It Is Time for the World to Hear From 3 Strong Women from the Missouri Bootheel

CottonChild

In 2002, I asked my mother, who is currently almost 89-years-old, some questions.  For several years, I have hesitated to share any of what my mother said to me.  Even though my mother had an austere childhood during the Depression; and although for years, she essentially had no home–she has survived as a very proud person.

Yesterday, I re-read what my mother said 13 years ago; and although some of her childhood was brutal, she does not whine. Rather, she always seems to reflect from a positive side. I have not wanted to share these things and make her feel that I am having a pity party for her; and I don’t want to embarrass her either. Yet, I do want my mother to know that I have heard her and I weep for the pain that she has endured. In short, I want the world to know what an amazing life that my mother has had, in spite of her childhood.

In much the same way, my life has been filled with tragedy and anguish.  For the longest time, I have not been able to get far enough away from my own pain to write about it.  The cuts have been too fresh and too deep; but I am beginning to rise from some of what has almost destroyed me and to celebrate the gold that life’s amalgamating process has produced.

My grandmother, my mother, and I are 3 women who barely survived our youths in the very rural, impoverished, cotton-growing Bootheel region of Southeast Missouri. Just this very month, I have decided that it is time that the world hears our songs.

As I said before, I have begun a 3-Way Memoir, where I’ll record some of my mother’s responses to some questions that I asked about her life.  I hope to have the memoir published for my mother’s 90th birthday on December 6, 2016.  It will be my grandmother’s story, my mother’s story, and mine–all told about our lives in the now very dusty and boarded-shut Bootheel of Southeast Missouri.

You can find excerpts from that memoir in various places on my blog, by searching:

What My Mother Said, Calico Cotton, and When Cotton Was King.

Copyright Jacki Kellum October 17, 2015

All Rights Reserved

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Ready for Your Close-up.”

Cotton Child
by Jacki Kellum

My childhood was determined by Cotton, and my calendar was punctuated by the various stages of its growth cycle. The winter was slow and quiet. Spring was an awakening, and summer was a time of growth. During fall, the roads were lined with wagons–in ant-like procession, going to and coming from the gins. Living became the everyday humming of the harvesting of cotton.

The river ebbed and flowed, and the air was filled with gossamer-like lint, floating from the cotton compresses. Like spider’s work, it attached itself to trees, poles, and other things nearby. Gauzy and ghostly, the lint-webs were warning us, hinting of what would come.

But while Cotton flourished, his people flowered, too. No one even realized that Cotton was the King–until Time took his throne.

Now. his towns are shadows–his spectre-like people, silhouettes. Life itself was boarded shut: stone-stagnant, cold-condemned. and left gasping.

I still have my cotton clock, it ticks my cotton song–

Out on the pavement, holding a tin cup, crying:

“I am still a cotton-child, a child that lost my home.”

Copyright Jacki Kellum October 7, 2015

All Rights Reserved

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24 thoughts on “It Is Time for the World to Hear From 3 Strong Women from the Missouri Bootheel

  1. It is time for these stories to be told. It is time for these stories to be read. Three generations of women who take us into the present, where the struggle goes on. Past and present–here we have the chance to learn and respond to both through the experiences of these three. This is great effort on your part. Much success in getting the word (words) out!

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    1. I grew up on a tiny dot by the name of Gideon. Have you heard of it? Tell me, what were you doing in the Bootheel? I went to Ole Miss and lived in Mississppi most of my life after school.

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  2. Pingback: What My Mother Said About Her Youth When She Lived Alone in a Hotel | Jacki Kellum
  3. Jacki, I add my “Amen, Sister!” to earlier comments. Growing up in Morehouse (30 miles north of Gideon) at the same time as you (I was born in 1951, my mother in 1926), I know so many stories from our time, and the preceding generation. But so many are told from a male perspective. I so look forward to more of your & your mother’s & her mother’s stories. (If you’d like another perspective, may I suggest a new book of poetry titled “Times Beach” by my old friend John Shoptaw. A section of it deals with growing up in the Bootheel. (I suppose this may be a tad self-serving, as he surprised me by dedicating the book to me, so of course I want to spread the word.))

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  4. I have had my head in the sand. I have not read ANYTHING that was written about the Bootheel. After I submit this manuscript, I’ll read what others have said. I want to keep our voices as pure as possible now. Thank you very much for reading, and please keep adding to my reading list.

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    1. I don’t call myself a writer. I’m barely even a blogger, certainly nothing beyond that. I get exactly what you mean by wanting “to keep [your] voices as pure as possible now.” I’ll try not to slip anything past your blinders until you’ve completed your manuscript.

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