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Burying Past Ghosts to Create New Memories

St. Louis Botanical Garden
Aaron Carlson
St. Louis Botanical Garden

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills. It’s May Day today, which in many countries has been a long celebrated traditional day of festivities; with towns and villages across Europe celebrating springtime fertility of the soil, livestock, and people in all kinds of ways with village fairs and community gatherings. Since the reform of the Catholic calendar, May 1 is also the Feast of St Joseph the Worker, the patron saint of all those who toil. In socialist and communist countries, it is international workers day. Here, we pretty much dance around the maypole and be done with it. And at my house out on Lone Prairie, I mean to plant potatoes.

Yes, I know, I’m completely outside the accepted potato planting tradition of the Ozarks and surrounds, but it’s also commonly accepted that in order to plant potatoes you have to be able to get into the garden. Although this has probably not been the wettest spring on record, the rains at my end of the Ozarks have managed to come at uncommonly inconvenient times. 

As a result, my garden is only now becoming workable. I did take advantage of one small dry spell to get it tilled. But only half of it got made into beds before the rain returned. And those beds, as soon as they got watered, popped up their own little crop of crabgrass, whose sneaky little roots were chopped up by the tiller and spread every which way. I spent most of last week digging out those pervasive little roots and making the beds ready to plant. I was happy to be in the garden, but muttering under my breath at the willful attempt by the garden to return to lawn. Imagine my indecision when friends offered me the opportunity to toss the misbehaving garden in the ditch and join one of their weeklong art jaunts – this one to St. Louis. I couldn’t just drop everything, including the potatoes, and just go. Or could I?

I took a look at my finances, my obligations, the needs of the garden, and while I couldn’t find any actual encouragement, nothing actually said no.  So I flew the coop. Three days of art and culture in one of America’s oldest and most venerable cities was just too good to pass up.

And, to tell the whole truth, I also had a ghost to bury. As many of you know, I spent a very long couple of months in and out of hospital in 2013, fighting a recurrence of endometrial cancer. Because the cancer variety was a tricky one, St. Louis and the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes Jewish Hospital offered the best treatment options. That choice and its outcome were perfect, and a success. But the memories, what I have of them, are dark and painful. This trip offered a chance to put the experience of St. Louis on replay, to record over those blurred and uncomfortable days with better ones, where the art, the food and the wonderful and intricate tapestry of cultures might wash away entirely the fears, the pain and the fog of illness.

It worked, and the friends surrounding me became instead of caregivers the people I laughed with, shared beauty with, and made new memories with – of Winslow Homer and Claes Oldenburg, of Botanical Gardens and small cafes, the particularly city experiences of wrong directions, rich desserts, and unexpected treasures. We arrived at one city landmark just as the landscaping crew was digging up the spent tulip beds, and had pounds of tulip bulbs forced on us as a way to help with their recycling efforts. And there was that truly hedonistic lunch at the art museum that featured, in part, broiled trout, grilled snap peas with roasted red peppers, a ham, sliced apple, and gruyere cheese sandwich and tiramisu with candied blood orange. And that was just on day one.

In short, with a little help from my friends, I exorcized the ghost of St. Louis past, and returned to my Ozarks home recharged with the energy, will and joy to begin anew, and on what better day than this, a day when everybody celebrates new life, new beginnings and the honor in honest labor. I’m gonna celebrate mine by planting potatoes, and again in the fall, when I get those tulips settled in. This is Marideth Sisco, happy to return from a festive trip seasoned with art, food and friends, and looking forward with glee to hands in the dirt and sun on shoulders, and wishing you an equal measure of joy in the season to come.