The Great River Road – There and Back Again
You know about our Katy Trail adventures if you’ve been reading our blog, but Barry and I also had great experiences with family, friends, and Servas hosts when we were on the U.S. Mainland in the fall.
My family lives in the suburbs of St. Louis, so if the Cardinals are in town, they like seeing games. When Barry and I were there, the Cards were playing the Chicago Cubs (my team – although my staunch Cardinal fan family don’t really understand).
One of the reasons we went to that particular game is because my great-niece Elle got to sing with her school choir during the seventh-inning stretch.
The Cardinals won the game, but as a true Cub fan, I was pleased that the Cubs had scored (6 to 2).
We also spent a great afternoon of music in Festus, Missouri: Blue Grass, Cajun, Country, Blues . . .
Lyrics that stood out for me went something like, “I don’t have to worry about feeding my family tonight/ I just ran over a 10 pound possum in the road, all right!” 🙂
Then Barry and I started our car trip. Our plan was to follow “The Great River Road”–the Mississippi River north to its source.
But first, we wanted to visit my cousin Elaine who now lives in Effingham, Illinois. She always suggests surprising and interesting outings. We went, for instance, to the Boos Butcher Block Factory.
We always learn more about Riley family history when we visit Elaine. She set us up to meet Don Riley, my grandpa’s nephew, and so a cousin to me, and his wife, Wilma. Among others, he told us about Fern Riley, his big sister by four years. Don said she could throw a ball further than any of the boys, and once she and friends made themselves very sick smoking something on top of a chicken coop while he stood as decoy if their mom came looking.
After high school, Fern started working at the Catholic hospital in town. She loved it (and there is something of a family scandal that says she was thinking of becoming a nun–which just isn’t done in proper Protestant families). She was working in the St. Anthony’s Hospital nursery the night in April 1949 when the fire swept through the building.
She could have saved herself, but instead she tried to rescue the infants. Life magazine recognized her as a heroine. She was 22.
As a result of that devastating fire that took the lives of 77 – patients, family members, responders, and staff – in just a few minutes, the fire codes for hospitals in the U.S. changed. No more open stairways in hospitals, and since then, hospitals in the U.S. must have electrical wire coating that won’t give off toxic fumes. See more in Terror to Triumph by Donna Riley Gordon, Don Riley’s daughter.
Barry says that Don talks and walks like a Riley. 🙂
Then on to Chicago:
There besides the predictable and fun experiences of seeing friends, eating good food, and listening to music in Chicago, Barry and I went with friend Jeany to bicycle around the Chicago Botanical Garden. We got involved in a Parks event to encourage city-dwellers to try new things.
Of course, we spent time eating wonderful meals with great friends.
As part of our trip to visit friends, family, and “The Great River Road,” we also wanted to visit a few Servas hosts. We picked a family who has for 25 years run an organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm in Wisconsin. They were willing to host us on short notice, so off we went to Plymouth, Wisconsin.
The family provides fresh, organic vegetables to 800 families in the Milwaukee area! We arrived on a day a big shipment had just been sent out, but Barry and I still got to spend a glorious, sunny day working on the farm!
Barry and I had wandered far from the Mississippi River; we were actually on the east side of Wisconsin, so we started heading west with a stop in Eau Claire to see our great family friend, Aunt Kathie.
We did find “The Great River Road” and got as far north as Duluth, Minnesota, but the weather was too cold and wet for me to ride my bike.
We did hear a “northern tale” when we stopped in a small town Minnesota diner that had been recommended for its pie. Barry and I were the only outsiders there, and we could easily overhear one table of men telling of a trap baited with M&M’s for the bears. Instead of a bear, the trap owner found six wolves caught inside! Was this a tall tale? Could bear and wolves like M&M’s too?
We wanted to see my brother Mike and his wife Erika who were coming in from Gainesville to St. Louis, so we started south.
Because we now rely on our GPS instead of actually looking at a map, we were quite surprised in our trip south from Minneapolis to find ourselves crossing a bridge into Wisconsin with a sign that said “Fountain City” to our left. Now we had been in Fountain City to visit Servas hosts Joan and Jeff three summers earlier. They are the ones who got us to canoe on the backwaters of the Mississippi River, something I’d wanted to do since I’d read of Huckleberry Finn’s adventures. And they had come to visit us on Maui. Barry and I couldn’t just drive on by although if we had looked at a map at all, we would have known where we were headed and given them some lead time. Jeff answered the phone and said to come on over. And we did, driving as slowly as possible the five miles or so to their house.
In true Servas hospitality, they brought out a great dinner and welcomed us into their home.
Joan and Jeff had been invited to a party on the Mississippi River, so Barry and I tagged along. We liked the people and the home was spectacular, but what surprised me the most were all the roosting pelicans on the Mississippi!
Also, Joan is now a quite excellent potter, so I got to go to class with her the next day.
Moving on back toward St. Louis, we found Effigy Mound National Park. Native Americans built these mounds hundreds of years ago. They are best seen from the air!
Through all the colored leave my short hike to reach the mounds was magical.
The Effigy Mounds Museum records the “discovery” of the mounds and shares wise words from Native Americans.
Black Hawk’s reminder, “I loved my villages, my cornfields, the home of my people, and that’s why I fought so hard for it. It is yours now. Please take care of it.”
On the road back toward St. Louis, we saw this truck and another reminder. Do you know how your dinner was treated?
Back in St. Louis, we found family, soccer games, good people.
Barry and I had a great Mainland trip and look forward to our next visit. There’s much more to see along the Great River Road, more Servas families to know, and always wonderful family and friends to visit.
We did get back to Maui in time for Halloween – and to spend time with friends and these two lovable characters before they left for Seattle, Washington, and we headed off for another adventure too.
We hope you get out on the road too. There’s much to see, to learn, and to enjoy.