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Bootheel folks share good and bad times

Posted Wednesday, October 26, 2011, at 12:31 AM

It was Oct. 25, 1950.

Momma Whittle and her three youngens were at farm neighbor A.J. Neel's house where another neighbor farmer knocked on the door at about 7:30 p.m.

"Mrs. Whittle, you husband has been in a bad car wreck in front of KSIM Radio Station in Sikeston," farm neighbor shared. "It's bad..."

No sooner had those words came out, older brother, Van, bolted out of the house, screaming at the top of his voice: "My Daddy ain't dead!!" over and over while running out through a soybean field. Finally, A.J. Neel was able to chase brother down in his old red Dodge farm truck.

As fate would have it,Daddy (Hubert) Whittle did perish in a head-on collision he caused by drinking and driving.

Although only 6 years old, family members credit me with having almost total recall of those worst and best times back on the farm.

I have a clear minds-eye memory, for example, of all the stores on Canalou's mile-long Main Street being closed the day of Daddy's funeral, and the cotton gin laborers lined reverently beside the road with lint-covered caps placed respectfully over their hearts as one of their own, a man of the soil, passed in the hearse.

Although elderly, the Rev. A.C. Sullivant held me in his arms up above Daddy's casket, advising softly: "You look at your Daddy as long as you like."

Mildred Parks sounded like a song bird as she sang "Precious Memories" at Daddy's funeral.

Neighbors such as the McCanns, Parks, Neels, Bryants, Harrisons and Scotts rallied around Momma Whittle, to help her get her arms around the family's farming business.

Farmer Johnny "Bunce" Scott not only loaned his big Farmall tractor and cultivator during next Spring's planting season, but volunteered his own time and labor to help get our crops planted.

The Neels would often come prior to daylight and after sundown to help us milk the cows and slop the hogs.

Neighbors came from miles around on hog-killing day to help Mother slaughter and hang the hogs for butchering and dressing out.

Farm neighbor L.A. McCann took charge of the sausage making. I can still recall the taste of his highly-seasoned sausage and the good smell that permeated our farm house when Momma cooked that sausage on cold winter mornings.

But it was our farm dog, the one Daddy had named Hitler, that profoundly touched all our souls. Prior to Daddy's death, that old dog had never howled. The canine almost grieved and howled himself to death with Daddy's passing...

Later on, Hitler managed to switch his allegiance to me. When that dog died later of old age, Rev. Sullivant kindly remarked from the pulpit one Sunday morning that he believed there would be good dogs in heaven.

Evangelist Billy Graham has also preached there'll be good dogs in heaven.

I believe it too. Amen!!

Daddy's death was a terrible blow to our family, but faith, loved ones and good neighbors helped us survive. That's the way I remember our farm life back in the Bootheel.

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Retired recently as world-traveled newspaperman, career made possible by late Superintendent of Schools Robert L. Rasche, about to have Bootheel life book published by SEMO State University. Loved farm life, but knew at five years old, didn't want to be a "cotton picker" when I grew up.
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