Strawberry Leaves and Strange Burial Practices
Thu, 04/14/2022 - 11:27am admin
I remember this conversation as if it were yesterday, and it happened sometime in 1975 when I worked for a law firm in St. Louis. One Saturday morning, I got a phone call at home from an office secretary, a woman who was assigned to the senior partner of the firm.
The partner, a lawyer nearing retirement, looked and acted older than his sixty-something years and had a somewhat cantankerous reputation. Some friends and opposing counsel added “Sugar” to his first name when referring to him, in the ironic manner that a large person might be nicknamed “Tiny.”
With a curious tone, which sounded as if she were conveying some office gossip, the secretary said, “You know, you nearly got fired this morning.” Surprised, I blurted, “What are you talking about?”
She continued. “Well, the boss called me this morning and told me to call and tell you that you were fired.” Of course, I wanted to know why I was nearly fired and demanded an answer. Her response stunned me. “He said he found marijuana in your office, and he couldn’t have that in his firm.”
Now, I was flabbergasted. There was certainly no marijuana in my office, and I told her so. She laughed and said she knew that and added, “Remember the strawberry leaf tea you bought?” The picture became clear. On the way back from court one day, I had stopped at a health food store and purchased some strawberry tea that came in a sandwich-sized plastic bag. The old lawyer must have mistaken it for marijuana.
We both laughed, as she told me how she had calmed him down. “Wait a minute,” I said, and asked what he was doing in my office? It seems a friend of his was in the office that day and needed an ashtray, and the boss sent him to my office to get one—I smoked a pipe back then. Apparently, he spied the bag of green strawberry leaves and jumped to the conclusion that it was dope and informed the boss of the crime.
Supposedly, the friend knew the smell of marijuana, but I found it odd that he could determine that from a plastic bag of strawberry leaves. Then, the secretary provided the kicker. She said, “Well, they put some of the strawberry leaves in the ashtray and set them on fire. That’s when the friend said it was marijuana.”
We started laughing again. In my mind’s eye, I pictured two codgers, who wouldn’t know Woodstock from livestock, inhaling the strawberry smoke in righteous indignation and condemning me with the wrath of Cotton Mather at a New England witch trial.
She swore me to secrecy because she had been told not to tell me, and warned that we’d both get fired if I mentioned it . . . and I never did.
For the record, strawberry leaf tea doesn’t have caffeine and isn’t intoxicating or hallucinogenic.
In many ways, it was a wonderfully peculiar place to work and provided some anecdotes that still tickle me. One day, a lady from Howell County who was contemplating putting her final affairs in order called me at the office. The woman has since passed away, but managed to live another thirty years after she called. She remembered me from my high school days and heard that I had become a lawyer and had some questions she hoped I could answer.
On the phone she identified herself and wanted to know if I remembered her. Actually, as soon as I heard her voice, I recognized her and asked what I could do for her. She said she needed a will and then asked, “Is it against the law to be buried liked an Indian?”
Now, I’ve been asked some remarkable questions, but that one surprised me. I asked for more specifics. Did she want to be buried in a mound with her favorite tomahawk? She ignored my attempted humor, and said, “I want to be left on top of the ground so the birds can eat me. Is that against the law?” I told her offhand I didn’t know, but thought it probably ought to be illegal. She never called back, but I’m fairly certain she never followed through on her notion.
But a few years later, some other Howell County folks did proceed with an unconventional burial. In May 1988, a front-page article in the Mountain View Standard covered the non-standard funeral of a Howell County resident, complete with photographs of a procession of the deceased in a knotty pine coffin on the back of a horse-drawn wagon along Main Street in Mountain View.
According to the article, after being advised of the cost of a commercially manufactured coffin, the family opted to construct one from knotty pine. Then the plot thickened (no pun intended), when they discovered that somebody was already interred in the cemetery gravesite the deceased had previously selected and purchased.
The family discussed the situation and agreed it would be acceptable to bury their relative on his farm. They contacted a lawyer concerning the legality of their plan and were advised they would have to deed the selected site to the county. I found that interesting and decided to research the issue in my old set of Missouri statutes.
Sure enough, the Revised Statutes of Missouri of that era has sixteen pages dedicated to cemeteries, including private ones. Chapter 214 of the statutes provides: “Any person desirous of securing [a] family burying ground or cemetery on his or her lands, may convey to the county commission of the county in which the land lies any quantity of land not exceeding one acre, in trust for the purpose above mentioned . . . when so conveyed, shall be held in perpetuity as burying grounds or cemeteries for the use and benefit of the family and descendants . . ..”
Chapter 214 also covers Indian cemeteries, but I didn’t find any provisions about being “buried like an Indian.”