Friday, June 4, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

We safely made it to St. Louis this afternoon. We slept in this morning, then ate a quick breakfast and hit the road. We only had to stop once for lunch, so we landed in St. Louis ahead of schedule--I think that's a first for the Parker Pack!

We checked into our hotel, which is awesome--a junior suite that is so much bigger than our last room! Then we headed downtown to see the famous Arch.  We had originally planned to visit the arch in the morning, but since we arrived early, we figured we'd visit tonight so we could sleep in later tomorrow. Little did we know, there is a Cardinals game tonight, which meant tons of people in town visiting that had the same idea of visiting the arch.  Add to that the fact that only one tower tram was running today and you have a recipe for SUPER long lines. So, we decided to go ahead and pre-purchase our tickets for tomorrow morning while we were there and take in the Westward Expansion museum. We stood in line for tickets, and when it was our turn, I asked if there was a military discount. (Never hurts to ask and many parks and attractions have them.)  The lady kindly informed me that there wasn't a military discount, so I pulled out my credit card to pay. Well, a gentleman in line behind us came forward and asked if we were a military family.  We answered him yes, we were, and he insisted upon paying for our tickets. We're talking a $65 dollar gift. We argued and told him it wasn't necessary, but he would hear none of it and kindly thanked Brad for his service, paid for our tickets, and wished us well.

Several times over the years, we have had families anonymously pay for our meals, purchase tickets, or even press money into our children's hands. We are stopped often by strangers who shake Brad's hand and thank him for his service. Brad is always embarrassed and feels guilty for accepting the gifts others offer, but it warms my heart to see them honor my husband who willingly sacrifices so much. Brad has argued and tried to turn away the generosity of others, but I've finally convinced him that the best way to handle these situations is to politely decline once, but if they insist, to just accept the gift graciously. It is a tough pill to swallow for a proud soldier who thinks nothing of what he does. And although the gifts aren't necessary and certainly aren't expected or sought out, they are greatly appreciated.

We headed over to the museum to explore. It was filled with artifacts and exhibits about the expansion west and St. Louis' role. Aiden's favorite part: the tee-pee. As we peered inside, I told him how the entire family would live inside the tee pee with all of their belongings. "We'd be pretty crowded in there, all four of us and Freckles, wouldn't we?" Aiden quickly replied, "Aubrey could sleep on my butt and use it as a pillow. And I could toot in her face all night long! And daddy could sleep on top of you." At this point, I'm laughing, and Brad is liking the idea more and more, especially that part about the adult sleeping arrangements!

After exploring the museum, we walked through the park along the riverfront and just enjoyed the beautiful day. Then we headed back toward our hotel, which is in a suburb of St. Louis near the Galleria, to grab some dinner. After days of "country cooking" and fried foods, we found ourselves at PF Chang's for dinner, which was a welcome change. Our server was fantastic, spoiling Aiden and Aubrey the entire meal and distracting them when they got antsy. She was a Texas gal, born in Fort Worth, and we enjoyed chatting with her. At the end of our meal, upon hearing that Aiden was going to be visiting his girlfriend, Stella, tomorrow, she put together a gift for him to take Stella--a little gift bag with a cat figurine and a couple of fortune cookies for Stella and her little sis, Viv. She even asked her manager to give us a discount, as we were a military family, and they removed $20 from our bill. (We happily put that 20 back into her pocket as a tip!) It was an enjoyable evening and a nice break after a day in the car.

Tomorrow we'll visit the Arch and take our riverboat cruise in the morning.  We'll follow it with lunch at a restaurant featured on Diner's, Drive-Ins and Dives. Then we'll head east to Kentucky to visit the Fox family, arriving after dinner. It will be a long day, but it should be a great one!

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Check out A Belly in Bloom, a page devoted to Angela's pregnancy with Aubrey. You can see belly pics, sonograms, and learn more about how Aubrey (formerly known as "The Bean") came to be the lovely little girl she is! You can also find Angela's favorite recipes and newest food experiments at Cooking with the Parker Pack.