My friend Mary Hendron died three days before Christmas.
To sort of paraphrase a Lou Reed song, a time of year billed as being magical gets evened out by loss.
Two friends lost their moms this December. Some other friends lost loved ones before New Year’s Day.
My mom died around Thanksgiving 2014, and my dad followed her just before St. Patrick’s Day 2015.
Judy and Ed Dees – who were like a second set of parents for me – died around the holidays, too. Judy passed away on Dec. 31, 2023. Ed died during Christmastime 2020.
But back to Mary Hendron.
I met her years ago while working on a travel story about St. Louis. Mary seemed to like my smart ass sense of humor. And I enjoyed learning about St. Louis from her.
See, Mary was that veritable wellspring of information about the city and county of St. Louis. Wellspring? Hell, to me she seemed to be the whole damn Mississippi River flowing by the town.
Sure, in her official role – then with the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission – she could tell you about the usual suspects, like Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, the Gateway Arch and her beloved Cardinals. But Mary knew people who knew people. You could tell.
Past that first visit, Mary wound up helping set up quite a few trips to her town for me. I enjoyed learning about St. Louis, its history and its things to do.
Like any town, St. Louis has its issues. But, it’s also filled with treasures, including a great zoo that’s free to visit and a baseball team that, until recently, has been consistently way better than either team Chicago has to offer.
Plus, as somebody born on Chicago’s South Side, we had a mutual “enemy” in the Chicago Cubs. Mary even got me above enemy lines, which is to say on one of those rooftops in Wrigleyville one time to watch the Cardinals beat the Cubs.
Thanks to befriending Mary, I learned about lots of places and had a host of adventures to chronicle. Those included:
- The aforementioned St. Louis Zoo and other free to visit palaces of learning in Forest Park
- The National Blues Museum
- A King Tut exhibit
- Busch Stadium for a tour
- A stay at a hotel across the street from the stadium, where from a room up high I may or may not have mooned the baseball park
- The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, to hear them play those masters of 20th Century folk music, Led Zeppelin
- Union Station (now a hotel) and the trippy light show in the grand hall
- A beer fest near the Gateway Arch
- A Highland Games
- The farm where they keep the Clydesdale horses
- Blueberry Hill in the Delmar Loop neighborhood (and other cool neighborhoods)
- Parkers Table, a fine little wine and cheese shop, near the quirky Cheshire Hotel, which is next to a big ass Amoco sign.
Mary could tell you where to eat, from the Italian places beyond those serving the St. Louis traditional toasted ravioli on The Hill, to the cajun cooking and related music at Broadway Oyster Bar and Hwy 61 Roadhouse, to breakfast at Evangeline’s Bistro and Music House featuring the early jazz, blues and hokum stylings of Miss Jubilee and the Humdingers.
You want Irish? Mary knew Irish. In fact she was married to Gerry McIntyre, from Donegal, whom she called Mac.
Mary introduced me to the folks at quite a few pubs of the Celtic variety.
Stops include time spent eating and imbibing Seamus McDaniel’s in Dogtown, a neighborhood with Irish roots and a bit like Chicago’s Beverly. Scotch eggs and haggis were had at The Scottish Arms. And there were Welsh places to try, too, including the Dressel’s and Llwelyn’s.
That’s not to mention St. Louis’s most famous Irish pub, McGurk’s, in Soulard, the St. Louis version of New Orleans’ French Quarter.
In Soulard, there was a pizza joint (the name I can’t recall) where, when Billy Joel’s Piano Man came on the jukebox, most of the regulars sang along. But hey, they can be forgiven. It was probably just the Provel cheese on the pizza talking.
Mary also made me aware of Soulard being the home of St. Louis’ Mardi Gras season festivities.
Because of her, I witnessed Mardis Gras time wiener dog races. Friends and I also rode on Mardi Gras parade floats and tossed beads to the crowds on two occasions.
Those Mardis Gras trips included stops at the Social House, where there were painted ladies working for a living. Yes. They were literally painted. (Social House is now a more family-friendly place called Social Bar & Grill. Go figure.)
Who would have thought that Mary, who attended St. Louis’ Bishop DuBourg High School, who loved cats and gardening, would know the folks who ran such a joint?!
Mary called Springsteen her boyfriend. Springsteen, and former Cardinal player and fabled announcer Tim McCarver, who passed away in February, 2023.
