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  • My mother is staying with me, a brief visit. A long way for her, from Bristol in England.

    Yesterday, we drove south down Interstate 55 to the Mississippi riverside village of Ste. Genevieve.

    Ste. Genevieve is the oldest European settlement west of the Mississippi River, founded originally by the French in 1735. It's been moved three times over the course of its history to contend with the vagaries of the Mississippi that lies on the eastern border of the village but it has endured.

    Much of its charm relates to the continued preservation of many of its historic buildings. In many cases due to luck or the foresight of owners and residents, for only recently has an official sense of the historic worth of this town become established.

    So here we are in the Missouri State Park Felix Vallé State Historic Site listening to Natalie describe the alternating French and American styles of table silverware. The French is laid with the backs of the forks and spoons towards you, the American with the fronts uppermost.

    In the cupboard to the rear of the photograph as well as on the dining table is a collection of English Spode transferware dating from the approximate period, in this case that of the 1830s. My mother recognized it immediately. She's good at these sorts of things.

    Natalie continued, describing the portraits of the married first cousins, Felix and Odile Vallé who owned the house and store at that time. Portraits designed to indicate wealth, education and piety. Both figures wore an expression of considerable severity, adding to an already generating sense that this was a cold house. When we later learned that the only child of the Vallés had left as a very young man for a life of exploration and adventure further north and west, not far behind the footsteps of Lewis and Clarke, I did not find that information at all surprising.

    This was the house that was left. I left my own childhood house and made my own lengthy journey as a young man but, unlike the young Felix Vallé, I've survived far beyond 33 years of age, and I can see my own mother every Sunday on Skype. And, thanks to intercontinental jet aircraft, I can be in the same room with her, albeit for a too brief period.

    A reminder, this little dip into the past, of how much has changed for the better.
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