We met at the Gelateria Del Leone on South Grand, after she heard about my blog from Joanna (Coffee #51). Things were off to a good start when I managed to parallel park in an incredibly tight spot. Inside, Kate was already seated and working diligently over her sketch pad. Once we exchanged the usual pleasantries, Kate told me that she grew up in Maryland Heights, lived in a volunteer house in the inner-city (aka “shadytown USA”) and now lives near Tower Grove in the same building as her mom and brother.
After living in her apartment in Tower Grove for awhile, Kate’s landlord approached her. He was moving out and wanted her to be the landlady in exchange for a pretty nice discount. Why not? While it can occasionally be hectic, for the most part she enjoys it because, “There’s definitely a lot of stories and people are crazy!”
Her brother moved into the same building when he came home from a volunteer trip in El Salvador and not long after, her mom joined them. “It sounds like some sort of Wes Anderson movie and I don’t know which character I am. Which kind of gives me stress.” It doesn’t help that she says her family is a weird magnet. If anything strange is happening within 50 feet, it’s bound to find them.
For example, there’s the friendly neighbor who gets his newspaper without wearing any underwear… just a shirt that’s a bit long. Shortly after witnessing this for the first time, Kate came home to a stranger named Benny in the backyard. He told her with a wink, “Oh, don’t worry, I’m friends with No Underwear’s mom.” Later that week, No Underwear’s mom told Kate in a very strong Jersey accent, “Benny would like yah numbah.” Kate answered, “What do you mean? Like, for a book club?” She laughed as she told me the story and her inner monologue as this was happening. “I am soooo taken right now.”
Kate loves drawing naked people, which she says “everyone’s all curious about.” It began when she took a figure drawing class at Webster University, but she really became interested after volunteering in India for a year. In Indian culture, showing arms or legs is considered very provocative (however showing the midriff is not). After experiencing this for a year and returning to America, it was eye opening for her that everything here is about sex. “When you come back you’re like…. WHEW! She just did that to him to sell some floss?!” Now, for her, figure drawing is a way to present the human body in a way that isn’t meant to be erotic or make you feel any certain way.
Drawing began at a young age for Kate, when she grabbed the crayons from her brother and began coloring inside the lines. When I asked if it was a hobby, she flinched. “Drawing’s kind of a strange thing in that… I mean, it’s definitely, it rides like such a strange line between... if you tell people you’re a painter, they’re like ‘Oh, you’re an artist. You’re a painter.’ Nowadays when you tell people that you draw, they’re like ‘You mean like cartoons or animation?’”
While figure drawing is her favorite, Kate also loves to do commissioned work. I confessed that I wasn’t sure how to go about approaching someone to do a commission for me, but that I would love to. She nodded and said she experiences that fairly often. In fact, she has considered creating a handbook for people on how to ask. Apparently it’s sometimes hard for her to do this type of work however, because it typically ends up being so personalized and special that it feels more like it should be a gift.
When she was in 5th grade, Kate’s mom would bring her to volunteer at a soup kitchen. It changed her life and got her very involved in social justice. One day a few years ago she attended the church next door and heard a gospel choir practicing. So, despite the fact that she can only “fool someone into thinking she’s not tone deaf” she asked when they held auditions. The answer was, “Aw baby girl, we don’t do auditions. You just come and you sing.” And so she has. During rehearsal, when Kate misses a few notes, they are very kind about how they let her know. “Baby girl, you are singing some good notes. But they are not the same good notes we are singing.”
The interest in singing also came about during her time living in India. In the spring of her senior year, Kate signed up through a small French volunteer organization to travel to El Salvador. One month before she was scheduled to leave, the organization contacted her and said they had made a mistake, the volunteer home in El Salvador was full. But there was always India! “I won the volunteer jackpot,” she said as she began reminiscing about the mango farm she lived on for a year. This farm was a refuge for people who didn’t fit anywhere else in society. People with down syndrome, schizophrenia, AIDS and even 11 kids whose families couldn’t afford to take care of them, lived here.
Kate occasionally helped with the mangoes, but for the most part she helped a girl who was a year older than her. The girl had been diagnosed with polio at the age of 4, was orphaned at 6, and then bounced around different orphanages from then on. Kate’s job was to make sure she felt at home AND she led the singing of the morning hymns pretty consistently, too!
It was growing dark outside when I finally asked Kate her favorite thing about St. Louis. It was a hard question for her to answer. Not because she doesn’t enjoy living here, but because there are certain things that it’s difficult for her to look past. “Everyone in the suburbs is like terrified of the city. You know what I mean? Like, ah the city! So growing up I was like, I’m never gonna live in St. Louis when I get older. Like gosh, like even if I live in Detroit, I have to get out of St. Louis. And what I love is like living in the city is like… it’s so different from what I thought it was growing up. And I don’t like that it’s those two separate worlds, like St. Louis really is two separate cities, to be honest. The suburbs is a totally different thing. My favorite thing is like, living here and discovering what the city is. I feel like St. Louis has such a weird, people talk to you kind of thing, you know what I mean?” I think we all know what Kate means.
Be the next. Sign-up to meet for coffee!