day four: Liberty, Saint Joseph, Rolla
Distance traveled: 323 miles (520 kilometers)
Route: Highway 291 from Liberty, to I-29 to St. Joe, via I-435. St. Joseph to Macon on Highway 36, then south on 63 all the way to Rolla.
I came into Kansas City late at night, impressed by how much the skyline had grown since I last visited the area nineteen years ago. Twice I crossed the Missouri River, which I couldn’t see but I knew to be swollen with floodwater. I could almost sense it, churning below. The first time I ever visited the area was twenty-five years ago, on a family trip across the country. My father was born in Saint Joseph, Missouri (which everyone refers to “St. Joe”) and we spent several days there, visiting with his sister Margie, his brother Glen, and the many, many cousins who were living in the area at the time. The Missouri River had flooded then, too, and from the hills of St. Joe we could see the town of Elwood on the other side of the river, covered with water. I tried not to feel amused as I spotted the rooftop of the Snorkel factory (no relation to underwater breathing apparatuses themselves) poking out above the surface of the water.
The family photo featured above was taken by my cousin Kendra, twenty-five years ago, during a picnic that we had at one of St. Joe’s hilltop parks. It was also Kendra and her family who were kind enough to put me up for the night this time around in their home in Liberty (just north of Kansas City); especially kind, in fact, since I had once again miscalculated my travel time and ended up landing at about one in the morning, which is pretty late for family time. In the morning we had pancakes (one of the foods I just can’t get sick of since getting back from Japan), and while we ate I watched a robin, a rabbit, and a cardinal who were all sharing the yard together. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a male cardinal, but the red on them is unreal. If I were writing a myth about how the cardinal got its color it would involve an ur-cardinal that somehow managed to get itself caught in a vat of Otter Pop red.
Since I had arrived in Kansas City the night before, the weather had slowly taken a turn for the worse. Leaving St. Joe for Rolla, the sky was grey and, in places, pockmarked with the cotton-textured topography that’s so often referred to as “tornado weather.” In fact, my very first experience of a tornado warning happened while my family was staying at Margie’s house in St. Joe. We were all sitting around the living room when a tornado warning for the area was announced on television (I can’t remember if there were warning sirens that were audible in the background, but it’s definitely a better memory if there were, so please add tornado sirens here). We went out to the concrete garage that served as a storm shelter and turned on the radio to listen for the signal that the warning period had ended. It was extremely humid, and they sky overhead was dark and bulged in several places. After about ten minutes my dad looked over at Margie and said, “Marge, do you have any cigarettes.” “No,” replied Margie, “I left them on the kitchen counter.” Warning or no warning, I knew right then that one of them was going to head back to the house for those cigarettes. Which is exactly what happened. Eventually the warning was lifted, and we all went back inside.
As I made my way toward Rolla across mostly open country, I hoped that I wouldn’t cross paths with any genuine tornado weather (a week later, the city of Joplin would be devastated by tornadoes). Mostly the weather was just windy and grey. Eventually I turned south and headed through the state capital of Jefferson City, which has an amazing state house. At Jefferson, I crossed the Missouri River again, and this time I could see how swollen with rain it actually was, a huge red-brown mass of current, making its way toward St. Louis. It was dark as I drove through the Ozark hill country, eventually pulling into Rolla where my friend Elbie was waiting for me in front of the Great Wall restaurant.
Filed under: personal, sweet story of Trout Monroe, travel | Leave a Comment
Tags: cross-country trip, family history, family trip, Hi Ho, Missouri, Saint Joseph, St. Joe, tornadoes