Long ago in South St. Louis Mom and Dad would go to an early Mass on Sundays. Maybe 6:30, but I’m not sure. Anyway, it was early. They’d bring home donuts from Donut Drive-In on Chippewa.
But between the time they left for Mass and the time they returned with donuts, us kids would get into mischief. As I remember it, my oldest sister, Tee, started it.
Tee would come downstairs, go straight to the ice box, open the freezer, pull out the newish carton of Neapolitan ice cream (“newish” because Mom and Dad shopped on Thursdays), and stand over the sink eating it with a big spoon straight from the carton.
Being a good little brother, ten years her junior, I would not tell Mom if she gave me some. I didn’t know what quid pro quo meant then, even though the Mass was still in Latin, but I had already mastered it by the age of five.
Tee called me at 9:30 on a Friday night about five weeks ago.
“You know I haven’t been feeling well, right?” she said. The rest came out all in one long, painful monologue. “I have stage four cancer. My liver is shot. They told me I’m too weak for chemo, and they don’t even know what kind of cancer it is. It didn’t start in my liver, but that’s where it’s done the most damage. Too much smoking and drinking. I’ve lost like twenty pounds in a couple of months . . .”
And my mind went to Neapolitan ice cream with a big spoon straight from the carton on Sundays while Mom and Dad were at Mass and getting donuts.
Between those Sundays in 1969 and last Tuesday, Tee (her real name is Mary Patrice, but we called her Tee) lived a life normally found only novels. Tee’s life could have been a collaboration between J.D. Salinger and Hunter S. Thompson. The sentiment and love of Franny and Zooey combined with the bad crazy search for the American Dream of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Plus, big doses Hell’s Angels.
Tee was a bank executive and a member of the Statesmen Motorcycle Club. At the same time. And for many years. Brooks Brothers by day, Levi’s vest and biker chaps by weekend. Somewhere among the 320 million Americans must exist another banking biker, but I have yet meet her.
Tee was top-notch bank operations officer. Beginning as a teller, she rose to leadership in several banks, spending the most time at the old Mark Twain Bank, then Ever Bank, from which she retired last June.
My other sisters were closer to her. I was away from St. Louis in the Navy for ten years, then moved to western edges of St. Louis County while they all remained close to (or in) the 63139 zip code in which we grew up. Along with my sisters Mickey and Sue, Tee became a fixture at St. Louis Blues and Cardinals home games. They bowled together, hit the casino regularly, and took incredible care of Mom and Dad during Mom’s long, slow disappearance into the impenetrable fog of Alzheimer’s. My angelic sisters continue to care for our father.
At some point, Tee became a dedicated conservative, too. Visiting her frequently during her last few weeks at home, I noticed that she, like our dad, has a TV that gets only three channels: Fox News, Fox Sports Midwest, and (occasionally) NBCSN. If the Blues or Cardinals are not playing, it’s Fox News and nothing else.
Tee’s legacy is my nephew, her son, Scott. Scott and I pretty much grew up together. I was nine when Scott was born. I gave him chicken pox the day Tee brought him home from the hospital, and I’ve pretty much picked on the kid ever since. (Well, kid is probably the wrong word. Scott is, more or less, my age now.)
As the inevitable drew close, she requested the last rites of Holy Mother Church, which she received in the presence of her loving and devoted husband, Gary, a friend since childhood, and all those mentioned herein. Six days later, God, in His mercy, saw fit to rescue Tee from the tortures of cancer and this dark world.
There are many other stories of Tee that I could tell you, but I won’t. Let’s just say that Tee made sure I didn’t miss out on the fun of being 18 or 19 with your own wheels.
Tomorrow is Sunday. I am long removed from that house on Scanlan and the weird year of 1969. Mom and Dad no longer bust through the door with a white box of donuts. I gave up sweets. But tomorrow after Mass, I might stop at the store and get a small carton of Neapolitan ice cream to eat over the sink straight from the carton. Tee would laugh.