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"Ya Gotta Love It"

“Under the land of our neighborhood, there are sealed coal mines and clay pits. A miniature version of the Industrial Revolution was enacted under our feet, and before that, somewhat lackadaisical farming by the French, under Spanish rule. Before that it was prairieland of the Missouri and Osage Indians, land good for giant grasses, butterfly weed and buffalo. And once the sod was broken, growing food in this rich Mississippi mud. I’m sure it’s native hyperbole, but a lifelong resident of my neighborhood told me that, if I could dig below the random rubble from building materials and the like, I’d find twenty feet of topsoil.

The people here, unlike my own, were never noticeably English or Protestant. Here came waves of immigrants looking to make a fortune, or just a living: French, Spanish, Irish, Welsh, German, Italian. And of course the Africans brought here by no choice. And in the last twenty to thirty years: Vietnamese, Thai, Bosnians, Mexicans.

When it was thought the Kosovars might be coming to America in the thousands, the newspaper editorial here said: Let them come to St. Louis. Ya gotta love that. There’s a sweetness here, a friendliness, a low-key welcome, an open door, people unimpressed by bona fides, whether of credentials, origins or money, and more than a little provincial. They’re particularly hard on themselves, seemingly partly from little experience elsewhere. They seem surprised at praise, distrustful of wonder, and even-keeled about almost everything else.

Well it’s a plain Heartland community, strong on family, church, neighborhood, sports and union. (Ya gotta love that it’s still a union town, and that every square inch is identifiably some specific neighborhood.) Whether the Cardinals are hot or not, pumped-up mottos zip across the buses where bus stop names normally go, and people Dress Red. Oh yeah. (And when the Cardinals are hot, the games are piped into the grocery stores’ sound systems: doesn’t everyone want to hear?)

I’ve lived a zillion places, with grits and without, not all of them even faintly lovable. And I say you can leave it or live it, but ya gotta love sweet St. Lou.”

-- From the conclusion to “Ya Gotta Love It.”