Set in 1928, Gumbo Bottoms is the story of Vivian Marks, a wealthy easterner, who discovers her fortune has been squandered when her husband dies suddenly. All she has left is a piece of bottomland in Missouri. “You mean “Misery”, Vivian sings in the opening song. Things go from bad to worse when she travels to Missouri only to discover her rich bottomland has been taken by the “Wiley Guiley Mighty Mo.
The story continues as big city wealth clashes with rural river life and basic survival crosses the racial divide. With song and dance, laughter and drama the 90 minute musical delivers a tribute to river life, rich, deep, inspired by stories from the region.
Gumbo Bottom was launched in Boonville, Missouri's Thespian Hall, built in 1855. Many of the actors and producer, composer are from Boonville. It just happens that Boonville is located alongside the Big Muddy, the Missouri River.
We caught the show in Hermann, a little German town about 45 minutes from our home. We go there quite often to visit the many wineries. If you are ever in Missouri, Herman is a must see. It is also on the Mighty Mo.
The show and the locations where it performed dredged up so many memories that my mind is literally swimming. So, this blog entry is going to be a mishmash of jumbled thoughts. It is only fair to warn you about that...
My mom lived in Boonville, MO in the 1930's when she was a teenager. She lived on a farm in the river bottoms to be exact. Her greatest fear in life was having to go through another flood. As a young girl she went through many. She would shudder as she'd talk about moving the piano to the second floor of their old farm house, and even then the legs of the piano got wet because the waters reached to the second floor As the oldest girl of 8 children, she was relied on to help with the clean-up. That meant shoveling out the dirt, sewer, snakes, rubbish, and as the show was named, gumbo bottom, of the Missouri River, before the family could move back into the house. And they did this knowing that in two or three years (if they were lucky), they'd have to do it all over again.
I lived through many floods along the Missouri River, but never in that way. I was always the awestruck bystander, watching the power of mother nature. The flood of 1993 was by far the worst known to this area. My drive to work each day was normally an easy 20 minute, no traffic drive. The flood took out the Highway leading to town. The Missouri River Bridge at Jefferson City was closed for days and when it opened back up, the double bridge with six lanes was now one bridge with two lanes. The traffic would back up to the little town where I live, which is 15 miles from Jeff City. It took hours to get to work, not minutes. This is a picture of the Highway I drove every day.
I have many pictures of that flood, but none on this computer, and I'm too lazy to go searching for them, so I'm cheating and posting pictures from the internet.
We knew the violinist. He happened to live in Jeff City when our youngest daughter was in the school orchestra, playing the violin. We relied on him often to work on her violin. As I watched and listened to him play (we had seats close to the orchestra), I remembered back to Julie playing her violin. I was and still am so proud of her. I'm hoping one of these days when her rowdy bunch are a bit older and she has some me-time, that she will take up the violin again.
The violinist also happened to be the son of the local shoe cobbler of many years ago. His shop was down the street from the grade school I attended. In those days we weren't a throw-away society like we are today. Appliances, TV's, furniture, and clothing were made to last. We didn't throw things away, we fixed them. And our shoes were repaired by Elmer. For many years the shoes I wore were repaired hand-me-downs from my older sister. It was nothing to have the heel replaced two or three times. And the first thing we always had done when a new pair of shoes were finally bought was have a tap put on the toe so the soles would not wear out so fast. And when the soles did wear out, they were replaced. I was always secretly glad when I had to take my shoes to Elmer. I loved the smell of leather and polish in his. He was such a kind man. He seemed ancient to me, but since he had a son a bit younger than me (the violinist), he couldn't have been all that old. He would often chastice me for waiting too long to bring the shoes in, causing him difficulty in repairing them. The thing I remember most was he charged practically nothing. To put a tap on was ten cents. I even remember handing him only a nickel once for stitching a ripped seam.
As I type I am looking out my kitchen indow at a red headed wood pecker on a tree, a red bird in the feeder under the tree and two sparrows in the feeder right outside my window. I do believe I'm going to head outside for a little while!