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Preservation in the Ozarks: A conversation with a rose rustler

KSMU's monthly series "These Ozarks Hills" features stories about people and places in the Ozarks collected and presented by long-time journalist Marideth Sisco. In this installment, Marideth reflects on preservation and introduces us to a "rose rustler" who collects antique roses from cemeteries.

Hello. This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. You know, a person can sometimes get some pretty funny looks when they bring up the subject of preservation when it's related to the Ozarks because it can mean so many different things. One person might think you're talking about putting up peaches. Another might suspect you're out to tell them what to do on their back 40.

To some folks, though, preservation just means latching hold of some of the things that are precious to us before they're lost and gone. Some folks do it as a hobby. Others are pretty darn serious. Marylou Price is one of the latter. Marylou, who lives over by Ava scouts the old cemeteries and home places, looking for old-time roses that many people used to pass down among families. They smell wonderful but they've mostly been replaced by hybrids that are long on bloom but short on smell. When she finds one of the old-timers, she takes a cutting and gives it a new home at her house. At last count, she had rescued between 35 and 40 old roses. But she doesn't call herself a rose rescuer...she says she's a rose rustler.

Marideth: So, tell me how you collect an antique rose.

Marylou: First of all, it starts with a map. I get a map that shows as many cemeteries as possible in the county. I sit down and color in the cemetery marking on the map. Then we load up a bucket, shears and a fork, potato fork, in case there's enough to get a decent cutting without harming the plant. And if not, the shears are for taking actual wood cuttings to bring back.

Marideth: Tell how you make a stem cutting. How would you do that?

Marylou: Usually, I look for something that is not real woody. Maybe it came from last year's growth, has a little bit of green to it. And it needs to be at least the length of a pencil and you would cut the tip of it off and bury it in some moist soil. I like to put it in a flower pot and set it under my porch where it's somewhat shaded. It gets a little dap of light. And just keep it moist and with any luck, you'll have a rose in a few months.

Marideth: You just ignore it, huh?

Marylou: Pretty well. Just water it down. Well, I go out everyday and look at it.

Marideth: You talk to it?

Marylou: Yes. There's one not very far away if you wanted to go see how it's done. The old moss rose I was telling you about earlier. We can go where it came from and I wanted to get a little bit of that rose to share with a friend of mine.

Marideth: And off we went to a cemetery in an undisclosed location where we rustled a rose. Preservation. Sometimes it's peaches. Sometimes it's roses. And sometimes it's someone to be thankful for like Marylou Price, the rose These Ozarks Hills.

Marideth is a Missouri storyteller, veteran journalist, teacher, author, musician and student of folklore focusing on stories relevant to Ozarks culture and history. Each month, she’s the voice behind "These Ozarks Hills.” Sisco spent 20 years as an investigative and environmental writer for the West Plains Quill and was well known for her gardening column, “Crosspatch,” on which her new book is based. Sisco was a music consultant and featured singer in the 2010 award-winning feature film “Winter's Bone.”