Come Sit a Spell

Howdy. I suppose you’re wondering why I called you here today. I’ve been singing, writing and telling stories about these Ozarks hills for a very long time, collecting pieces of the culture, music, and always poignant, sometimes hilarious and often inexplicable stories that, trust me, are probably not available on reality TV. I have been saving them for you here, and you can stop by any time for a laugh, a story, a tune, and some food for thought. Come back soon, and come hungry.

For booking information click here.

Listen to Marideth’s monthly radio show, These Ozark Hills, on KSMU here.

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Booking information, contact

Sarah Denton
moonmooring@yahoo.com

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Camp Sister Spirit

securedownload-1_2Recently I was asked by the feminist journal “Sinister Wisdom” to write a small piece on what had become of the women’s community  that called itself Camp Sister Spirit. I had known the founders for years, and had some knowledge of what happened. Here was my response:

I first came to Sister Spirit, just east of Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1995, at the end of a research trip I’d taken farther south. But I’d met the Hensons way earlier when they rolled into the Midwest Wimmin’s Festival calling themselves “The Dixie Dykes”. They’d brought their little crafts booth and were fundraising, they said, to try to put together a feminist bookstore in Gulfport, Mississippi. They were an energetic, round-cheeked pair with an almost evangelical fervor for their work – to educate and bring the ideals of feminism to the women of the south.

By the time we saw them the next year, they’d gotten involved with Robin Tyler, who was then promoting the Southern Women’s Music and Comedy Festival in north Georgia, and who was encouraging their efforts. They’d also tangled with the folks at RhythmFest, another southern festival, who evidently saw their efforts as direct competition and had attempted some half-hearted ‘This town ain’t big enough …’ swaggering. But the Hensons, who said the south was big enough for everybody, explained they had different aims. The other festivals were run as businesses and out to make a profit. Sister Spirit, they explained, aimed to become a feminist adult education center.They wanted, they said, to change women’s lives.They held festivals for some years in various locations and finally, with the help of financing from some women of means in the New Orleans area, managed to buy a scrubby little run-down farm in Jones County where the illiteracy rate among women was somewhere above 30% and women, white or black, were at the bottom of the heap.

They had their share of friction among their own when Wanda, blue collar daughter of Pentecostals, tangled with white collar urban “lipstick” lesbians who couldn’t quite see her as being in the same pool. She was uppity, obstinate and opinionated – and absolutely driven to bring her suffering, closeted sisters up out of the pit. With equally loving and hot-tempered agitator Brenda by her side, she couldn’t be stopped.

Mar Camp Sister Spirit

L to R; Brenda Henson, Wanda Henson, Marideth Sisco

Then one of the camp’s newsletters, which credited the success of the fledgling venture to “good lesbian energy” got into the hands of a nearby Baptist Church, and the fight was on. Gunshots in the night. Dead pets. Nails in the driveway, and Brenda’s car run off the rural road. A granddaughter coming up to visit prompted a rumor that these evil Lesbians were now stealing area children. It was ugly. They put out a call for reinforcements, and women from all walks and all parts of the country came. But in many cases, the ones who responded were no more equipped for life under siege than those already there. Wanda, who was on disability after a fall at work had injured her back and hip, had to have a stern talk with her son, Arthur, telling him, “if they come for us you’ll have to help me, because I can’t run.” When I heard of the situation, I begged them to pull out, to come up to Missouri and lay low until things settled down. It wasn’t Wanda’s style. Instead, she called Oprah and dared the other side to meet her there. They did. That too, was ugly. The best line of the day was when the Baptist minister tried to explain to Oprah that she just didn’t understand the ways of Mississippians. “I was born in Mississippi,” Oprah returned in a cold voice. “I understand it just fine.”

But time went on, and just what the Baptists feared happened. Over time, people got to know them, and realized they were just people. And the perception in the community of Camp Sister Spirit began to change. But by then Wanda was exhausted and in debt, and Brenda had cancer. They stepped aside and let others carry on. And those others passed it to others, with each generation of leadership less able, and those gone before still trying to heal. There’s no question they made their place in Ovett, Mississippi. The proof of that came when Hurricane Katrina hit the poverty-stricken community. Women, mostly lesbians from all across the country who had visited there in earlier times, loaded their trucks with chainsaws, non-perishable foods and dollars, and came to help. A few days later, a note appeared on the door of the local firehouse. “We’ve been up too many nights and we’ve got to get some sleep. If you need anything, go on down to the camp. The girls will take care of you.”

Folks at the general store now refer to that original outraged Baptist as “that little Hitler.” They’re over it.

