- Historic Sites
Meet Me In St. Lewis, Louie
A collection of little-known early-twentieth-century photographs of St. Louis recalls the author’s unfashionably happy childhood
August/September 1982 | Volume 33, Issue 5
I said okay and followed her up the stairs, noticing as I went that the wide door that led into what used to be the parlor was firmly closed, as was the door into what used to be the kitchen, and the one into what was the dining room. But the strip of stained glass over the window on the landing was still there, as, come to think of it, was the similar one over the door into the house. But, again come to think of it, both strips were definitely lower on the wall than I remembered. The wooden ball that marked the bottom of the staircase banister was still wobbly. The staircase itself was uncarpeted and splintered.
I followed my guide down the second-floor hall into what used to be the brass-bed room, now occupied by two small beds. My parents’ room looked peculiar because when the house’s face was lifted, the bow window was flattened out. I peered through that flat window into the park—they needed new shrubs, I noticed, but it all looked very familiar. We went to the rear of the house and looked down into the yard, where there were no shrubs or bushes or trees any more. In the bathroom stood our big old tub, more streaked even than it used to be with rusty dribbles: it still stood on stubby legs like a lion’s paws and was bigger than any tub I have seen since. Rust or no rust, the bathroom was very clean. Everything in the apartment was clean.
Like the sundial, St. Louis, for me, marked only the sunny hours.
Out in the hall at the top of the stairs I thanked my kind guide and started downstairs to rejoin my cousin in the car outside. Until that moment I had no nostalgia, none of those Proustian feelings one might expect to entertain. The whole experience had been—well, almost antiseptic. It was at the front door, after I called one more good-bye upstairs, that it happened, when I pulled the door shut behind me and the 5 in 4858 swung a little, but it wasn’t the 5 that did it. It was that my hand on the doorknob remembered the door . My arm remembered its weight and the way it felt being pulled shut.
They talk about years dropping away, sensations flooding over one, all that stuff. They are right.