Let us nobly speak of the common Elderberry

Aunt Martha: For a gallon of elderberry wine, I take one teaspoon full of arsenic, then add half a teaspoon full of strychnine, and then just a pinch of cyanide.

Mortimer Brewster: Hmmmm. Should have quite a kick. 

It’s a classic of the Broadway stage, a play about a couple of batty old spinster sisters with an even loonier brother who live in a house in Brooklyn, N.Y. 

Mortimer Brewster is the bewildered nephew who discovers a body hidden in a window seat at the sister’s home and learns that his aunts, Martha and Abby, have a penchant for putting lonely old men out of their misery by serving them their special-recipe Elderberry Wine.

Their brother, Teddy, thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt who yells “Charge!” as he dashes up the stairs — apparently under the delusion that he is charging up Dan Juan Hill. Teddy (Brewster) also goes to the basement where he thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt digging locks for the Panama Canal. Actually he is digging graves to hide his sisters’ hobbies.

Why “elderberry wine?” Simple. What’s funny about the word “Merlot?” And when spoken by a couple of elderly ladies, the mere word packs a comic kick that was not matched in the entertainment world until Walter Matthau courted Sophia Loren and impressed her with a box of red wine in “Grumpier Old Men.”

More than seven decades after Elderberry Wine became a featured inanimate character of a stage play that is still performed by high schools, community theatres, and in revivals on the legitmate stage, the elderberry is getting some serious attention.

The University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (a friend of mine once remarked that the names of law firms often sound like what you’d hear if you dumped a bunch of pots and pans down some stairs; the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources always struck us as falling — to coin a phrase — into the same category) is convening what it claims is the first international symposium on the elderberry. It will be in June, 2013, during the plant’s peak flowering season. Symposium organizers hope horticulturalists, botanists, biochemists, and representatives of other disciplines will show up.

Such a major event for a berry that has been part of so much dark humor for so long has prompted us to investigate why the elderberry is worthy of such attention.

This berry is so common that it grows in ditches and canal banks. It grows in ponds and ditches and grasslands.

Elderberries are supposed to be juicy and sweet. They’re in pies and jellies … and wine. More than 50 species of songbirds like them. The leaves of the elderberry vine are munchies for white-tailed deer.

However, don’t go looking for elderberries and pick something that looks a lot like them: water hemlock. That’s bad stuff. Experts say you shouldn’t even touch that stuff.

But assuming you don’t get the hemlock by mistake or that you don’t find your self sipping some of the Brewster sisters’ finest homemade version of the wine, you could live a longer life by letting some fine elderberry wine cross your lips. Elderberries are high in antioxidants and researchers at the University of Missouri are experimenting to see if the berries can be used to fight prostate cancer.

What do you want to bet there’s a wine and cheese reception during that seminar next year. Wonder if anybody will ask the person behind the portable bar for a glass of elderberry wine and tell the bartender, “Please hold the arsenic, the strychnine, and the cyanide.”

There is no truth to the rumor that people ordering elderberry wine will be carded to see if they are 70 or older.

Nixon endorsed by one-dog Dog Caucus (AUDIO)

Press conferences don’t always go as planned — for those setting them up, those attending, or for the press.

Faulty wires, bad signal, insufficient lighting, folks running late or failing to show up at all, spring storms, ringing cell phones … “what IS that buzzing noise??” … well, whatever can go wrong will go wrong, right? Sometimes getting the story to you is harder than we make it look.

Then there are situations that catch everyone off guard, but in a good way. And who better than Gov. Nixon to roll with it when his speech gets interrupted? That’s what happened at the ground breaking ceremony for a new rail bridge in Osage City, when this little guy decided Nixon was hogging all of the attention, and he’d like to be the one who was up front and center.

Nixon was willing to share the spotlight with the dog for a minute, but made sure to tell him he’d take no flack from his four-legged friend that day. (Photo courtesy Julie Smith / Jefferson City News Tribune.)

AUDIO: Nixon, dog, exchange barbs. (:42)

Skies of blue, seas of green

Guest post by Mary Furness

With profound apologies to the Beatles, that is what St. Patrick’s Day in Rolla, Mo., feels like. Or at least, what it felt like this year.  And I took my own “Yellow Submarine” to experience it all — a surreal sort of experience.

I usually miss the big parade down there, as I work Saturdays at Saint Missourinet, but my husband and son travel there annually to march with the Boone County Firefighter Pipe and Drum Corps. This year, the stars and days aligned, and I thought it would be good to see what the fuss was all about.

St. Patrick is, among many things, the patron saint of engineers, and the university at Rolla being made up primarily of engineering types, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations begin early in the week and continue throughout the day thereof. A king, queen, and knights are crowned the day before;  the parade street is swabbed down with green paint the morning of the event; the scent of kettle corn (dyed green) and barbeque fills the air; green beer makes its appearance early and often, and at the end of the day a grand ball is held.

This in itself was not overly surprising, but everyone had beads on! Green ones — like Mardi-Gras beads! At times the line blurred between Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day — shouts of “beads, beads!” and  the beads flung like missiles from wild floats compete with the sight  and sound of bagpipes, drums, and  marching bands. Not to mention the Corvette Club, and the Shriners on their motorized trikes! No, nobody lifted their shirts for beads — this is Rolla, after all.

Everyone also seemed to be informally competing for “most green on one human being”. I felt positively underdressed with green socks, green shoes and a green necklace along with my gray pants and black shirt. Everyone — at the very least — had on a shirt in some shade of green, one woman had green false eyelashes, several showed up in green body paint, and yes, a woman had even spray-painted her  dog with splotches of … wait for it … green.

After an hour, on St. Patrick’s Day overload, I made my way back through the “sea of green” to my “Yellow Submarine” — a.k.a. Suby the Subaru. She is actually black, and good for incognito work. I found my pipers and drummers at a Chinese restaurant — somehow, that type of food seemed refreshing. Then the “skies of blue” clouded up and poured on us, and I was glad of my “submarine” on the drive back up to reality.

As I stepped back from the crowds, determined to find that one last picture, I looked up, past the crowds at the lovely, old, small-town Americana architecture. I gazed at the striped awnings and read the signs for pottery shops, antique emporiums and bookstores, and pictured their owners … gray-haired ladies with sparkly sweatshirts perhaps? … and wondered where they were today. Had they left town on this unusually rowdy weekend? Then something brushed my leg, and I looked down. Into the eyes of a very eager-to-please, somewhat green, four legged beast. Somehow, the epitome of Rolla’s St. Paddy’s day, and my perfect last photo.