Stay-cation in St. Louis

 Sweets, sights and service in St. Louis inspired Sam’s parents to stay home and vacation during spring break this year. 

Inside the Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate factory a sign cautioned, “Shhh. The Oompah Loompahs are sleeping.” Sam, 8, sniffed the rich aroma of natural chocolate and watched the white clad workers bend over conveyor belts arranging rows of caramel cubes for their immersion in chocolate. As each piece exited the chocolate, a gloved hand carefully pinched enough chocolate at the back of each cube to drag a distinctive line across each block. Since she did not look like an Oompah Loompah, Sam figured the real ones slept behind the doors labeled “Employees Only.” 

The tour guide held a platter of chocolate samples. No one can eat just one piece of chocolate in a room permeated with the smell of rich chocolate and the only exit being through the candy shop. Shopping followed. “I want the ones with raspberry and honey filling. And one with nuts and one with peanut butter. I love chocolate!” Sam rubbed his hands. He really loved the chocolate tasting feast at home around the table with jugs of water and tiny square plates holding samples. Chocolate with peanuts. Chocolate with pecans. Chocolate with raspberry filling. Chocolate with soft chocolate filling and, of course, the Elvis Presley specialty: Chocolate with bananas and peanut butter. 

Once I wanted to test what the difference between half a dozen very similar flavors,” the tour guide had said. “So I tried a bite of each and felt awful.” Sam tasted. He did not feel awful, he felt wonderfully full of chocolate. 

The family ended the day with a trip down memory lane at Game Haven STL with flower covered couches and plenty of original Nintendo, Atari and Play Station games. 

The Mario was really pixelated,” Sam observed. He knows today’s more familiar high definition, detailed pictures. Still for $3 an hour per person, he experienced a glimpse of his dad’s childhood games. 

So many free or historical things to see and do close to home including the city’s landmark The Arch soaring over the skyline. Sam had not been to the top of the Arch. Friday the family went. First, each placed belts, jackets and loose change in bins for the metal detectors. The past may have had pixelated digital games, but it never had such security checks. Sam and his dad studied the museum portraying the history of this ancient crossroads of North America until the time came to take the slow tram to the top of The Arch.

Sometimes the children dictated the activities: Do you want to play UNO?” Henry, Sam’s kindergarten brother, asked as he held a stack of cards hopefully. He lost. His dad won. The next day he asked, “Do you want to play Candy Land?” The kids only added a few extra rules to insure Henry won. 

Sandwiches at the park. Pizza in the car. Lunch at the cloth covered table with real dishes and napkins and the last supper at the church feeding the homeless coming in out of the cold for the night. Big sister Sophie helped hand out filled backpacks. Henry quickly found a new friend with a smartphone. Sam greeted people and talked with a young man lacking shoes. 

Sam pulled out the dollar he had found on the ground. “Here, you can buy shoes.” 

The man shook his head. 

No, you can have it,” Sam insisted. The man relented, allowing Sam to give a little back after a week of taking – a great ending for any vacation away or at home.