Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Highway Memorial Recalls Those Who Died in Other Ways

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Highway Memorial Recalls Those Who Died in Other Ways

Article excerpt

DRIVING TO work one day last week on Interstate 44, my mental list-making came to a sudden halt when I noticed a new addition to the highway landscape.

Overnight, someone had planted a 4-foot-tall wooden cross on the grassy knoll that rises from the south shoulder, near Hampton Avenue.

I didn't need a billboard to tell me what had happened there. Someone had died, probably in a car crash. The cross, decorated with a festive Christmas wreath, was an instant reminder of the fragility of life.

For years, people in Europe and Latin America have marked the sites of violent deaths with crosses, and the practice is even fairly common in America's West. On a trip to New Mexico a few years ago, I remember being awe struck by the number of such crosses along the shoulder of the back road between Santa Fe and Taos. Just last fall, on a trip to Montana, I came across an intersection that had a memorial cross on every corner.

A driver can't pass one of these shrines without involuntarily slowing down, both physically and mentally.

That's the point of these spontaneous memorials, after all. To remind us that a person who once lived and loved died at that very spot. To make us think: There but for a stroke of luck, an extra 10 minutes spent over the morning paper, a drop by the dry cleaner's, could be I. To make us mourn, if only for a few minutes, human potential derailed.

Without conscious effort, my thoughts segued back to the previous week, to a day in which I'd spent six hours interviewing 20 children about their worries. It was one of the most remarkable experiences of my reporting career.

Child after child, boys and girls, blacks and whites, city children and St. Louis County children, talked about living in fear of an early death. Almost all of them knew someone who had died violently. Some had lost fathers, uncles, cousins, friends.

"My friend Denise was killed in a drive-by shooting last year," said Lacy Miller, 17, a senior at McCluer High School and a prototypical All-American girl. "She and her boyfriend had gotten involved with a gang, and they had a confrontation. We had been really good friends, and then, obviously, our paths diverged. …

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