Thursday, July 29, 2010

The View From the 12th Floor

The View From the 12th. Floor

The view from the 12th floor office window of my recent new best friend, the bone and joint doctor by the name of Ligenfelter, in the Pavilion Section of the sprawling North Kansas City Hospital, stretched below and away to the south and east and west like an artful diorama of industry.

The scene before me, the distant Kansas City skyline, a broad and winding river, acres of flat-topped warehouses edged in by miles of busy streets and more acres of railroad tracks and their slowly moving cargos lent a lazy somnolence to the scene that tended to lull the senses.

But as I looked out across that river-bottom land, seeking out things and buildings and places familiar in my memories, it came to me that I was looking at the history of my family. What we were and what we had become had its inception in this small strip of flat land bounded by great rivers and their bridges, tall Loess bluffs and fields of fertile loam and yellow clay. It lay before me as an opened book lies upon a nightstand, waiting to be read.

To the east, just left of Harrah’s, the new (relatively speaking) gambling boat, the swift current of the Missouri pushed and rippled in orderly rows of roiling motion on to the east and a little bit north at this point, only to turn east and south again to continue it’s rolling, pushing advance to the even mightier Mississippi at the northern edge of St Louis, clear over on the Eastern edge of the state.

But in 1844 it was here and upon this river, up from the Mississippi, in its turn up from the Port of New Orleans, and on to St. Joseph, that Margaret Mary and Joseph Whiskerchen, our Great-Great Grandparents, and their children, newly from Rheinborg, Germany, brought everything they owned to find and farm a new home. Our Great Grandmother Mary Margaret Whiskerchen, the first of this family to be born in this country, married John Lewis and raised 14 children, one of whom was our grandmother, Eliza Lewis Stock.

And to the west the traffic of Burlington Street, that is actually Oak Street to the north and Oak Street to the south and becomes 71 Highway even further south, can be seen in patches between tall buildings and a few tall trees. This is a very old thoroughfare and although unpaved in 1908, it did go clear to the river where the ferry shuttled back and forth.

In that year it was a ferry that brought my mother’s mother, a pregnant-but-unwed, college educated, Missouri farm girl to the South bank of the Missouri where she was provided a carriage to take her up the hill to The Willows, a sanctuary for girls like her, and a well known baby mill, at 20th and Main. By raising my eyes just a little and there to the center of the Kansas City skyline and a little beyond I knew that that was where my mother was born.

Adopted by a North Missouri farm family, she told me of riding her pony on the loess bluff on this north side of the river overlooking what is now 210 hwy and of sitting her pony and looking out across at the limestone bluffs of Cliff Drive on the opposite side and down upon the hayfields that stretched from the foot of the bluff upon which she sat into what became Armour Road.

In 1912 the Armour-Swift-Burlington (ASB) Bridge at the end of Burlington Street was finally finished. By 1927 the bridge had suffered a fire at one section and needed other repairs and Dad was one of the fortunate who was employed, on that project.

Almost directly down and in front of my high window stands the tall square towers of what is left of the old mills where for over a hundred years cereal grains were ground, stored and shipped. Perhaps they still are. Dad worked at Corn Products, just east of the mills, and always came home wrapped in the North Town scent of warm ground grain.

And I know that the street that I look down upon goes to the west to the corner of Swift and Armour and the old Crown Drug Store where after school my sister served malts and grilled hamburgers and cold Coca Cola’s. And there on Armour was the hardware store where my brother worked after school and Saturdays and the huge, stark National Belles Hess building, the garment factory where my other sister, after her marriage, worked until she was too far pregnant to climb the stairs or stand the heat. And on that street my cousin’s filling station was the only chance to fill up until you got “over the river” or back north several miles.

And the Armour Theater, where my very first date and I, (we were 12 years old and he had walked five miles to escort me to the bus stop into Northtown,) shivered and screamed through the bleakness of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in black and white.

And 12 floors below me, in the single-floor three-wing infancy of this very hospital, my youngest daughter was born.

That small, sterile room so empty of all but myself just a few minutes ago had somehow become full to bursting, thanks to the view from the 12th floor office window of my recent new best friend, the bone and joint doctor.

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