WHITTLE: Back in the Bootheel

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Aug. 22, 1944, was an ultimate pivotal point of life.

That's when country doctor Sam Sarno and nurse Kate McBain walked a mile on railroad tracks to be up out of flood waters and mud to help Momma Whittle deliver her third child.

Nurse Kate bragged for years that she was first to whack Little Danny Whittle's fanny.

Farm neighbor Poppy Gowen was one of those first sweet souls of life who radiated goodness.

Was it fate the morning as I leaned down to kiss Poppy on his forehead, muttering the words: "Poppy, I love you very much." I learned later in life that tears came to Poppy's eyes as me and my farm dog left to go back home.

Poppy died later that day of a stroke. That morning was the only time I leaned over and kissed Poppy on his forehead.

Fast forward to Oct. 25, 1950, the date Daddy Whittle was in a serious car wreck while driving from our rural farm to nearby Sikeston, Mo., the largest city of about 5,000 in our rural Southeast Missouri region.

Daddy died of head injuries, and that was the night older brother Van had his first running nightmare. Brother had nightmares the rest of his life.

Second grade at little rural Canalou School of advanced thinking and higher ciphering was my first education that all adults don't take a liking to all children. It was the first time I walked into a room, and instantly the teacher did not like Little Danny Whittle and I didn't like her in return.

I got a school record seven whippings in second grade, three of which came one day after I vigorously  took up for one of my little girlfriends for writing me a note: "Little Danny, I like you. Do you like me?"

I count what followed as the beginning of my professional writing career. While teacher wasn't looking, after administering a wide leather strap across my shoulders, I penned a note of my own, and left it on her desk.

A few moments later, I heard teacher roar at the front of the classroom. She'd found the note: "Dear Mrs. Cox, I hate your guts very much." Not being a bright child, I signed the note "Little Danny Whittle."

Schooling was important, I learned early in life, and our rural farm region benefitted from some of the best teachers to be found, not the least of whom was Robert L. Rasche, superintendent of Gray's Ridge High School.

After Canalou had lost its school due to consolidation in 1959, I transferred in 10th grade to Gray's Ridge, now called Richland High School in the 'Bootheel' farming region of Southeast Missouri.

If not for Mr. Rasche, I'd not have finished high school.

Perhaps the biggest pivotal point of early life came the day I heard about a fantastic janitor's job coming open at the newspaper in Sikeston.

Understand, I'd never stepped foot in a real newspaper office. When I got there to inquire about the janitor's job, the regular covey of front-office secretaries were out to lunch.

But I heard movement in a side office. And when I knocked on that door, a little grey-headed man invited me in, asking why I wanted to see him.

"I'm here for that job," I advised.

 As I was being seated, the man, I learned later to be the publisher, asked if I could type. I recall wondering: "Man that must be a pretty classy janitor's job, having to know how to use a typewriter??…"

After being seated, the publisher asked the question that marked the destiny of my career. He had a funny way of phrasing his sentences.

"Sonny, how long it is that you've been wanting to write sports?" Publisher C.L. Blanton Jr. asked.

I think I swallowed once, blinked twice before lying like a dog: "Sir, I've been wanting to write sports all my life."

He hired me on the spot, and I never confided I was there to apply for the janitor's job.

Publisher Blanton later advised he hired me because of my audacity and voracity.

That pivotal point in life opened the door to a writing career that has taken me around the globe multiple times, and I've been paid to go.

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Dan Whittle
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