Service With a Smile
Courtney’s daughter Selena stirs up a recipe of marinara with meat sauce pasta at Pass Da Buckets carry-out restaurant in Versailles. (photo by Sharon Tausch)

by Sharon Tausch
Dreams often come true, but not always the way they were planned. Courtney Gardner and her daughters Paisley, Selena, and Sahara are living and fostering the dream of a family member who passed away June 2.
David Gardner’s dream to open a family business in Versailles was more than two years in the making and May 26 it materialized with the official opening of Pass Da Buckets, a carry-out restaurant at 901 W. Newton Street, that features home-cooked pasta dishes and vegetables.
Tragedy, however, not being selective, can strike at any time – putting plans on hold or even halting their existence.
Tragedy came down hard on the Gardner family with David’s untimely death due to complications which began more than a year ago with his infection of the COVID-19 virus. He was one of the first Missouri residents to be identified as having contracted the coronavirus. According to Courtney, he had gone undiagnosed for a time due to a false test reading.
The couple had been waiting for two years to get married because they wanted their wedding to be during a leap year, on Feb. 29, 2020. “For us,” said Courtney, “everything was about numbers.” On the Saturday before the wedding, when she was supposed to be having her bachelorette party, she managed to break her knee and her thumb in an accident.
Things were not going so well on that weekend for David either. He started out with a little bit of a cough Sunday but went on to work in Jefferson City where he worked for Bee Line Snack Shops. He put in his hours and returned home with a fever and feeling very tired.
“He took some Ibuprofen to bring his fever down, and in a few hours, it spiked back up. I gave him another one, and about 1 a.m. he woke up in a puddle of sweat,” Courtney said, “but nothing I could have done would have convinced him to go to the hospital. By Tuesday he was worse, and I told him we were going. I had to go to Moberly to work that day, so his mom came to take him. He had not wanted to go to the hospital; he wanted to wait and go to the doctor the next day.”
His mother said, however, that he kept going to sleep, and by the time she got him to the emergency room, he had no function in his left lung and 6-percent of his right lung.
The only option was St. Louis University Hospital, so he was taken there by the helicopter team and, at that point, went into a coma for 19 days.
Courtney said David came out of the coma on the day they were supposed to be married. His COVID-19 exposure was later traced to a woman who was carrying the virus as she got off a plane in St. Louis. She then traveled to Jefferson City and made a purchase where David was working, and he handled her change.
Having been treated at the hospital, he was able to pull through, but had to go to a physical rehabilitation center for 38 days. “It was during those 38 days that we were to be married, but we didn’t give up,” Courtney said, “and while he was gone, my mom was ordained so that she could marry us when he came home. On May 10, 2020, [in the middle of a global pandemic] we were married in a drive-up ceremony in the former Dixon-Ticonderoga parking lot near our home. My daughter created an aisle that was 38 feet long because that was how many days he was gone from home while in the rehab center,” Courtney said.
The determined couple finally made it to the end of the wedding aisle, but soon after the ceremony, David’s health started to decline. He had been working for a company that had been sold and, according to Courtney, the new company wasn’t willing to hold his position for him, so they declared him disabled and let him go.
“David wasn’t a ‘sit-stiller,’” Courtney said. “He was 43 and had Type 2 diabetes, but kept it in check. He worked every week and was always on the move. During the time he was at home and unable to go to his regular job, that was when the idea of having his own business was born. His whole life’s dream was to have his own restaurant, and when the building became available, he signed a year’s lease, and we just did it.”
The business was an extension of the family affair that began soon after David and Courtney met, Courtney reminisced. “David and my daughters got along famously from day one and on Valentine’s Day 2020 the girls put their heads together, bought him a ring, and one evening when we were all eating dinner at Gilbert’s, they officially asked him to be their father. He was so touched, that tears came to his eyes; and when they dried, he looked over at me – and I immediately said, ‘I had nothing to do with this.’ He had stepped into the role of fatherhood like nobody ever before, but he was like that with everyone in the family – so full of love and life.”
