In This Huge Silence

Some of my friends who came from Cape have mentioned that don’t have the same connection with the area that I seem to. Maybe I’m lucky that the mental rubber band that connects the new with the old hasn’t snapped. I can still be pulled back into memories of growing up in Southeast Missouri as a kid.

I figure most of you will either be sleeping late or waiting for the holiday weekend to be over before coming back here, so I’m going to cheat and recycle the photo above that I ran just about a year ago. I call it SE Missouri from the Window of a Speeding Car. (They taught me in college that pictures sound more impressive if you give them titles and set the names in Italics.)

For nearly 20 years, I had this framed newspaper edition about Gordon Parks hanging on my office wall. Parks’ words do a better job than I ever could at explaining why I feel a kinship with the Midwest. The poem ran on the back of his funeral program March 16, 2006.

Gordon Parks

In this huge silence

The prairie is still in me,

in my talk and manners.

I still sniff the air for rain or snow,

know the loneliness of night,

and distrust the wind

when things get too quiet.

Having been away so long

and changed my face so often,

I sometimes suspect that this place

no longer recognizes me—

despite these cowboy boots,

this western hat and

my father’s mustache that I wear.

To this place I must seem

like wood from a different forest,

and as secretive as black loam.

This earth breathes uneasily under my boots.

Their odor of city asphalt

doesn’t mix well with the clean smell

of wild alfalfa and purple lovegrass.

It puzzles me that I live so far away

from our old clapboard house

where, in oak tree shade,

I used to sit and dream

of what I wanted to become.

I always return here weary,

but to draw strength from

This huge silence that surrounds me,

knowing now that all I thought

was dead here is still alive,

that there is warmth here—

even when the wind blows hard and cold.

25 Replies to “In This Huge Silence”

  1. Mister Parks words says it all and I couldn’t agree more. I tried moving away but had to come home. Here God willing is where I’ll stay. Hopefully as the song goes some day they’ll lay me neath the green green grass of home. Keep up the good work Ken I’m thankful and proud of people like you. The ones that help by not letting us forget. I read your articules sometimes I laugh and sometimes there is a pull on my heart strings. Thanks for helping me remember. Oh as for your rubber band I’d say it’s more like a bungee cord. I was even thinking the other day about the pneumatic tubes and getting all of my Cub Scout & Boy Scout uniforms and equipment at the old Buckner Ragsdales store. Just another bit of the past.

  2. This isn’t directly related but the memories are coming back. Here’s another I just thought of. The Woolworths store down town. It still had a working lunch counter when Mom first started taking us there. It was in the southwest corner the stools that swiveled all the way around. Red cushions no backs. The old glass case for pieces of cake and pie. One of the old Coke fountain machines on the back counter. It despenced Coke syurp and carbonated water into the glass. Yes they even had the real glass Coke glasses. Of course there was the never ending coffee pots, the tea hot & cold And white and chocolate milk. We’d go Christmas shopping down town and stop there for lunch. All I can really remember is the burgers and sandwhiches. I’m sure they offered plate lunches but I just don’t remember. Good times for me as a kid.

    1. Yep, you could swivel on those old stools until somebody called you down.

      What I remember best about the lunch counter was the sound of muffled conversations and the tink of silverware on china.

      The toy section was close to the lunch counter. I couldn’t understand why, if the army toy I bought cost 98 or 99 cents why I didn’t get change back from my dollar. That was my introduction to the world of taxes, I guess.

      Do you recall the plastic red and green sales tax tokens we called “mills?”

  3. Someone else said it pretty well too-“home is where the heart is”. I have often felt it was a privilege to grow up and live in Cape. I didn’t know much about anything, had no social graces but I can still feel the warmth of Cape, those that tried to educate me and my friends. Except for when Marquette Cement was transferring Dad around the country or the National Guard training required us to be elsewhere, Cape was always our family home. Basically,I left Cape twice, once to go to College and once in 1983 to seek employment elsewhere. Since that time I get back once, maybe twice a year. It is a thrill to drive around Cape, cruise the “gut”. I am observing the changes but I am seeing not the bank where Wimpy’s once was, or the fast food place where the Alvarado used to be, Subway where Cape Cut-Rate used to be and a whole bunch of other landmarks when we were growing up. I see my friends, classmates and a whole host of others, some, too many now gone too soon. Suddenly we are 10 or 13 or 18 riding our bikes all over town or seeing who has a quarter or two for gas for the car. Laughing, always laughing for Cape was a fun place to grow up.
    Ken; thanks to you, Margie and Jerry, Bill and Sue and a host of others who alow us to contribute comments, a lot of us get to reunite, relive and appreciate our heritage. I still get a thrill when people ask me where you from? I always proudly tell them “Cape Girardeau”!

