Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bones in the River

This little story was inspired by Linda O'Connell in a recent post on her blog, Write from the Heart. It's a beautiful reminder of the Arch and Riverfront. Her story took me back. Here's a link to the post:

Bones in the River

1964 was a  year filled with excitement and change. LBJ was elected to continue the vision set by JFK. Khrushev has been tossed out by the Russkies. China showed the world it now had the atomic bomb. The Cardinals, led by a voracious Bob Gibson, won the World Series over the Yankees, led by a struggling Mickey Mantle. And I landed a job at KMOX-TV, the CBS station in St. Louis, at 12th and Cole Streets. 

I was one of the few single men there, which gave me a sense of freedom not enjoyed by most of the other guys. Then, to my good luck, three months after I started, the National Sales Manager hired a very attractive secretary. Her name was Mary Lee. She, too, was single.  So we began to hang out together. She was vivacious, in the mode of one of my favorite actresses, Betty Hutton. She was beautiful with a dynamite figure. And she had a great sense of humor, evidenced by how easily she laughed at all my jokes. 

Mary Lee and I would get together occasionally for lunch, or drinks after work. She went for Chablis, I preferred scotch and water, tastes now both thankfully put to rest. But our favorite lunch date was known by the code words, “Bones in the River.” As in, “Would you like to throw some bones in the river today?”

Here’s how it worked. We’d get into my 1960 Corvette convertible, top down, and head across Eads Bridge to East St. Louis. We’d wind our way through some side streets until we came to a small wooden shack with a take-out window and a hand-painted sign that said “Nichols BBQ.” We’d get two slabs of ribs, laid over slices of Wonder white bread, soaked in sauce, wrapped in wax paper, and head back across Eads to the St. Louis waterfront. We’d park on the levee, sit on the wall, and dig into the ribs. Oh, I forgot to mention. She had a root beer, I had an RC. In glass bottles. 

Behind us, on the hill overlooking the river, the St. Louis Arch was inching its way into the sky. Cranes crawled up the stainless steel legs, adding sections  slowly and carefully, approaching the day when the two legs would be joined by a final span. 

The grounds around the base were pretty much of a mess, looking like most other construction sites. But I’ve got to admit, it was exciting to think our city would soon have this distinctive structure. And there we were, Mary Lee and I, in its shadow, talking and laughing and getting sauce all over our mouths and hands. 

As we finished our ribs, we’d walk down to the edge of the Mississippi and ceremoniously toss the ribs into the brown, swiftly moving water. Sometimes we’d make a wish, but usually it was just a simple flip of the bare bones into the river. I don’t know if any of our bones ever made it to New Orleans, but I hope so.

Then we’d head back to the station and go our separate ways. 
That was in 1964. In 1965 we were married.
This May we will celebrate our 47th anniversary.

You may wonder if we ever went back for Bones in the River. We did. For our 25th anniversary. That was in 1990. A lot had happened in 25 years, including a completed Arch surrounded by beautiful grounds and an imposing staircase from the levee to the Arch. Nichols BBQ was now an empty lot, but we picked up some ribs that day at a BBQ joint in Soulard and sat on the levee once again. Mary Lee was still beautiful, still had a great body, and still laughed at my jokes.

Fortunately, some things never change.


  1. Wow Gerry what a beautiful piece. Outstanding and heartfelt. Thank you. Joe

  2. Pappy's Smokehouse has great BBQ these days. Gerry, what a great story. Her laughing at your jokes---is that proof she has a good sense of humor or is it proof that she's good at humoring a man? ;)

  3. Gerry, this is so incredibly touching and beautiful. Chicken Soup material and a treasure for your children and grandchildren and especially ML. Great pictures.

  4. This column is a nice early anniversary gift to Mary Lee, wonderful memory.

    In the 80's, when Dick and I first moved downtown, we loved to take a Sunday picnic down to the river, north of Eads Bridge, pre "improvements" and pre-gambling boats, and watch the fishermen and watch the river flow by. Never threw and bones in the water, but did see a fisherman catch one of those 100+ pound catfish. It was a monster fish and I sure made a great "fish story" for the man. I think the fish got bigger and bigger as we all stood around admiring his trophy. Thanks for triggering happy memories.

  5. This is wonderful. And so cool to see those pictures of the Arch going up!

  6. Gerry,

    When I first read the title of this post, I thought it was going to be a story about you jumping in! What a great surprise and man, I love these pics. The words tell me more about your history. How wonderful. How lucky. Yep, that Mary Lee, she's quite a dish and you, my friend, are quite a writer. Let's all go out for some ribs.


  7. That gives me an idea: a gathering of bbq fiends who commented on my post, at our house this summer. I make GREAT ribs. Only problem: it's a long walk to the river. Thanks for your comments. As a plan B, we could do White Castles on the banks of the Meramec River. Just kidding.

  8. Maybe you can find a 1960 Corvette comfortable somewhere and rent it. I guess it would take a lot of trips to truck us all to the river. Loved your story!

    1. I swear I typed CONVERTIBLE, not comfortable. Oh well... it was a great story.