Mary and I kept it touch, most frequently in recent years by text.
A virtual pack rat, I’m not one to erase texts, emails or photos. (Don’t even get me started about Google and the promise it once made about unlimited storage space.)
As when Mrs. Dees passed, I recently started to sift through messages from Mary. It’s comforting, like having a friendly electronic ghost with inside my phone. At least until I need a new phone.
In one of the online messages Mary sent me, she mentioned that one time a few years back she was backstage once at a Rolling Stones concert, probably when she and a buddy ran their own PR firm, Insight Rocks. Charlie Watts nodded and said “evening ladies” to Mary and her friend. Mick Jagger was busy talking with the stage manager.
Most of our exchanges were mundane. Among them, though, were talks about her fighting with cancer.
There was a vacation cruise during 2023 that wound up diverted by stormy seas.
She and a friend took in a show that involved cats trained to play musical instruments, including a cowbell. For some reason, there was a chicken involved, too.
And we messaged about movies.
“Did you see Banshees? Jaysus!,” Mary texted. “That was considered a comedy? Oh, yeah. It’s Irish.”
Which is perfect, because that can be the Irish sense of humor right, magic smacked upside the head by loss? In the case of The Banshees of Inisherin, though, sorrow floated from (mostly) human folly, self-inflicted and inflicted upon others.
So we laugh. And maybe we learn a thing or to and occasionally bring a glimmer of hope, a bit of joy into the world.
Mary had a gift for this – and a gift for wrapping Christmas gifts.
And I better get to putting a ribbon around this big box of a blog post.
We keep the dead alive in our memories, by sharing stories about them. If we did pick up something from them along the way, maybe that work its way into our daily lives. Who knows?
Maybe it was the case last weekend, when I was hanging out on the eve of New Year’s Eve with the three grandkids of my buddy Tom.
One of our five or six stops that Saturday included the Elgin Public Museum. It’s a great place for taking kids who are 8,7 and 5. It’s relatively small, inexpensive and kid friendly. Kids can do crafts and might even learn a thing or two. (And who doesn’t enjoy a replica T-Rex skull, where you can press a button for it to make a noise?)
For a half hour or so, we were the only guests in the place. So Lily, who is 8, wound up having a conversation with the young woman who was working behind the counter.
The boys worked on crafts. The youngest, Julian, worried and whined that his attempt to draw a cartoon dog was not a masterpiece. I told him about Picasso and got him to finish. I put it in my wallet and told him I might try to sell it on eBay to get him college money.
Then another family arrived. With no prompting from me, the three kids under my charge took it upon themselves to help the group complete a scavenger hunt through the museum.
I kept my distance and watched the three scamper through the museum with their new acquaintances. I think Lily and Izzy showed off reproductions of drawings on display they made for an exhibit on native species – a fuzzy bee of some sort and a squirrel more commonly found near Springfield (where there are a lot of squirrels, for obvious reasons). There was much chatter and excitement.
Before we left, Julian gave out stickers he had won for finishing the scavenger hunt to the kids he just met.
And the other adults thanked me and the trio for the wonderful first-time visit to the museum.
I’d like to credit my wondrous parenting skills for this display of benevolent behavior.
Almost a week later it dawned on me – fitting, as it was they day before the Feast of the Epiphany. Anyway, I figured out that the kids were being Mary Hendron, sharing what they know about where they live and getting a kick out of it. I frequently serve as their tour guide, taking them to places they’ve never been and back to the ones they enjoy. Maybe they picked it from me being their Mary Hendron, taking them to museums, zoos, parks.
Okay. That’s all conjecture. But that’s how you keep the dead alive. Moments like that.
Being Irish, of course, means I realize and have experienced that those moments can be very fleeting. A great day can turn into a rough night. That makes such moments all the more important.
Being Irish, I also tend to ramble. I’m working on that.
So in my friend’s honor, I will end here with a link to the aptly titled Springsteen tune, Meet Me in St. Louis.
One of these days, when the kids are old enough and Grandpa Tom joins us for the fun, I hope we make it back to St. Louis.
NOTE: Mary Hendron’s friends and family held a gathering to celebrate her life on Saturday (Jan. 6). Any memorials may be directed to the Animal Protective Association in her name.