Leaving the Homeplace: Tales Beyond the Levee
The first time I left home I was just 14 years old and facing my freshman year in high school. That memorable day, I boarded a Greyhound bus at the terminal in my small hometown at the spur of Highway 61 and Scott Street. And no, I had not had a fight with my parents. And no, I had not sneaked out of a window, and no, I was not running away from home.
Rather, my “cradle Catholic” parents had decided to give their daughters a better education by sending them to a Catholic boarding high school in Kansas City, Missouri. We had all received an excellent grammar school education at the local Catholic school, and my mother and father wanted the best for us. So, after helping us pack our mandatory uniforms and a few personal items, our parents drove my sister Harriet, who was almost 16, and me to the bus station where we purchased tickets for the trip. Back in those segregated times, there were separate waiting rooms, one designated “Colored,” and the other said “White.” This was several decades before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended segregation in public places.
After handing our suitcases to the bus driver, my sister Harriet and I were ready to go. I don’t remember any sniffles–we were probably too excited about this new adventure and our parents were no doubt holding back their tears. We told our parents and younger siblings “goodbye” and selected our seats for the day-long trip. Busses in those days were much safer than some of those encountered today, and my sister and I were together. I didn’t feel afraid even though I was only fourteen. I don’t recall exactly where we sat except that it was close to the front of the bus. My mother had lovingly prepared a basket of fried chicken and biscuits for us to eat along the way. We stashed it over our heads on the baggage racks. There was no need to buckle up. There were no seat belts in the 1940s.
It was close to sundown when we arrived at the bus station in downtown Kansas City. From there we hailed a cab to take us to our new home away from home: Loretto Academy on 39th and Roanoke. It had been an exciting day.
This is the simple story of my first leave-taking from the home place and my beloved hometown. There were many other journeys to come. A jaunt which stands out was my husband’s and my trip to New Madrid during medical school in a secondhand Chevrolet where we tied the gear shift to the seat belt to keep it in gear. But the one we always talked about was my parents’ 1924 harrowing trek to California in a Model T when they replaced the skinny tires four times before they got home. I hope you will enjoy reading these stories.