” we mean Laura Hawkins, the real person who inspired Twain.  Some with Huckleberry Finn/Tom Blakenship)

"amy welborn"

The Clemens home is on the far right, mostly hidden. On the left are the Becky Thatcher home and the law office.

The museums were very good, with lots of photographs and quotes from Twain’s work offering a full sense of his childhood in Hannibal and his family’s background.  It was very interesting to see the connections between Twain’s life and his fiction.

"amy welborn"

Kitchen in the Clemens home.

The larger museum was more clearly set up for school groups, with five large interactive areas, each based on one of Twain’s books. The second floor of this museum holds the originals of Norman Rockwell’s paintings for special editions of TS and HF, and a small, but decent collection of personal memorabilia – including a sad little death mask of Twain’s only son, who died when he was 19 months old.  He had three daughters, only one of whom outlived him.  She married and had a daughter, but that daughter had no children, so there are no living descendants of Mark Twain.

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

 

The first attempt at lunch was at a place along Main Street where we waited for ten minutes to be seated in a restaurant where there were four empty tables, and then were brusquely told upon placing an order for a hamburger, “Oh, we’re out of hamburgers.”  Thnx Bye.

So we left and walked down the street to the place that the nice lady in the Becky Thatcher house had recommended in the first place – a cafe in the back of a Christian bookstore, called, not surprisingly, Christian Ambiance.

In spades.

Christian ambiance, indeed.

Very good food – homemade bread, included – served with interest and warmth.

This day revived my interest in Twain.   I’ve enjoyed reading through TS and HF with the boys, but had to remember today, as they played around in the interactive Connecticut Yankee section of the museum, intrigued by the premise and expressing interest in reading it, of that book’s strong anti-Catholicism.  It was, in fact, Twain’s disparaging remarks about Catholicism in Innocents Abroad that turned me away from him for decades when I read them as an older teenager. But I do think I’ll take a shot at Roughing It and Following the Equator.

Then back down the state highway, past this giant statue of Twain with tiny hands.  We arrived in St. Louis (proper) about 5, settled into the hotel, and then headed east to…

DSCN3934

 

"amy welborn"

…of course.

They’d been up it before, and Joseph had probably been 4 at the time, but he still had no recollection.  We arrived about 7, and didn’t have to wait at all – it seems to be a good time to go.

Such a fascinating structure.

More meal disappointment – returning to the hotel vicinity around 9:30, I pulled into a highly-rated diner that I could have sworn I’d checked out as advertised as open 24 hours.  They guy poked his head out the door and drew a line across his throat.  I assume that meant he was closed, although perhaps he was communicating me that he was in great danger and I missed the rather obvious signal?

(Checked the website when we got back..yup…supposed to be open 24 hours…)

All in all, a very satisfying 24 hours.  Low-stress learning and exploring, with the centerpiece being seeing with our own eyes what we’d only read about.  Seeing where Lewis and Clark began their journey and walking along the same river from which the pushed off – to me, that kind of experience is so helpful.  I loved taking the boys to Hannibal.  It was great for them – us – to immerse ourselves in this great – not perfect, but still great – writer’s childhood and, through the excellent exhibits, his creative process.  We could situate the Tom, Huck, Jim and everyone else in this small town on the river, we could look out and imagine that raft out there, be chilled in the darkness of the cave.  It shows the boys some truths about the creative process, which is certainly a mystery, but not magic, either.  Mark Twain’s stories came from a place, a time, and experiences. In addition, and of great interest to us,  Twain, like so many of the great American creative and accomplished minds, had relatively little formal education – that is – he didn’t go to school for very long.  So wandering around Hannibal on this very hot day, we can experience that truth one more time:  Living in a creative way in this fascinating, crazy world is about keeping your eyes and ears open and working hard – maybe even out of desperation sometimes  – to give that world something new.  School might be a part of that, or it might not, but learning, growing in wisdom, and bearing good fruit from it is what we do all the time, everywhere, because we can.

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