I used to have extended family in the St. Louis area and when I was a kid we made the drive to visit them every now and then, but one trip to The Lou has stood out in my mind for almost forty years.
That one particular trip was supposed to be fun: my family went to St. Louis for a weekend getaway with another family, great friends, and what we kids looked forward to the most was our day at Six Flags St. Louis, known back then as “Six Flags Over Mid-America”.
And I’m sure it WAS fun, mostly. All except for the moment when…
I can still hardly talk about it.
You see, while at the park we decided to check out one of the live shows. I remember being very excited to go, because it was a live show featuring H.R. Pufnstuf, and that was one of my favorite television shows. If you’re not familiar with the television shows produced by the team of Sid and Marty Krofft in the 1970’s (another one was “Land of the Lost”), all you have to know is this: the shows were WEIRD. But we kids loved them!
I mean, really.
So there we were, sitting in the audience and enjoying the show, when suddenly the villain jumped off the stage and chased another cast member through the audience with a knife. (Oh, 1970’s…) Obviously it wasn’t a real knife but I was very young at the time and I thought it was. I was terrified. TERRIFIED.
I’m certain the show’s plot was resolved nicely and the villain was captured and H.R. Pufnstuf saved the day as usual, but I can’t remember anything other than the sight of that knife chase.
From that moment on and for more than thirty years after, I froze when in the company of people who happened to be wearing mascot costumes or heavy makeup to make them look other-worldly. There were a few exceptions: I was never afraid of Disney characters and Halloween never really bothered me, but other than that, if you were in costume and in the same room as me, I would:
1. not take my eyes off of you
2. feel paralyzed
3. be screaming in my head
4. have the shakes
(I was thrilled to eventually learn that one of my good friends had the same fear, not because she’s scared but because I didn’t feel so weird or alone! There’s probably a support group out there somewhere…)
As I grew older, of course I gained the skills to rationalize that people who are wearing costumes aren’t out to kill me, but it took a long, long time—decades!—to conquer my fear.
For some reason, intensive therapy (i.e. seeing Blue Man Group multiple times) got me to relax a little bit. Today I could conduct business as usual if someone in a gorilla suit were to walk in the room, but it was dicey there for a long time.
That’s why St. Louis has never been one of my favorite cities.
Jim had a conference there this week, though, and asked me if I wanted to accompany him there so he could go on his way back from our visit to our parents in Knoxville last weekend. I said yes. I wanted to make some good memories in St. Louis to help wash out the Big Bad One from so many years ago. And I did! I had such a short time there but I hit the Gateway Arch, Crown Candy Kitchen (oldest soda fountain in St. Louis), and Pappy’s Smokehouse (by most accounts, best BBQ in St. Louis). I even worked out at the Dailey Method studio there.
In my eyes, St. Louis has redeemed itself. I found it to be a unique, fun city full of friendly Midwesterners, and I would go back in a heartbeat. I think my six-year-old self would, too, as long as I keep her away from villains. And scary bunnies.
I mean, really.