Milestones and Memories
This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. Milestones, that’s what I’m thinking of on this fine morning. June is full of them for me, beginning with this broadcast. Believe it or not you’re listening to the first segment of year 12 for this little show. You’re probably not as amazed as I am, but isn’t that something?
I wish I could say it’s been aired in an unbroken line but it hasn’t. I had to take time off to be human a couple times. I wish I could say I’ve never repeated myself, but I’m just coming off the edit of the print version of years 6 thru 10, so I know that can’t be true because I caught myself more than once repeating stories. Sorry about that. I guess it’s good that I’ve lived this long, or I’d have completely run out of new things to say by now, doncha think? Maybe? Nah.
Well, speaking of old, I’m coming up on another milestone of my very own in a couple weeks. At 1:30 p.m. on June 15, 1943 I entered the world so big and so loud that the first words out of my mother’s mouth after I arrived were “Never again.” And she meant it. So I ended up an only. It might have been different, because twins run in both sides of the family and I ended up decidedly left handed and with a third kidney. So just think. There might have been two of me. If that had happened, I think my mother might have left home for good. I was, you might say, a bit precocious. Some might say insufferable, at least as soon as I started to talk. Yes, I was like this from the start. Chatty, say my friends. They’re being kind.
But be as it is, the world has certainly gone through some big changes during the past three-quarters of a century, hasn’t it. My childhood might have been lived on Mars for the differences between the world then and the one now. It’s not like imagining the world before cell phones. It’s imagining the world before airlines. Before computers. Even before bagged ice. Not quite before sliced bread, but close.
Memory brings lots of little milestones from my life to me. At age 3 I began singing before the public when my great uncle Thomas Ferguson taught me the words to popular songs and had me sing them to his friends. We were living in the Butterfield hotel and oleomargarine had just arrived. It was once white, but people wouldn’t buy it. So they packed it in an early version of plastic with a little bright orange pill in the corner that was food coloring and If you squeezed and massaged the bag for long enough, the food coloring would color the entire contents a realistic butter color. It was deemed edible then.
Coming right after Depression and war, people in Barry County were poor, and they got together when I was little and formed a Strawberry Association to market the well loved but tedious to grow berries to a wholesale produce vendor in St. Louis. They built a long packing shed by the railroad track with an office at the end, and everyone with a little clear spot of land planted strawberries. They had to be hoed and weeded diligently until frost. About a year later, the plants bloomed and brought forth berries. Farmers picked them and brought them to the shed, where they were graded, purchased and loaded into a refrigerated car which was picked up by the mail train that came through each morning about 2 a.m. The only problem – there were more berries than pickers. I don’t know how the word got out, but just as the berries were beginning to ripen, the little dirt streets of Butterfield were bumper to bumper in traffic. Only it wasn’t just bumpers. It was wagons and trucks and sometimes slightly outrageous vehicles with tents atop them, looking very like a gypsy caravan. And it very likely was. Migrant workers had arrived to pick the strawberries, at the sterling wage of 3 cents per quart. They flooded into my aunts’ grocery store, buying up every scrap of the great wheel of longhorn cheddar cheese that the locals called “rat trap cheese.” The aunts had to order, and reorder several times, the little rings of bologna that sliced into pieces just the size to fit on a cracker. Generations later, the gypsies, the shed and the strawberries are all gone. But that little ring of processed meat is still called “Strawberry Boloney.”’ My grandmother would stand at the store window as they all passed by in their ragtag parade and recite:
Hark, hark, the dogs do bark,
The beggars are coming to town.
Some it rags and some in tags
And some in velvet gowns.
We didn’t know them when they arrived. We still didn’t know them when they were gone. But they became the first winds of change for me, my first inkling that there was a much larger and more complicated world outside the one I was living in. Their fleeting presence planted a seed in me that began to itch as it grew, urging me to explore and to learn and to prepare myself for that larger world. Then when my parents began to travel in search of jobs that would pay well enough that they could occasionally come home, I was a willing passenger on their many trips, and there are few major thoroughfares in the part of the United States west of here that I haven’t traveled at least once. I’ve never seen those rocks they used to use for mile markers back in early days of traveling place to place. I’ve never again found that wildly different wagon train or any like it. One thing, it seems, hasn’t changed. If you want you some milestones, likely you’ll have to make them yourself. This is Marideth Sisco, toddling down the path that leads through year 12 of These Ozark Hills, wondering what in the world I might talk about next.