Saturday, June 26, 2010

Strawberry Wine

When I was 16 I moved from my band Blue Mist in the county to my new band in the city. My buddies, Dominic and Benet, had a townhouse in Laclede Town West and we could use their basement as a rehearsal space.

At our first meeting I walked in from the patio door to see Dom sitting on the couch with his arm around the most beautiful blond girl I’d ever seen. Her name was Lora and she was the little sister of our lead guitarist John Steffen.

John went on to become the youngest priest of a religious order in California. He came home to form Pyramid Construction, a development firm. He got involved in one of the biggest real estate deals in St. Louis. It turned into one of St. Louis’ biggest real estate disasters. Google John Steffen St. Louis for details.

Lora used to hang out at rehearsals. I ran through a couple of girlfriends before I even thought of asking her do anything with me. By then we actually felt more like buddies.

This was probably around 1975. Back then Illinois’ legal drinking age was 18. We drove across the MacArthur to the east side to buy strawberry wine. We weren’t even old enough for Illinois but no one cared.

We’d go back to my Soulard apartment and rave wildly as the stereo blasted. I couldn’t believe I found a girl who loved King Crimson’s “Lark’s Tongues in Aspic” and Captain Beefheart’s “Trout Mask Replica” as much as I did. Lora later confessed what she really loved was my enthusiasm.

Dominic turned us onto gin and Squirt. One night around three in the morning Lora and I spread a picnic blanket on a green at the Forest Park golf course. We parked my car right on the green. We waved at a police car that patrolled past us. It must have been so unexpected that he didn’t see us. Later I decided I better stay away from gin.

When I moved back to the West End Lora taught our group how to make batiks. We made films together. My band was in full swing but there was always enough time for another project. Somehow our relationship kept changing from intimate to casual. We were always on the same wavelength about that.

My buddy Bill Schmidt started hanging out with us. One night they left my apartment together. Stopping together in the doorway, they turned and asked, “This is okay isn’t it?” “Absolutely,” I said.

My buddy Tracy always had a crush on her too.

Years later we drifted back into each other’s lives. She followed me around the country when I was skydiving. Our friendship was stronger than ever. The casual nature of our relationship was different than anything I’ve ever experienced. There were intimate moments I wish I could tell because they were interesting and fun. Maybe they’ll find their way into a work of fiction someday. One day Lora asked, “Why don’t we just do it?” “Why don’t we just get married?” That thought evaporated almost as soon as it appeared.

I took our relationship for granted. I met Kim at the drop zone. When I ran into Lora again I had to tell her. Before I could even get it out she looked into my eyes and said’ “Oh no, you’ve met someone!”

Lora came to the wedding.

Last year my friend Marge threw a party at her farm in the country. Man we’ve all gotten old! Lora was there. A group of us were hanging around talking about our favorite drinks.

I said mine was strawberry wine. Lora looked at me and said, “Me too.”

Portrait of Lora by Matt O’Shea. Serenading Lora and her broken leg with my uke at the West End apartment I lived at with Marge. Note batik in window over my head. Marge took the photo. The last one's at a rest stop somewhere on the road to a distant drop zone.


Tony Patti said...

The world needs more and more pages celebrating the amazing Lora Steffen, whom I have loved for almost 40 years now. The problem is I have always lost my voice right when I needed it most when it comes to her. I try to explain what it is that makes her so incredibly real in a world full of fakers and I just can't do it. I have sometimes burned with envy for it, but in the end I'm just glad that she has always had better friends than me to do it for me.

Anonymous said...

Everything we experience is, of course, a matter of perspective. Naturally, this is strongly ruled by what we desire to perceive.

I remember many years ago you informed me Lora was your very best friend. Also, many years ago Fern, Lora's mother, told me Lora had been in love with you since she was 14 years old. She did not seem displeased with that and neither was I, to tell the truth. I always liked Lora a lot and felt comfortable with her.

I no longer remember Lora's comments when you got married, but I do remember she was angry. I felt bad, but if things were different I wouldn't have my wonderful grandkids.


Your Mom

Tracy said...

reading her name turns me to jello

Dorothy said...

I did not know Lora really at all, but I remember she had quite a compelling gaze, and I sometimes wondered what she was thinking. I know I bought a satchel and a couple of belts from her talented parents. And I must say, What a lovely face!