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Sun, Jul 13, 2014

WHITTLE: Recalling Christmases past

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SMYRNA, Tenn. -- It was Christmas Eve 2003, when we laid Momma Whittle to rest in Smyrna’s beautiful Maple View  Cemetery.

But, instead of getting down in the dumps each Christmas Eve, I rejoice for when my mother, Ruby Lee Whittle, died, it ended seven years of hellish pain for her with pancreatic cancer. Surely, I miss her.

As a God-fearing farm lady, I know she’s plowing heavenly soybean fields with Daddy Whittle, a true man of the soil who perished in a car crash when I was six years old.

You might be saying, “No one lives seven years with that type of cancer” and often you’d be right. Multiple physician friends advised most folks don’t live longer than six months to a year with pancreatic cancer.

For some reason the Good Lord let my tough, farm lady Momma fight the ravages of her cancer for seven years.

An end to her pain was a big blessing with Mother’s passing. And she was able to keep her mind and sharp wit until her very last breath, when she instructed: “My youngest son, get over here and hold my hand as I pass to the other side.”

And as I felt life ebb out of her body, I witnessed the last twitches of her eyebrows and tongue, while a pleased look surfaced as the pain melted from Mother’s tired face.

Like many folks about to leave this life, Mother reached toward heaven with her right hand as she drew her last breath as I was still holding her left hand.

She had been a tough farm lady with grit, who became a successful farmer in her own right while rearing three young children after Daddy perished in a grinding car crash back in 1950.

A huge personal gift has arrived for Christmas 2013.

The Southeast Missouri State University’s prestigious Center for Regional History recently published my first book, “Canalou: People, Culture, Bootheel Town.”

The cockles of my country boy heart are especially warmed this Christmas because my family’s proud farming heritage is preserved forever in this book.

I was yet to be born in 1938, with one thin nickel in their cash reserve, my farm parents pulled up roots as sharecroppers from a plantation in Arkansas, to settle in the “Bootheel” farming region of Southeast  Missouri where farm acreage was selling for pennies an acre after the swamp was drained starting around 1910.

Prior to the nation’s largest dredging operation in history, the massive Bootheel swamp was similar to Reelfoot Lake that exists today on the Tennessee side of the mighty Mississippi River.

Like Reelfoot, the Bootheel swamp was partially formed by the massive New Madrid Earthquakes that rocked the region during 1811-12.

I often arise before a new day’s dawn to do my writing, a habit I inherited from farm days of youth.

Another trait my farm parents shared was “To have a good neighbor, you must be a good neighbor.”

In the book, I reconstruct Daddy’s last Christmas.

It was Christmas 1949, when we pulled up in front of our old farm house in Daddy’s new Hudson Hornet, for he loved fast cars.

“You children keep an eye on that chimney to see if Santa comes or goes,” Daddy instructed.

A stick of dynamite could not have taken my 5-year-old eyes off that chimney, but older brother did when he declared, “there ain’t no Santa Claus.”

“Just babies believe in Santa,” he added.

And that’s when the fight started as I immediately blooded older brothers’ fist with my nose.

But thankfully, Daddy ended our brotherly skirmish when he stepped back outside declaring that Santa had “already come and gone.”

When Daddy Whittle proclaimed there was indeed a Santa, that was good enough for his youngest son.

I still believe in Santa … and let us not forget the true reason for the season as we celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.

Anyone wanting a book can email me at danwhittle@comcast.net or call (615) 459-7650 and leave your address and order. They’re $25, including shipping.

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Christmas, Family, History, Parenting, Voices
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