Nature Wisdom

With Pat Tuholske, Naturalist

Treasure in the Ruins

I am working with friends removing some five panel doors in our 1904 house before demolition begins. We are trying to close the door to take the hinges off but the sagging ceiling is in the way. We pull on the ceiling, get the door closed, and debris begins showering down on Ann who is behind the closed door. Oh no! Raccoon scat! Poor Ann. But it’s over 200 letters from 1934-1936.

The letters are from Lillian Branson who was admitted to the Mt Vernon MO Sanitarium for tuberculosis in 1934. The cache I found stops in 1936. I located her headstone in the Keysville Cemetery. Born 1918. Died 1943. That means she went into the sanitarium when she was only 16.

In 1934, a diagnosis of tuberculosis often meant impending death and the only known treatment was fresh air, sunshine, nutrition and bed rest. To keep the disease from spreading, patients were isolated from family and the rest of society.

What struck me about Lillian’s letters, was her joy, happiness and finding the good. Not once did I find a “poor pitiful me” word anywhere. Being a farmer’s daughter, she was always aware of the weather. Her parents would periodically make the 180 mile journey to visit in a horse and buggy. Once Lillian asked if they could bring her roses from the garden. They also sent her many packages and letters and she always began her correspondence with a thank you. Often she asked her mother, a seamstress, to make her pajamas. Like any young girl, she loved her clothes and her friends. She updated her family on the treatments and conditions of her friends. She discusses her doctor visits and how pleased they were when she would gain a pound. And she writes of her birthday parties. Once they all dressed up like movie stars and acted out parts! The patients had to have fun where they could.

The moment I stepped into Keysville in 1978, I knew I was home. This vast land has taught me who I am and where I fit into the world. So many stories to tell… the Osage mounds, early 1810 pioneers, the Trail of Tears, the Keys brothers, general stores, post office, a church, a school, the train stop, dairy farms, orchards, and Elemental Earthcamp.

What do you do with half a ghost town with fourteen junked-up buildings in need of fixing? The previous owner was a hoarder. For years we asked him to clean up and at least patch roofs. Then the vermin and rain came in. And looters and trespassers. For 40 years I’ve watched these buildings decay. When we took over sole ownership of the property they were far beyond repair. We didn’t have the funds or ability to reconstruct, find tenants, manage and keep up with maintenance.

Instead of watching the town decline further and constantly fighting interlopers, we are reclaiming and recycling what we can, tearing down and transforming it into a luscious meadow and forest. God bless the husband and wife work crew who’s helping me clean up this rot and ruin. My philosophy: Leave a place better than you found it.

This demolition work is symbolic for me. My life is being transformed on many levels. This work is a tribute to John, my late husband, and the ancestors who called Keysville home. John and those who once lived in these ruins now abide in the realm of holy memory. John is guiding me all along the way with new neighbors, community, and insight. He’s my guardian angel.

I have found when we are willing to let go and explore the greater possibilities, we are blessed. That treasure literally falls from the ceiling.

Lillian died shortly after her 25th birthday at home in Keysville. Eighty years later her story has come to life. Her letters fell from the ceiling now for a reason. I hope to duly pay homage to her brief life.

I’ve always sensed those who walked on this land before me. It is my duty to those who dwelled here not to be forgotten by the side of the road in crumble and decay. Not sure where this adventure will lead. I only know I must follow this path.

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” J.K. Rowling from Matthew 6:21

See Pat’s Wild Wreaths, Wheels, and Twig Art crafted from Ozark native plants at willowrainherbalgoods.com. Check out “Nature Chronicles” for her musings on the Human-Nature relationship at pattuholske.com.