Last weekend, Chuck & I reached a breaking point with our everyday routines, which for him, includes a somewhat high-pressure job & for both of us includes the stresses of parenting in an age where you have to either beg your children to go outside or resort to having them pull one of those little oxygen tanks behind them to get some good, clean air into their bodies. Raising kids in an age where they’re surrounded by electronic devices is one of my most frustrating challenges. Oh sure, as kids, we had arcades, handheld Space Invaders games, & Simon. But in our day, there were no PC’s, iPads, iPods, PS3′s, etc. to lure us into a trance that we wouldn’t break to go jump in a cool swimming pool or take a bike ride to the corner store. (And yes, we really had a corner store.) Chances are, the thing our parents bitched most about was wanting to tear us away from the “mindless television”. Gilligan, be damned! They did not know mindless, did they? Having been an only child, I find the sibling aspect of parenting to be difficult as well. I wasn’t surrounded by wrestling, bickering & mayhem when I was young. It was a rather calm, peaceful existence. Let’s just say our house is not that way. And sometimes, I’ll be the first to admit, I do not know how to handle that. And it goes without saying that I do not handle it well. I have always had a first instinct to run. I think part of that comes from the wanderlust inherent in being born a Sagittarius & part of it comes from the love of adventure my dad instilled in me to seek out new places & get away from the stresses of life. So last Friday, having reached my limit of negotiating, yelling, disciplining, & entertaining, I suggested 24 hours away from the rugrats might do us some good. I looked over my bucket list of places I want to stay & chose one that fit with the requirement that we be able to drop the boys at dad’s house in Missouri on the way. It took some convincing to sway Mr. Buttry that a day & night with me might be rejuvenating as opposed to mentally exhausting, but I won. Chase Park Plaza Hotel (St. Louis, MO), here we come!
As a child, my family made more trips to St. Louis than I can count. Living three hours south, it was “the city” to our country little farm town. St. Louis is chock-full of memories for me, none of them bad, save for a miserable night spent with one of the worst migraines ever during my college years. The memories I have of spending weekends there with my dad and grandmother will forever remain in my heart, not only as happy times but also as times filled with experiences that molded me into the person I am today. St. Louis was my impetus for getting out of my small hometown of Bernie & moving on to what I consider bigger & better things. It taught me that there was more in our world to seek out & drink in. It taught me that I am MUCH more at home in an urban environment, that I love traffic noise, that you can live in a place with more than two restaurants, that nightlife existed beyond sitting on a drugstore parking lot and hanging with friends & it taught me, most relative to this story, that there was an entirely different class of people in this midwestern city with lifestyles that, as a child in my formative years living in “cotton field central”, I could only dream about. They had fancy cars, lived in high rises, worked in skyscrapers, and stayed at the Chase. Aaaaah, the Chase…..
One of our favorite areas of St. Louis to visit as a child, was known as the Central West End. At the corner of Lindell Blvd. and Kingshighway, at the western edge of the Central West End, sits the Chase Park Plaza Hotel. For many years, the Chase was the most affluent hotel in St. Louis and each year would host the Veiled Prophet Ball, held in conjunction with the 4th of July or as St. Louisans called it then, the VP Fair weekend. Many of our trips to St. Louis would take us past the Chase. You could see the Jaguars & Mercedes pulling in the circle to be valet-parked as the impeccably-dressed, stylish couples exited their vehicles and made their way inside. A drive down the Lindell Blvd. side of the hotel would give you an “ever-so-brief” glimpse into the glamorous pool area, where guests were tended to by waiters and towel boys. One look up at the marquee would tell you who was performing that weekend. The Chase has hosted its share of celebrities, including George Clooney when he was in town filming “Up In The Air”. Baseball manager, Tony LaRussa, called the Chase home during Cardinal baseball season. Closed briefly in the 90′s for extensive renovations, the Chase is back & well worth a stay if you’re in town.