  4. There is something about Southeast Missouri that gets in the blood, Ken. I belong to a family that holds an annual reunion there. About 100 of the 115 living family members gather in Cape annually, an event that has been going on for decades. While we descend from several of the pioneer families of Cape Girardeau County, none of us grew up there but a tug draws us back from all over the United States for four days every year. Wouldn’t miss it and always feel strengthened by revisiting.

    1. Paul,

      When do you hold your reunion? If I’m in town (and invited), I might drop in.

      With my last name, I’m half-way there. (Or half-way past, depending on how you look at it.)

  5. We gather around the 4th of July, Ken, and you are invited. Check with Doug at Schnuks for the exact dates. He would know because we purchase our groceries, wine and beer from them and Doug always takes care of us. By the way, I misstated a fact in my first email, there are actually about 10 or 15 of the cousins who grew up in Cape out of about 115 now living.

  6. This New Year’s Day for me and perhaps, this blog today is very appropriate. My dad is down visiting in Florida. I flew to St. Louis on Christmas Eve and he rode up to meet me at the airport on BART. We both then flew to Las Angles California to visit with my daughter and granddaughter. So there we all are, four generations in Malibu, all from living in different parts of the USA and all with roots in the great silence of the Midwest, but with new roots other places. It does make you wonder.
    I flew from LA with my Dad back to my adopted home on the west Coast of Florida and he is visiting with my wife and daughter, and me down here. Today he said, “I need to get back home”!
    I am taking my dad back to Cape from Florida on Monday, but we are driving this time. Dad wanted to see the “road” from here to there once again. We as family often went on “Summer Vacation” to Florida and the sites and sounds of the trips are in the family lore…so we add a couple more stories on this trip.
    I wonder if the land really is in our souls and calls us home at times?

  7. I Love Cape, Cape always seems to pursever even through the recent bad economy and The City of Roses continues to propser and grow. Living away more now for over twenty years I appreciate my home town for it’s conservative values and nice people. Believe me, it has been an eye opener living where I am now. have a whole new appreciation for my home town. I would return in a heartbeat if the opportunity comes around. Happy New Year Ken

  8. (1) I like the Gordon Parks poem. (2) While I have fond memories of my childhood in Cape, each time I return for a visit, I realize that the city I remember from my childhood has been replaced by another city. When I drive “down” Broadway or along Main Street, I have to keep reminding myself which store or church used to be in each location. In short, whenever I visit Cape, there’s at least one moment when I think of Thomas Wolfe’s words: “You can’t go home again.” But frequently, on this web-site, I’m reminded of the town I knew.

    1. Audrey,

      1. I really like Parks, too. The man did it all: photography, poetry, books, music, directing movies…

      2. Building come and go in Cape, but the essence of the place is still there. It IS jarring to go by somewhere and having the feeling that something’s missing, but you can’t quite place it.

      That’s why I like having all of the old photos. They won’t mean anything to the next generation, but they’ll have their OWN set of buildings to miss.

  9. Oh, this poem! How deeply moving! Also the comments beneath! Many thanks and good thoughts for a wonderful 2011 to each and all!

  10. I wish I could explain the hold Cape has on me. I’ve lived away since 1968, more than 2/3 of my life, but while I’ve been away from Cape, Cape never been away from me.

    A large part, I’m sure, is because my family is still largely in Cape, both alive and not. And, of course, the friendships, experiences and culture of the town and time made me the person I am today, for good and bad.

    But a major part of the relationship, for me, is the Mississippi. I swear, there is something in the water that creates a physical and spiritual bond (NOT St. Louis sewage). Just listen to Charlie Pride’s “Roll On, Mississippi” or read Mark Twain’s writings about the Mississippi.