Life was looking good for the Gardners. Opening a new business was a family event, “and we all had a part in it,” Courtney said. “It was my idea to sell pasta and vegetable buckets, and David’s idea to name it Pass Da Buckets, replicating a take-home family sit-down dinner at which the pasta and vegetable buckets would be passed around the table. The girls put their heads together and came up with ideas for side dishes and the restaurant’s décor.”
Although David continued to push toward the realization of his dream, his health continued to go down, according to Courtney. “His lungs had never recovered from COVID and he required 24-hour oxygen to help him breathe, but he pressed on to make a go of the business,” she said, “However, on June 2, I was out of town at my job at the post office when I got a call from my daughter at 9 a.m. David’s oxygen level, when I had left that morning, was at 80-percent capacity; but fluid had gathered around his heart, which wasn’t strong enough to pump it off. He had a doctor’s appointment in just a couple of days, but he didn’t make it.”
Courtney said she and her family could not have made it through the days that followed had it not been for the family and community support she received at that difficult time in their lives.
“I could not have asked for a better support system,” she said. “My dad had worked at Kidwell-Garber when I was a kid, and they were right there to give us anything we needed, providing us with the answers to questions we didn’t even know to ask. Gilbert’s Grill & Company supplied the memorial dinner, and the whole entire community has been there for us.”
Courtney said she, her daughters, and her 2-year-old grandson were all devastated, and they faced the question of whether or not to continue with the business. “David was the office person, and I’m a people person,” she said, “so I had a lot to learn, but we are taking it one day at a time trying to keep the dream alive for him.”
Upon saying the words, “one day at a time,” Courtney was reminded of when David was in the hospital fighting for his life – having his blood taken out of his body, purified and put back in by the ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) machine so that his heart and lungs could heal from his COVID infection. “We kept telling them to keep fighting for him, that he was a strong man and didn’t get sick. We kept telling them to keep him going, keep him going, and when he was able to come home, we were told he had a long road to recovery, and he did.”
David had come home in a wheelchair, and the first thing he said to Courtney was, “Are you ready to marry me now?” Courtney said he had developed drop-foot while in the hospital, but after getting back home he got up every day and took one step at a time – then one more step, and one more, until he was able to get around without the chair. This is what she and her daughters Selena, 23; Paisley, 19, and Sahara, 15 are doing now – taking one step at a time.
A United States Postal Service employee, Courtney works at her present post in California, drives home each day, and then goes to work with the girls at the restaurant. She also has a grandson, Tucker, who is two, and often spends time with them there while they are operating the business. He brings his toys and stays inside while the customers drive up to the order and drive-in windows. “I think this has been the hardest thing I have ever done,” Courtney said, “but things are starting to fall in place.”
In place on the menu at Pass Da Buckets fast Italian food restaurant are put-together-yourself meal combinations at affordable prices. “We have one type of pasta that we use,” said Courtney, “which is called ‘ballerine,’ and it looks like a little ballerina skirt – straight around its tubular top and ruffled down the side and bottom. It is my favorite. I moved with my family to Versailles when I was about 8 years old, but prior to that my mother would go to a little pasta shop sort of like this one, buying a dish of noodles and marinara meat sauce, and we would go to the park to eat it, so I thought others might enjoy eating this type of food from a carry-out restaurant.”
Meal combinations at Pass Da Buckets include the ballerine noodles with marinara meat sauce or garlic butter sauce, both of which are homemade. Both come with garlic bread and the customer’s choice of vegetables such as corn or green beans. Drinks, except for bottled water, are not on the menu as of yet, but flavored teas, lemonade and desserts will be coming soon. Hours are 3 to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information customers may call 573-832-2856, or 573-569-8997.
Dreams may not always come true according to one’s plans. However, a dream remains only a dream until it is pursued. It then becomes a plan and reality, and materializes in the best way the dreamer can make it, which is what Courtney, her daughters and her grandson are doing daily in keeping their family dream alive at Pass Da Buckets carry-out restaurant.

Dreamers and Doers
Courtney Gardner and her daughters operate Pass Da Buckets carry-out pasta restaurant at West Vue Center in Versailles. In front of the restaurant are, front from left, Sahara and Tucker, back from left, Paisley, Courtney, and Selena. (photo by Sharon Tausch)