So……..we checked in. And we enjoyed every single minute. It’s the perfect getaway for what we went for. Solitude. The only time we left during our stay was to go to dinner, easily accomplished with a call to the valet for our car and the Urban Spoon app. Back at the hotel, we lounged poolside and enjoyed each other’s company. Sunday morning, we had breakfast under the gorgeous gothic walkway by the pool. It was insanely good & even better to not have to mediate arguing while we ate. We chatted and perused the Post-Dispatch & looked up to see a party coming down the walkway that included an incredibly elegant woman dressed in a pale pink tennis skirt & matching polo, emblazoned with the logo from a country club that was foreign to me. Following her, were what appeared to be two nurses, a tall male & much shorter, younger female, both dressed in scrubs. They were pushing a well-dressed man with flawless silver hair & a somewhat blank stare, in a wheelchair. The woman asked if she could move the extra chair at our table for more room & we told her “sure, you may even take it if needed”. They moved on to a table two down from us. At this point, neither Chuck or I mentioned them to one another.
We finished our breakfast and staked out two pool chaises, planning to park ourselves on them & soak up the sun until check-out time. The waiter brought us drinks and we began to discuss the crew that had passed our table at breakfast. ”Wasn’t she a beautiful woman?” Chuck said. I told him yes and that I thought she was so elegant and seemed so composed in the face of something that was very difficult happening in her life. We talked about how they were probably staying at the Chase because of it’s proximity to Barnes Jewish Hospital, SLU Medical Center and Washington University Medical Center. And suddenly a young couple in front of us got up off their chairs and the nurses, “elegant woman” and wheel-chair bound man appeared from the right. The couple that was leaving graciously volunteered that the chairs were theirs if they wanted them and Chuck and I then watched as the nurses helped take the shirt & shoes off the man & lift him onto a chaise beside the woman that we had determined to be his wife. I may or may not have googled the country club name on her polo at this time (thank you Steve Jobs – I’m forever in your debt) & determined that it was indeed not in Missouri. They must be here for medical reasons…..
We watched as inconspicuously as we could but we were clearly both touched and fascinated by the situation in front of us. It became very clear that their was a communication barrier between the two. Perhaps he had a stroke. Or Alzheimer’s. Likely not Parkinson’s, as he was still for the most part. She seemed, expression-wise, to feel helpless in attempting to communicate with her husband. He sat, almost eerily still on his chaise, except for occasionally taking a sip of his drink. He gazed straight ahead, sporting sunglasses that only a man of significant wealth would own. Chuck said it best as “very Aristotle Onassis”. His wife leaned back on the chaise, folded her arms overhead and the glint of the sun on her diamond and emerald caught both our eyes at once. I don’t think I’ve ever personally seen a bigger solitaire or emerald than she was wearing that day, made even more beautiful by her perfectly manicured hands & the elegant way in which she held them. After less than 30 minutes & a couple of dips in the pool for Chuck & me, she began to motion to the nurses, who had retreated to the other side of them pool, I assume to allow the couple privacy. They responded and it became obvious all three were trying to determine the man’s wishes and needs. I heard her say, “I think he’s had enough and would like to go back up. I’ll come in a bit.” They dressed him, she kissed him and away he went. At this point, she leaned back & appeared to take a deep breath & release it as if it was the first time she had actually breathed out since waking.
