BY MONTE HALE, firstname.lastname@example.org
Call it a seven-year itch.
Actually, it goes was back longer than that for Murfreesboro Post columnist/contributor Dan Whittle,a long time journalist who has penned a unique and entertaining book entitled, "Canalou, People, Culture, Bootheel Town."
According to Whittle, the book was a seven-year project that culminated with many fascinating stories about his hometown and days growing up in the Bootheel of Missouri.
Whittle's hometown, Canalou, was initially constructed on poles and plank board walks to be up out of the swamp water that ranged from 3-10 feet in depth.
Whittle pays tribute to the brave Bootheel people of Southeast Missouri who, he says, have never been given credit for carving a culture and livelihood out of the former swamp that was partially formed by the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-12.
"My respect for these brave souls and the following farmers who put the drained land to the plow really soared the more I researched the project," Whittle said. "Our Bootheel educators helped prepare my generation for the employment around the globe, including world famous Spain magic realist artist/sculptor Michael Parks."
Whittle said he was inspired long ago while growing up in Canalou as far as bringing his experiences and research to book form.
"I have always loved words," he said. "As a small boy, I tried to make up my own ABCs. I partially learned to read in the shack out back by looking at words and associating pictures in Sears-Roebuck catalogues.
"So, in first grade my teacher went to church one night and was complimenting my mother, but wondering how her first grade-age son knew how to spell 'brassieres.' Momma tanned my hide when we got home from church for 'embarrassing the family.'"
Whittle also was encouraged by others as a young person, and many gave him the inspiration that would eventually lead to him becoming an author.
"Late neighbor farmer A.J. Neel, a learned gent, noticed early my love for words, Whittle noted. "So he would go to the farm town's little library and check out books for me to read, and that was before I went to first grade. I owe a lot to A.J. Neel, who prophesied one day as we were chopping cotton, that words, 'One day, Little Danny Whittle, words will take you around the world.' I thought of that prophesy back in the 1990s when I was in the Bosnian war zone and later while I was in Romania on another assignment. Words have literally taken me around the globe, not once, but twice, and I got paid to go."
Today, the six counties that comprise the Bootheel produce more than 30 percent of that state's total agricultural product annually. The dredging operation to drain the massive swamp, equivalent to the Reelfoot Lake on the Tennessee side of the Mississippi River, started in 1914 andturned out to be larger than the Panama Canal project.
That dredging project is the largest to date in U.S. history, resulting in some of the most fertile farm land in world history.
The original settlers who entered the swamp in 1902, largely came out of Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Illinois. They had to survive wolves, bears, panthers, swamp rats and disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Some of the original settlers were on the run from "Old John Law" back in their respective home states, but law enforcement was weary of entering the massive swamp.
Excerpts from the foreword in the book paint a vivid picture of what it's all about.
"This book is about the region's people. They live in six counties that were part of the Louisiana Purchase. Explorer Lewis noted in his annals that his now fam Canalou native Dan Whittle is a retired newspaperman, a reporter who always had the knack for listening for more than just the bare facts. His book of Bootheel stories is both funny and touching.
"Having known 'Danny' Whittle since venerable old Grayridge High School days in the 1960s, I can testify that he knows the back-breaking pain of picking cotton under the boiling hot sun of the Bootheel's tortuous dog days of summer.
"Make no mistake, those who survived and benefitted by spending our youth in this unique area of the world are proud of our heritage…and culture."
- Gary Lewis.
The book is 85 chapters (ranging from the Westerfield Murder Trial to Daddy's Last Christmas to Cow Cussin'). The book is 417 pages and each chapter is an easy read.
Whittle brings his unique style of writing, beautifully combining his wit and knowledge of this historic part of Missouri.
The book will soon be available on amazon.com. It also will able to be purchased at The Cannon Courier.