But the land is now idle, the buildings empty. Brenda passed in 2008. Wanda opened her little medical clinic down on the coast and she treats victims of the Deepwater Horizon spill. It might be considered a failure, overall. Except everyone who set foot on that little patch of earth in the Mississippi pine belt was changed by it, challenged to show their best, and worst, and depths of character and courage they would not have imagined themselves to possess. I don’t think any of them saw themselves as having engaged in any vital part of the history of Civil Rights. But the women of color over in Hattiesburg, I’ll wager, would beg to differ. We saw it in their eyes in the checkout line in the grocery stores, where we got accustomed to people who had read the local paper and its stories of  “that business over in Ovett” We expected they would move away from us and steer their children clear so nothing of our difference would rub off. The clerks, on the other hand, would break into wide smiles and whisper softly and so their mouths moved hardly at all, and say “Come on, girl, come on up, honey, we’re with you.” What we took away from that experience humbled us.  We are none of us the same. It is too soon to know whether that small encampment in the Pine Belt will just fade quietly into the history of Jones County or will become known as the “Stonewall of the South.”  What we know is that we who were there were changed fundamentally.

Marideth Sisco

links of interest;
Phyllis Chesler speaks out
About Camp Sister Spirit, YouTube video
A brief history

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Blackberry Winter Band at Shawnee Bluff Winery

Lake Arts

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These Ozark Hills – September 5, 2014

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This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills, asking:
How big is a garden? A silly and unanswerable question, and sounds like those old jabberwocky jokes that passed through in the 60s, like “what’s the difference between a duck? Answer: One leg’s both the same. There is either no answer, no answer that makes any sense, or “it depends.” Right now most folks passing through my patch would say it’s way too weedy, way too late, way too big , etc. but if they looked instead into my pantry, my freezer and the stack of filled baskets of assorted veggie  maybe slaying around, they’d say it’s just about right.
It’s not, really. It’d be just right if I was forty, or even 60, and hadn’t been doing major physical adjustments  such as dealing with heart trouble (twice), cancer (twice) and diabetes throughout. Oh, and did I say I’m 71?  So I guess since it’s my garden, it’s my call. And I’m calling it way too big for any sane person at the far end of her prime to tackle. And yet I can’t find a single place to downsize.
I will admit that I wasn’t strong enough at the beginning, and that due to my old truck, Tonto, insisting on substantial repairs before agreeing to haul any more cardboard for weed control, and  that it took some lengthy time to finally shake free mostly from that overhanging cloud of impending mortality that one always has to deal with after a scary illness, at least until one  remembers that the garden will fix most of that.
But on the other hand, there was all that lovely rain early on. And even though I don’t own the place I’m living on, I am at least temporarily in possession of that most sacred of circumstances, at least in the Ozarks. My garden is a virtually rock-free patch of earth.
I understand it was heavily gardened more than a decade ago, obviously by one of those diligent sorts who took rock removal seriously. And it made me sad last year to begin anew there, because it was almost entirely infested with crabgrass. But then I found that, unlike the dread Bermuda grass, crabgrass can be dug up and or tilled up, and the remaining runners, when they resprout, can be pulled up. And, most importantly, it can be smothered with cardboard.
So may I say, with some pride attached, that even though it’s way too big and way too weedy, this is the best garden I have ever had. And I’ve had a few. There was that one I inherited from some migrant workers in the Livermore valley of California, that consisted of simply a couple ruts left from a large truck’s tires into which a small dose of irrigation water had been diverted, and some tomato, pepper, cilantro and squash seed had been randomly tossed. That was back in April or so of that year I think. When I arrived in October, it was a giant tangle of salsa ingredients. I took from that the notion that I too could be a casual success in that perfect climate.
Then I moved over near the coast, planted a garden in a little ready-made bed in a sunny spot in my front yard. That was in May, after which I watched the fog go in and out and every single plant either mold or maintain a fragile paralysis until October, when the fog stayed out and I had tomatoes for a couple weeks, until the endless winter rains began. So I moved to Utah, where there are grown amazing fruits and vegetables. I managed to borrow a garden spot there, waited until Memorial day to put in the tomatoes and peppers, in case of a late frost. And four days later it snowed four inches. It was explained to me later that Utah actually has only two seasons – winter and July. It eventually offered up a few tomatoes and peppers, some odds and ends of greens, and some wonderful winter squashes. Except by then I had moved, and someone else ate them.
But this garden, my garden this year, is something else altogether. Enough sun, few enough rocks, long history of soil amendments, and an abundance of the fruits and greens of the earth, from tomatoes to spuds and on to baskets of cukes, okra, onions and green beans/ Nature’s bounty as any old-timer will tell you, especially one who’s traveled some, is at its all time perfection when grown in Ozarks soil. When the generation before mine moved to California, they sent home generous boxes filled with dates and English walnuts, and letter after letter that told of California’s huge, beautiful and taste-free tomatoes. And giant crates of perfect, giant strawberries that were equally tasteless. There they were in that fabulous climate, not bothering with a garden because they wouldn’t be interested in the results. It’s probably why some of us chose to stay home when the chance came to seek our fortune in the golden west. But that wouldn’t be me. I was one of those in that other bunch, who went out to make their fortune, learned and grew and invested heavily in the fascination of multicultural arts, cultures, and odd edibles like artichokes, avocados and loquats. But the kind of fortune I was seeking, I discovered, only existed in dreams, and that the real fortune came when I wearied of fascination and I made enough money to come home. This is a very blissed-out Marideth Sisco, engulfed in the sweet tastes of the Ozarks harvest, and rejoicing daily in the knowledge that my way too big and too weedy Ozarks garden this year is, as my gardening family would say, just durn near perfect.
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securedownload-1_2Howdy, or as Riders in the Sky would say, Howdy, Buckaroos and Buckarettes. Important announcement, so Listen Up. On September 13, I will be hanging out with a different bunch of folks in Jefferson City, and we all want you to join us there. Actually, they’re not really different. Just really, really focused. The Citizen Climate Lobby (CCL) is hosting a regional meeting for interested folks throughout Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and southern Illinois. And I get to offer some commentary during the process.

