Boy Culture sweeps into St. Louis, Missouri, today at the Landmark Tivoli Theatre, aided and comforted by Calvin Wilson's warm St. Louis Post-Dispatch review:
Missouri is where part of my mom's dad's family settled. When I was about 11, I for some reason asked to go with my grandparents on one of their annual car trips to Missouri from our Flushing, Michigan, HQ, and somehow was allowed. Yes, I was the kind of boy who thought hanging with my grandparents was cool. I think I was curious to see another part of my family, to see just how broad that word could be.
My grandparents had gone from picking cotton to owning a highly regarded restaurant (whose recipe for pies was so legendary it was included in the purchase price when they cashed out), so they were proud of and never took for granted any of the creature comforts they'd earned in life. They were not ostentatious nor were they spendthrifts, but my memory is that they always had a new Cadillac, dressed smartly, my grandmother in pastel suits and my grandfather sporting a cherished hat with a colorful feather at the side. My grandmother had some beautiful jewelry and a small collection of fine furs—when you're raised on a farm where chickens' heads were twisted off in advance of dinner, I think the concept of "animal rights" would be an even greater luxury than a sable coat, so that never bothered me, even later on when people started spraying minks with red paint.
I rode in the back of their Caddy, writing stories and postcards, all the way to Missouri. I was most excited about the fireworks stands just off the highway because the tough stuff was illegal in Michigan and I knew if I could return with some tanks or other exotic explosive devices, I would be golden with my cousin. But I didn't have enough money and my grandparents weren't as excited about the prospect, so instead we stopped at every Stuckey's (and another family-style chain whose name escapes me) along the way—their blood type was gravy, and yet my grandfather lived to his mid-80s and my grandmother is still very much alive and nearing 90.
When we got to where we were going, we stayed with my great-grandmother (another argument against the presumed evils of cholesterol). Belle—she had one of those oddly pretty names that no one really named their children anymore—was elderly and frail, but she was able to recite poetry that she'd learned as a 10-year-old girl for a county-wide contest that she'd won over adults. I also hung out with a colorful great-aunt and great-uncle and learned "shnuff?" was code for "sure enough?" which meant "really?" and that it was traditional to use it at the end of every sentence. I swear I had a Southern twang by the time we left.
It wasn't a thrill, that trip—one of my letters home stated, "There's nothing to do so we just keep eating."—but I've never forgotten it because it was such a deviation from my day-to-day camp-out in my room ("Leave me alone!") and because I witnessed my grandparents looking after and fretting over his mom in the same way my mom would later look after and fret over them and I'll look after and fret over my parents.
Who will look after and fret over the gay guy?
That is some deep-fried food for thought. Family-style.
I visited MO one other time, with my whole family on a National Lampoon's Vacation-style two-week van trip from MI to CA and back. My relatives were as charming as ever ("You want some sody?" as opposed to, "Do you want some pahhhp?") and my great-grandmother as lyrical: "Y'all are just as fat as hogs!"
Only family can get away with saying that.