By now most St. Louisans have heard the sad new of Blues legend Bobby Plager passing away in a car accident on Wednesday afternoon. I have a lot of thoughts about this tragedy all twisted up in my head. I’ve been trying to unravel them for two days into something the resembles some type of order, but they are all still just a tangled web. I want to write something though, so please humor me as I try to extrapolate some sense from the senseless.
The first thing I keep coming back to is this year. This entire damn year has been a year of grief. And guilt. I grieve for the sense of safety and normalcy that many of us have lost and then feel guilty about that grief when I remember those that have lost far more. It makes the feelings more complicated, to be sad over the death of someone you didn’t really know when so many other people you never met are also gone or are suffering. Am I allowed to acknowledge my grief without acknowledging that of everyone else?
Am I even allowed to be sad? My grief is surely a drop in the bucket compared to those that actually knew Bobby Plager. His friends and family, the people that truly knew him have more right to claim that emotion than I do.
The truth is though that I am sad about it. His passing is another blunt reminder of life’s impermanence. Eventually our time will come to an end and all that remains is what people remember about us. We have so little time to make an impact. It makes lives like Bobby Plager’s all the more impressive when you think about how big an impact he made.
I think a lot of people have a Bobby story. I was fortunate enough to meet him several times as a former regular of the Bobby’s Place in Valley Park. He would come in pretty frequently — it was His Place, after all — and kind of stand near the back, happily talking to people that came up to him and taking photos with a friendliness of someone that had known the person their whole life. I remember being afraid of bothering him, but after I finally gathered the courage to talk to him, I got the impression that talking with people was something he really enjoyed.
I remember a time when my whole family was visiting at our grandpa’s house. All the aunts and uncles and cousins and their kids were there — the whole family. I noticed my grandpa sitting in his chair as everyone talked around him. I later told my brother I felt bad because I thought it was hard for him to hear with all the noise so he did not try to talk to anyone. He told me “No, I don’t think it was that. I think he just likes being around his family.” When I think of Bobby Plager quietly observing the bar that bears his name, I think of my grandpa taking in the sight of his family around him. This bond and love that formed and grew stronger over decades. I have always thought of him like that — I think that is why his passing has affected me so much.
If you have stayed with me this far, I thank you. I have a hunch my feelings are not necessarily unique so this is not what I would call a revelatory essay here, but maybe someone can find some sort of comfort in my words. I found some comfort in writing them, so that is the least I can try to provide in exchange for allowing me to ramble. Thanks to all of you for allowing me to be a small part of your life today. Thank you to Bobby Plager, to Lou Brock, to Bob Gibson, to all those we have lost, and to all those in our lives that have made our time together just a little bit better.