In case you just said “Who, What or Why”, the CCL is a national/international group of citizen volunteers working to repay our (worst) Congress (in history) to pass a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend to address some of the worst, and ironically some of the easiest fixed, excesses in climate changing behaviors [activities?].   Simply put, it is a simple and elegant way to steer us away from fossil fuels through a graduated fee attached to the use of carbon emitting fuels, and collected at the point of extraction or import.  The dividends will then be returned to every household in the U.S. to offset the slight increases in fuel costs passed on to consumers. The funds can also be used to purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles or renewables, and improve overall energy efficiency.

Not so simple, I admit. But if you suspect this is a bunch of dreamers, you should know their members include Nobel laureate economists, climate activist Bill McKibben, and politicians from both parties. Two carbon fee bills were introduced in Congress this year.

The folks coming to address the Jefferson City meeting will include Mark Reynolds, CCL Executive Director, and Madeleine Para, CCL Program Director, as well as old hillbilly me – helping to put these lofty and extremely important ideas into common language and scale, addressing what these ideas might mean on a personal level, and how we might want to support their efforts. This is not a pie-in-the-sky notion. A lot of work and planning has gone into determining what’s do-able and practical, and how it can get passed into law. The cost for the meeting, entertainment, and a gourmet vegan dinner is $35 but scholarships (and some free lodging) are available if you sign up now.

For more information, go to the event website. (https://donate.citizensclimateeducationcorp.org/events/detail?eid=34912)

(And incidentally, in case you’re just coming to see me, I will also have CDs, books, and a newly released 4-CD spoken word collection of my last five years of radio shows for sale.) Join us for a lively discussion and come away heartened by the possibilities created by the good efforts of these good folks.

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Blackberry Winter Returns to the MARC

P1050520Note to all pals, chums, family and fans in Southwest Missouri – Blackberry Winter Band will be performing a 2-hour concert this coming Saturday, Aug. 23, at the MARC in Mt. Vernon, Missouri. Doors open at 6:30 and the music begins at 7. We will be featuring a lot of old favorites as well as selections from our brand new CD, “Still Standing.”

We played the MARC last year, and it’s a wonderful venue. Please if you will, pass on the word to friends and family. I grew up in Butterfield and graduated from Cassville High School and SMSU, so I have a bunch of sweet friends and family members over in those hills that I never get to see often enough.

Come join us for a night of fun and reminiscing as we sing the songs that explore all the things we feel and remember about our Ozarks home. Hope to see you there.

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Preparing the stage for Blackberry Winter last fall at the beautiful MARC theater, our groupies in tow.

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Musical intro to Life

OOOOh, I’m goin’ down that road fee – and then I’m not. This time stuck in a parking lot 20 miles from home. Took my truck out of mothballs and drove it down to the salvage yard to deliver the title to Automobilius defunctus. Stopped by the store for groceries and to pick up my meds. Truck, which has been parked for a year and something due to bad behavior, had a smoking front wheel. Drove it to garage where it was diagnosed with a stuck brake. I also told them about the above mentioned bad behavior, and got a ride home with a friend. It was a message from God, who always starts with the words, “I SAID …” This time the rest of the sentence was “Go home, sit down and finish the damned book, bitch!” She gets so touchy sometimes. So I’m at home, at the computer, and clear, completely and altogether out of excuses. See you when the book’s done. Meanwhile, Tune in here Satureday if you don’t catch this month’s edition of “These Ozarks Hills” on KSMU-FM Springfield (91.1), College of the Ozarks (90.5) or West Plains (90.3). It airs at 7:30 a.m. and repeats at 4:30 p.m. first Friday of each month

The text will be posted here and on the KSMU.org archives, where you can also listen to it streaming later

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Autocide update

Auto hearse just came and picked up poor old Prizm. She’s on her way across that auto rainbow bridge, in hopes of one day becoming a coffeepot in China.

Taking the truck to make it legal tomorrow. Still need reliable transportation.

Truck, whose name is Tonto, got in with a gang of renegade Pontiacs last year after I made it drink some of that 35-mph Arkansas gas and then ran it dry (not my fault if the damn gas gauge doesn’t work) and now it occasionally and randomly abandons me on some godforsaken patch of the lone prairie – not often, usually just when I forget about it and go off somewhere in a carefree manor. So, I repeat, still looking for ReLIABLE transportation. And did I say good gas mileage. Working gas gauge. Cheap. Working heat/ac. Maybe a radio, if it wouldn’t be asking too much. If you spot it out somewhere looking affordable and lonesome, let me know. Thanks. You’re a pal.

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