Part of my youth has been sold for scrap metal. I don’t take it personally.
Given the cars I’ve driven in the last nearly five decades, the amount of random scrap in my past might be enough to build an aircraft carrier. But a particular bit of nostalgia awakens me now.
This collection of metal belonged to a river-going vessel known as the SS Admiral. For those not raised on the eastern side of Missouri, this excursion boat moored on the Mississippi River in St. Louis.
Before completion of the Gateway Arch in 1965, the Admiral and its silver art deco exterior might have been the most representative symbol of the riverfront in that city.
It prowled the Mississippi from the World War II days onward, a floating city with a capacity greater than 4,000 people, but age caught up and caused it to sit still. My only meal on the Admiral took place on an autumn weekday during my senior year.
Our school had adjourned for a statewide teachers’ meeting, and I accompanied my mother to St. Louis for her job with what was then known as the Missouri Crippled Children’s Service. She had been a public health nurse for years, and her territory with this job had broadened her travel schedule.
The hospitals where she visited the medically indigent patients getting these services did not have the gleaming atria of health facilities today. They were places of dedicated individuals working at odds with structures in decline, all aging rooms, squeaky linoleum and antiseptic smells.
Of course, my mother went to these places dozens of times unaccompanied, yet on this day I felt like her protector in the worn-out corridors of big-city infirmaries.
She took me to lunch at the Admiral, the two of us crossing the gangway to a dining room where the salad came as one big triangle of iceberg lettuce.
A guy sitting at the next table asked if his cigarette smoke bothered us, a quaint concern to me since my family’s kitchen table always had a cloud of tobacco.
My great fortune in life has been to be surrounded by tough, smart women. My sister is that way. So are my wife and my daughter.
During her life, my mother emerged from the Great Depression to near constant employment, always sticking up for herself and her patients while dealing with government agencies.
When her husband developed a health disability, she continued to support our family, even when conducting her own battles, fending off radiation and chemotherapy at various junctures while never sacrificing her grace and good humor.
It would have been great to have my mother around last week as I heard the story of Dr. Fiona Hill, when age 11, having her pigtail set on fire when taking a test, putting it out with her hands and then finishing the test.
What fun it would be to share that laugh.
And my mom would have appreciated Hill, a former National Security Council member testifying at the House impeachment hearings, shaming members of Congress who perpetuate discredited stories about Ukrainians tampering with the 2016 American election while letting substantiated Russian interference slide.
The witness would suffer no fools, and the exhibited strength of her convictions stood in contrast to the weakness of the partisan blathering coming at her from the dais.
This flashback to the SS Admiral tickles me, a single day in the presence of a wedge salad and a loving parent. I don’t remember what we talked about during lunch. All these years later, though, I remember how I felt about it.