LOUISIANA TO ELSBERRY
We had no idea what was in store for us as we set out from Louisiana, Missouri.
I mean, I’d seen the itinerary, but only really glanced at it—it was to be a full day. Boy was that an understatement. Overflowing would be more accurate!
We woke at Cindy and Greg Blaylock’s place and got going with a quick goodbye to Greg who drove up from the house on his way to pick up supplies for the machine shed he’s building. It’s a beautiful structure, just like the guest house where we spent last night. Also built by Greg.
Down to the Trimble House on South Carolina Street for the launch, and Tom was off. He ran by Kristal’s house and she and Skyler were there to wave him on. Adam from the Press Journal also caught up with Tom to catch a photo as he ran out of town.
Eventually we made the exchange to bike and I hopped on for the next 10 miles or so, tackling some hills and a headwind that wouldn’t quit. Tom took over for the last ten miles of riding before we transitioned back to running for the last leg into Elsberry, Missouri. Just under two miles up the road, though, was a planned rendezvous with the Elsberry welcoming committee at Burkemper Trucking.
From a good distance out, I could see some activity ahead, and I knew I was almost there. As I approached, the commotion grew louder and louder and I could make out the signs saying “You’ve made it!” And “Welcome, Relay of Voices!” But indeed I had not made it. There was still another 1.5 miles to go to reach City Hall, and while a ride was offered, we assured our new friends that every foot had to be covered by human power.
Bill and Barbra Boswell were there in a golf cart. Police Chief Rob was ready in his cruiser to escort me in the last mile. Pastor Conrad and his wife Barbra Chetham were also there, as well as Mike from the Newspaper, Terrie Harper and Sue Hogarth and probably others—all part of the grand welcome, but I was running, so I didn’t catch them all…
It was time to finish this off, so I got out ahead of Chief Rob as he escorted me into town. He later said I ran a stop sign and might issue me a violation! I’m watching the mail for that one.
Next was lunch at the Pickle Barrel with everyone from City Hall and the whole organizing committee and beyond.
Everyone went around and gave introductions and short stories on their part in the Elsberry larger narrative. The food was good, the company was better.
We left lunch with Sue, Terri, and Lisa, soon meeting up with Rachel and Tammy as we ventured down to the Elsberry Caves on Lisa’s family’s property. What an amazing sight… and while I’m dreaming of mounting a performance in these catacombs, Lisa has plans for wooing a manufacturing company or cold storage business to the area, and with them hundreds of jobs for Elsberry—perhaps a more practical pursuit than my own.
The caves sparked memories in our tour-mates. Years ago this was a place that Elsberry youth came for “unchaperoned“ activities. A party or two may have occurred here. There are also stories of ghost hauntings, alien visits, devil worship and a quarry lake that has no bottom . . .
After a brief turn by Lisa’s family home and farm as well, we made a car switch and Sue, Tom and I went over to the Forrest Keeling Nursery for a tour and a short visit with owner Kim Lovelace-Young. They focus on native plants here and have really grown their business up around the industry of conservation. Walked through the saplings growing, the rows and rows of new trees, almost ready for planting—a huge industry nestled right here in Elsberry.
Sue brought us back to City Hall to meet up with Terrie. She would bring us out to the bottoms to meet up with Craig—his family farms over 3,000 acres out there but has lost a lot this year with the flood. We started at his own home, devastated by flood waters with windows and doors blown out on the first floor, siding pulled off, grain silos toppled, and barns stripped bare. But Craig prepared. They pulled the sheet metal siding off the bars, the carpet off the floors of the house, took out the appliances as well. They’ve been through this before—four times in fact: 1973, 1993, 2008, 2019. He hasn’t started to rebuild the house, which will involve raising it up another six feet or so (it’s worth it to mention that the home is already a good 10ft off the ground). He’s waiting, because the Army Corps of Engineers hasn’t fixed the breech in the levee just up the way that is part of why they flooded out so badly this year. Until they fix that breach, the high waters continue to threaten, and making any improvements is just a futile effort. He only got to plant about 100 acres this year, so the insurance will have to cover the rest. That won’t really cover it, though, as crop insurance just takes care of a minimum, and it will take at least three years, Craig says, to recover all the losses they’ve endured from this year’s flood.
Craig has many stories and we were ready to listen all day if we could. But Sue had planned a full itinerary for our day, so Terrie drove us back to town to meet up with Linda and Rita at the historic Robinson House. The house has been restored, and even moved from its original location. Now it houses various historic images and artifacts from the town, but the story of the home itself, and the family of the Elsberry’s is its own, and unique. As Linda said, or was it Terrie, when they brought their mother back in the home some time not too long ago, she said it NEVER looked this nice when she lived here—with 10 or was it 12 other siblings I think it was!? The house has basically three rooms. A living room, a bedroom, a kitchen and dining room in one, and a bathroom tucked away (but maybe there was an outhouse?). Somehow a family of 13 crammed itself in here, but of course, as soon as anyone was 13 years old they were out the house working at the local glove factory, contributing to the family income.
The story of the Robinson house is not unlike the family of so many working class families today, with a missing parent, and another parent struggling with addiction, children raising themselves. The past doesn’t stray far from the present in Elsberry, as we later drive through the poorer sections of Elsberry with Terrie and see much of this struggle continuing.
Terrie and her family are a story in themselves, and truly deserve not just a Facebook post, not just a blog, but their own book. And we are working on that. She’s raised two girls on her own, kept her own business going, alderman of the community, now taking in a family member’s young children to protect them from drug abuse and a foster care separation. I cannot say enough about this woman, Terrie Harper, who we feel so fortunate to have spent time with, heard her voice, so strong, vocal, confident, working hard, not taking it from anyone.
Terrie brought us to Sarah’s house for dinner. Her husband was caught up out of town—he’s a city attorney for several small cities, and that keeps him busy. Sarah had quite a feast prepared for us, though. Toasted Ravioli, a St. Louis classic, as well as pasta with meatballs and a lush salad from her garden vegetables. We talked about her children who have all gone off and traveled the country and the world, and we shared our own story of adventures.
After dinner was the performance at the park. Almost everyone from lunch assembled to hear the stories and ask questions about our experiences. We wrapped up just as the sun set and the street lights came on. Afterward, I went back to our lodging for the night with Kayla Carter while Tom and Terrie ventured on to the VFW for “Elsberry after dark”.
The Missouri Mules Motorcycle Club were in town and the VFW was lively. A handful of regulars were at the bar and folks came in and out as the night progressed. Terrie connected Tom with as many people as possible, to learn their stories and share ours. At the end of the night, there were a lot of empty Busch bottles in the recycle bin – courtesy of one half of Relay of Voices.
Kayla and I had a great talk about she and her husband Larry’s life running the funeral home there in town. How that involves a life of listening in a way she never expected. Not to mention, the on-call nature of their everyday life. We shared our own personal stories of family and relationships until I really couldn’t talk anymore and finally found my way to sleep.
Eventually Tom made it home, much later. Obviously he and Terrie had a very good listening session out at the bar. I knew I’d hear all about it in the morning.