A couple of the strip malls have gotten bigger, and my old paper route is digging out of near-slum status with the help of some grant money, but Jefferson City last week looked pretty much the way I left it when I last saw it five years ago. I still remember most of the streets, even though I haven’t lived there in 25 years, and a lot of the old businesses still are around. East End Drugs, with its soda fountain: Check. Tennyson’s furniture store: Check. The VFW hall (phone number I still remember — 635-2341): Check. The Capitol Building and the Governor’s Mansion: Check.
They tore down a chunk of the old state maximum security pen, though, and now you can see from the street to the Missouri River, and an office building of some sort is going up where cell blocks used to stand. A part of the Big House is being kept for old times’ sake, and soon you’ll be able to check out the old execution chamber if that’s your idea of a tourist activity. I still remember the time a con broke out of the place and tried to get in the back door of our house a few blocks away. My mother screamed and he took off, and as I recall, he didn’t get very far after that.
Jefferson City seems a little sadder than it was when I was growing up, although that may be because I’m looking at it through adult eyes. People are still nice in that Midwestern way, and I quickly fell into old patterns of conversation with the clerk at the Hy-Vee or the cashier at the Towne Grill. (By the way: The sign out front of the Towne Grill still proclaims “Food At It’s Best,” just as it has for decades, even though that’s grammar at its worst.)
Most of the family got together at my sister’s house in neighboring St. Martin’s and ate ribs and Italian sausage and backyard tomatoes and homemade macaroni and cheese. Everybody brought their dogs, and I found that I still liked my dad’s beer of choice (Hamm’s).
My sisters’ kids have kids now, and one of my nephews got married over the weekend near St. Louis, which is the real reason why I flew in from Washington. But this is the place I still think of as home.
I still have memories of the hills and the valleys, the creeks and the rivers, the schools and the stores. My parents are buried over at Resurrection Cemetery, a misnomer of a name if there ever was one, since I haven’t seen anybody resurrect their way out of there yet. I keep promising my wife that one day I’ll take her to Central Dairy and buy her the ice cream that I used to get for free, back when I was secretly sweet on about half the staff and too shy to do anything about it.
I only stayed for a day and then I had to go to the wedding, 120 miles away. But one day in Jefferson City every five years isn’t going to cut it. You shouldn’t forget your home.