Friday, 30 March 2012

Columbia, Missouri

My partner, Ric Reed, is a person who does not walk to the rhythm of anybody's drum. From what he has told me of his growing up years, he - being the youngest - had to go along with family schemes. For instance, his paternal grandfather  - while a physician and the County Coroner - was a railway buff and enlisted the other members of his family to be involved.

At the time that railways were changing around North America and the railway hub in Pine Bluff, Arkansas was being phased out, Dr. Reed promoted the idea of refurbishing old railway cars and operating 'scenic railway tours' through the Ozarks. Ric was forced to be a part of this and he hated it.

Therefore, when it came time for him to enter university, he went against the family tradition of being a 'Razorback' (a student at the University of Arkansas) and opted for the University of Missouri instead.

That university is situated in the city of Columbia near to the center of the state. Coming from a home where church involvement was part of life, he sought out his 'House of Faith' there.

After a year or so he was selected to be an exchange student at the university in Puebla, Mexico and moved there. A week or so after his arrival, on a Saturday, he was walking in the city square when he was hit and badly injured by an out-of-control taxicab. His injuries were so severe that there was doubt as to whether he would survive. His Dad flew down to be with him and rode with him on a special flight to Houston, Texas where he received the medical help needed for his survival.

Once back upon his feet he returned to the University of Missouri, went to the Newman Center (where, he has said, he received the spiritual help that he needed). Through that experience he converted to Roman Catholicism and became  involved with that worship community. Ric is quite gifted, musically,  and the Newman Center had attracted a number of very gifted musicians who welcomed Ric and his talent among them.

When he left university to work in the IT field, he maintained his connections there and returned every Easter to donate his musical gifts. We met in January, 2001 and, at Easter, he returned to Columbia. The following year he took me along with him.

While I had been through Missouri - at least parts of that state - on the crazy trip to and from the Awards Night in Hollywood, this visit to that part of the state was a new experience for me.

Each of us flew to St Louis where we were booked on the shuttle van up to Columbia. Air Canada had one flight a day from Toronto to St. Louis and on a smaller regional aircraft. We arrived at around the same time and then had a wait for a couple of hours before we could take the shuttle van.

I was surprised by how small the St. Louis airport was (the amenities - especially for food - were appalling). The area where we had to wait for the shuttle was near the luggage carousals. While we
waited we saw the same family (a mother, two sons and young daughter) pass us a number of times. The boys were wearing 'Mickey Mouse' hats so I guessed that they were returning from Disney World in Orlando. Finally the woman stopped to apologize - the reason that they were passing so frequently was that the little girl was positive that I was Santa Claus!

Eventually our shuttle arrived and we were on our way along I-70 to Columbia. Ric's long time friend, Larry Coleman, met us and took us to his home - a nice bungalow on the eastern edge of the city.

Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter were spent at the Newman Center which - as the photo shows - is large and modern. Also, there is a lovely stained glass window in one of the walls.

I met some wonderful people that weekend - except one. She had met me and we had chatted and, thereby, she discovered that I am not a Roman Catholic. At the services where Ric was involved in the music program, I sat near there. However, at the Holy Saturday service, he was asked to oversee the lights and soundboard equipment which were at the back of the far side seating. When it came time for communion, I went forward with Ric behind me. As I approached this woman - who had the host - she turned her back on me. Ric saw the snub and was livid vowing never to return there. Others of his friends witnessed the snub and understood his reaction.

A few months ago one of the women in the music ministry at that church passed away and Ric flew there to be a part of her memorial. That has been the only time that Ric has been there since 2002.

Other aspects of Columbia intrigued me. One was the local squirrels - they are larger than the ones found here and their fur is a combination of grey and red (the indigenous ones here are black although larger greys are now migrating here from further south).

Much of the below surface material around Columbia is limestone in which water has cut caverns and tunnels. We visited a couple of those.

This one is called "The Devil's Ice Cave"

                                           Ric standing in front of the Visitors' Information board.

                               Ric walking through a cleft that was too claustrophobic for my liking.

                                                           Sitting in one of the caverns

On Easter Sunday afternoon Larry drove us back to the airport in St. Louis. As it so happened, the Air Canada plane from Toronto had developed engine problems and there was a delay of a number of hours before a replacement could be flown in. In the interim I struck up a conversation with a man who lived with his wife in a small town up towards Columbia. He was a software developer who worked for a company in Toronto and had been home for the weekend.

As this was not too long after 9/11, airport security was pretty tight and individuals were singled out from among the waiting passengers for a thorough screening. This fellow said that, although he was clean cut, Caucasian and dressed neatly, he was always singled out. Sure enough - he was again!

At Pearson this fellow offered to give me a lift downtown in the airport limo he was hiring. I reached home much quicker than usual thanks to him!

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