After a few, Chuck & I decided we could use a couple waters so I headed for the poolside bar. I still am not sure why I spoke but I stopped and looked at the woman and told her that her emerald had caught my eye and that it was the prettiest stone I believe I had ever seen. She turned and spoke and said, “Well, thank you! I’m surprised it’s even visible. It hasn’t been cleaned in ages!” She held out her hand and showed it to me, looking down at it herself, while telling me it was a gift from her husband. It was even more beautiful close-up and surrounded by diamonds that had to be about 1/4 carat each. I sensed that she was surprised I spoke & I said, “I hope you don’t think I’m strange for speaking but my husband & I were just talking about how beautiful we thought you were when you walked passed us at breakfast.” She looked up at me and I will never forget the expression on her face. She was clearly touched and said she had not felt beautiful in over a year. That she rarely has time to even “get herself together” anymore & just feels an accomplishment to have made it another day. At one point, I thought a tear was going to escape her left eye but she remained composed and seemed to relax as if a weight had been lifted. I sat down on the chaise her husband had been sitting on and we began to talk. She told me her first name & I told her mine. And then I learned their story. They had actually moved into one of the private residences at the Chase just a week earlier. They had been living in a very large home in St. Charles but it was too much with her husband’s condition to care for the home and him too. He owned (& may still, we didn’t cover that) a company that was a pioneer in pharmaceutical injection moldings & was extremely successful. He had grown up on the Hill, an Italian neighborhood in St. Louis & was a self-made man. All of our guesses were wrong about his condition. He was a plane crash survivor. The doctors thought he had recovered but something else was clearly wrong. He finally went back in to see what could be done and he had suffered a brain injury that they missed immediately following the accident. The doctors did surgery, admitting that it could improve his condition, keep things the same or it could make things even worse. They took a chance. It made things worse & he will never be the same. He requires constant care. She tried caring for him herself but he’s a tall, strong, imposing man and unintentionally tore one of her tendons and dislocated her shoulder when she was attempting to move him. That’s when the nurses came into play. 24/7, he has their care. The country club name on her shirt had been unfamiliar to me because it was in Florida, where they have a second home. They still go there for part of the summer, nurses in tow. I got the feeling she hadn’t visited with anyone in ages. We talked about family and how she has no kids. He has several from a previous marriage. They are no help, concerned only with what will happen to the fortune. She is evil in their eyes. She is younger than he is. (I have a soft spot for younger wives, as my stepmom is 12 years younger than my dad and the best thing to ever happen to him. Never judge age differences.) My heart went out to this woman in so many ways. It always will.
Before you leave comments pointing out how wonderful it would be to have resources to have 24/7 care and how there are poor people suffering worse, & God forbid, you say this woman has no clue how lucky she is, I beg you to stop. When you wake one day with the person you love being changed 100% for the rest of your life, that knows no class. Suffering is suffering, regardless of resources. Perhaps it’s even sadder that with all the financial resources at her disposal, she cannot change this, no matter how hard she tries. I have a soft spot for people who marry into families that don’t accept them. I’ve been there. I’m over that. She appears to be too. Thank God for that. She has bigger hurdles now. Chuck & I were able to escape last weekend. Just pick up and go. We have no children that require constant care, are wheel-chair bound, or learning-disabled. We don’t know suffering. I joke about it. I joke about how I have days where I can’t take things or that I’m about to lose it. I let little things get to me. I know I shouldn’t & I won’t promise to stop because that’s unrealistic. Sometimes the fact that someone else is having a shittier day, doesn’t make yours any less hard to take. But I will think of this woman for the rest of my life. I will never forget the lessons I gleaned from a 20 minute visit on a chaise lounge, poolside, at a luxury hotel.
I felt somewhat guilty for taking her alone time, which, to me, is precious, so I didn’t tarry long on the chair. But I left with the feeling that she welcomed the interaction and the fact that someone cared enough to stop and tell her they noticed her. I went back to my own spot and told Chuck that stories like that are why we were at the Chase in the first place. They’re why I don’t want to risk waiting til we’re 65 to enjoy each other, travel & begin checking things off our bucket lists. We had the option to pack up and run from our stresses. She does not. Ours will get better in a day or two. Hers will not. Perhaps more of us should take a look at what we have and then envision what life would be like if it was taken in a heartbeat. Because I’m here to tell you friends, that is exactly what can happen. And I don’t think there is ever, EVER a way to be prepared.
NOTE: (Yes, the photo was actually taken at the hotel, this weekend. I felt that since her face didn’t show & I blurred the other two, it wouldn’t hurt to share.)