    I’ve tried to analyze why this small southeast Missouri city still has such a major hold on me, but I’ve decided to give up and just enjoy it.

    1. I agree about the Mississippi River. I can sit and watch the waters roll by for hours. It doesn’t matter if it’s at full rolling boil at flood stage, packed with ice in the winter or so low you can walk out to Grand Tower.

      Lila on the other hand, is an ocean person. She wanted to go see the sun rise on the beach this morning. You’ll see the photos in Sunday’s posting. That got my beach ticket punched for the year, but she’s go there every day.

  11. Ken- I, too, loved the poem! How I would love to be more fluent with the English Language to describe things with more intense meaning. Guess I will just have to paint or draw the image to get the feeling across.
    When we lived in California during Jack’s time in the Marines and for about 10 years after, I would try to describe how wonderful Cape was with the “dear hearts and gentle people”, wonderful schools and churches and growing up next to the Mississippi River.
    One thing that I remember that hasn’t been brought up is the 10-mile Rose Garden between Cape and Jackson. DO YOU HAVE ANY PICTURES OF THAT? I remember seeing them on postcards years ago. And there was also a small park in the median and trees that grew on both sides of the road made the most beautiful natural arch over Highway 61. It was such a beautiful sight when it snowed and when one would get up to those overhanging branches, what an awesome sight it was to see through as they framed the road ahead. They’re gone now as are the roses, but I’m thankful that I still have the memories. And thanks to you and Margi for bringing them back to us each week. HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU BOTH AND TO ALL OF THE CHS ALUMNAE.

    1. I remember Highway 61 between Cape and Jackson very well. And, you’re right about the beautiful canopy of trees between the two cities. It was like driving through a dark tunnel. Alternatively, when the sun was right, the strobe effect of light and dark was almost psychedelic (except that we wouldn’t have had a clue what that word meant back then).

      That stretch of road was widened just before I started shooting photos. I’ll have to look to see if there are any family pictures taken when it was still there.

      The final death knell to the park was when the intersection for the VA hospital was built. I was sorry to see it go away.

  12. Thanks for bringing back that memory of Hwy 61 I had completely forgotten. There were times like in the spring or when there was ice and snow it seemed like a fairy land at least to a 5 or 6 year old. Something else I remember the Esquire, the Broadway & the Rialto theators on Broadway. For the life of me I can’t remember the name of the Pizza place with the piano and the sing alongs and if I’m not messed up the MoJo potatoes. It was next door to the Rialto? It’s a shame I can’t remember. The last thing I remember is going to Cape to see a movie and there had been a fire at the pizza place. It ruined my evening no movie or pizza that night.

  13. I know I am a little younger than most who post here, but I remember Woolworths in the town plaza (I believe it was) and they had a lunch counter. I remember crying because I left my little purse there, but we went back and the waitress had it set back. My grandma had some of those plastic tax tokens. And I remember going to upstairs at Ragsdales to get my first Brownie Girl Scout uniform (probably 1980). I am still involved with Girl Scouts as a Lifetime member and helping my daughter earn her Gold Award – as did I. She turned 16 on December 26 and we will start selling cookies soon… although she doesn’t sell as many now as when she would wear her cute little brownie uniform.

  14. I had not ever read this poem before but it is truly wonderful . thanks for sharing it with me Ken. I really love the images.

  15. How very tender and sentimental. Having lived in the midwest all my life, I wonder how the expatriates to the coasts feel about coming home these days — post 2016 election. Something tells me there would be fewer warm fuzzy feelings about the old home place now that we’ve got what we have coming into the white house as a result of the crazy mindset of midwesterners. It causes an even bigger lump in my throat.

  16. Love the poem. Every region has its unique hold on most of those born there; Almost Heaven West Virginia, is even revered by the Chinese. I was serenaded with it in a Beijing hiring on a traditional instrument. No I didn’t cry.

    I like sentimentality. It makes for great poems and great pictures. But, for me, I needed to break free of West Virginia, Appalachia and I’ve never felt the pull to return.

    Great post but didn’t pull at the heart strings of this vagabond. Oh and I loved the above comment about the Midwest giving us Trump. What were you thinking?!

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