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Memories Help Prepare for Road of Life

Posted Tuesday, July 3, 2012, at 10:08 AM

Memories...I love dusting them off, savoring them a while before putting them back on the shelf for reference during future tough emotional days of life.

Earliest life's memory goes way back in my iron-barred baby bed at our farm house in New Madrid County. It was my second birthday when I recall hearing my loving mother complain to neighbor farm lady Ollie Bryant the family could get no rest, because of my incessant "crying."

That hurt my young tender feelings, to the point of anger...when I recall tossing my (glass) bottle of milk out of the baby bed, and hearing it "shatter" on the floor.

Mother (Ruby Lee Stockton Whittle) seemed greatly surprised back in 2003, as I shared that "memory" for the first time with her.

"I recall having that conversation on your second birthday," Mother confirmed. "And I recall you quit crying so much, but that was due to you often having painful ear aches..."

I vividly recall those painful ear infections that led to my childhood's "first love" of a non-family member, to wit, farm road neighbor Poppy Gowen, who smoked a wonderful-smelling pipe.

This gentle old soul would blow "soothing" warm pipe smoke for hours on end nito my painful ears, trying to lessen my pain.

At age 4, was when I learned that "death" is a part of life.

That was the fateful morning I had walked the half-mile with my faithful farm dog named Hitler to visit loving neighbors Mommy and Poppy Gowen,grandparents to the late Linda Faye Parks Glenn of Dexter.

Poppy was not feeling good that morning, and stayed "resting" on their day-bed there in their farm home's living room.

As my dog and I prepared to walk back to our own home, I leaned over and gently kissed Poppy on his forehead, saying, "Poppy, I love you."

Poppy died of a stroke later that day. When he passed at the midnight hour, Mommy Gowen sat me on her knee, brushing my own tears away, and shared that tears had come to Poppy's eyes earlier that morning when I leaned over and kissed him on his forehead...a deed I'd never done before.

Second brush with "death" came shortly thereafter in 1948, at Stoddard County's Trailback Plantation where Uncle Harlan and Aunt Doris Burris Whittle farmed. Aunt Doris' father was somewhat of a hero in our youthful eyes, since he served as an important construction foreman on Highway 25 through Dexter.

That was the frightful day cousin Benny Pritchard, son of Dexter residents Aunt Sudie and Uncle Herman Pritchard, died when crushed beneath a John Deere tractor that over-turned down an drainage ditch embankment near the big Floodway Channel.

I never fail to visit cousin Benny's grave at a little church cemetery between Essex and Gray Ridge when I return for visits back to the Bootheel.

His funeral is my first memory of meeting cousin Brenda Gail Leathers, daughter of Aunt Iris and Uncle Stanley Leathers, also of Dexter, and cousins Tommy Burris, Lonnie Burris and Dowell "Pow Pow" Whittle.

Brenda Gail, whose married name is Lillard, ran a successful pawn/jewelry shop along Dexter's present-day well-manicured Main Street until recently when she suffered a stroke.

Our prayers go out to her and our other cousins as she recuperates at a nice nursing home there on Holly Drive in Dexter. It's Brenda Gail's illness that triggered this trip back down Memory Lane of our Bootheel childhoods...


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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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