One Ditch – Jacki Kellum Watercolor – A Tribute to the Little Town Where I Grew Up

I left my hometown over half a century ago, but nevertheless, my hometown will always be part of who I am.

Although I lived most of my life in Mississippi, I actually grew up in Gideon, a very small farm community in Southeast Missouri. Specifically,, Gideon is in the very southeastern part of Southeast Missouri–the Bootheel part that juts down below the rest of the Missouri state line– downward into what would otherwise be Arkansas and/or Tennessee.

When I was a child, I was surrounded for miles by cotton fields, cotton gins, and the dark, rich soil that the Mississippi River had deposited there in earlier years.   Because this is the flood zone of the Mississippi River, the soil is so very rich that hardly any of it is wasted on trees. Occasionally, you might see a narrow line of vegetation crossing the terrain; but that would probably be on the banks of one of the small creek-like waterways that were long ago dug there to catch the river, should it flood again.

One Ditch: A Waterhole Back Home – Jacki Kellum Watercolor

Collectively, the waterways around home were called The Floodways. Individually, each of the bodies of water had one of the following more creative names: 1 Ditch, 2 Ditch, 3 Ditch, etc. That is the honest truth.  During the 1950s and 1960s, there wasn’t a lot of effusiveness or ornamentation about Southeast Missouri, but it was enough. In fact, it was more than enough. The truth be known, I’d give anything to get back to the Gideon of my childhood again, but that playground is gone in every way but that of my mind.

Fortunately, my memory of my childhood is still very sharp.  One thing I recall is that when I was a child, life was rather immobile. We had cars, but there was very little jumping behind the wheel and darting here and there. But my diminutive hometown was actually fairly self-sufficient, and at that time, there was essenyially no need to commute far beyond there. That, in itself, added to the quietness and simplicity of my childhood.

Although I grew up inside the town, most of the area’s people lived outside the town’s limits–out on farms. In the Bootheel, tiny communities like Gideon formed around the schools that were established to teach all of the area’s children. The farm kids were brought in on school buses. A few of the farm communities even had a store or two. When I was very young in Gideon, there was a nice 1950s doctor’s office, a little department store, a dime store, a hardware store, a drugstore with a soda fountain, and an IGA grocery store. I could write an entire series of books about how my time in each of those places affected me–how they made me who I am today. Yet, all of those venues are gone now, and none of us can ever go home again anyway.

“You can never go home again”– Thomas Wolfe

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 that was floating from the cotton gins and compresses. Like a spider’s work, it attached itself to trees, poles, and other things nearby. Gauzy and ghostly, the lint-like webs were warning us, hinting 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.

Indeed, my little hometown is only a whisper of what it used to be, and most of my hometown friends have moved away from there. Some of us are still friends on Facebook, and I am continuously delighted by one way or another that one of those friends reminds me of my childhood and home. Since I left Gideon, I have attended college and graduate school. In fact, I almost have 3 master’s of arts degrees now, but I’ll never hesitate to say that the best of what I learned, I learned at home in the Bootheel of Missouri.  Thank you, to all the people who have cradled my heart.