COMMERCE, MO (KFVS) - Commerce, Missouri is best known for a couple of things: the River Ridge Winery and flooding. As long as anyone in town can remember, they've had a love/hate relationship with the Mississippi River.
While the river brought the likes of Lewis and Clark to town, it has also brought great sorrow to those who call Commerce home. With no levee to protect itself, every time the river sneaks into town, it pulls some of it back into its murky waters.
No one in Commerce knows the river's fickle ways better than Mamie Ledure. She's lived in Commerce all her life. And she's had a long life. Just a few weeks ago Mamie turned 97.
During her childhood years, Mamie remembers Commerce as a hopping place, "There was a barber shop, a dance hall, a depot, two hotels and restaurants. We took the train to Cape Girardeau."
In the 1920s, it seemed, Commerce was aptly named. Then came the river, relentlessly raiding the town over the years until not much was left. Today, empty lots remind the 67 who still live here, of what once was.
"The river ruined it. It took everything," Mamie said.
Mamie was born, raised and raised her seven children in Commerce. In fact, Mamie has lived on the same street her entire life. Never fond of school, Mamie quit after the eighth grade. A couple of years later she ran off to Benton to marry Leo Ledure, a man she had met a couple of months earlier at the dance hall.
"Oh my mom was mad. She didn't want me to get married," recalled Mamie from her chair on her front porch.
That's where you'll find Mamie most days. She likes to look out the window and see the comings and goings. She's lived in the house that was her grandparents for more than 50 years now and there is no place she'd rather be.
You don't live as long as Mamie without heartache. Her biggest one came in 1965. Their youngest son Donnie died in a car accident north of Sikeston. He had gotten his driver's license just two months earlier.
"He was the life of the party. He was always smiling," Mamie said of her baby.
Mamie got through the pain by staying busy. There were cows to be milked, chickens to cook, gardens to tend to, and of course, six other children who needed her.
Mamie looks back fondly on those days when she was busy from sun up to sun down. Leo worked on the river so he was gone for weeks at a time. Even today, at 97, Mamie cans vegetables and only recently had to give up her quilting because of her failing eyesight.
Getting old is not sitting well with this feisty Commerce resident. She likes to be busy, but poor health, this year in particular, has her sitting on her front porch more than she'd like.
"I like to stay busy. I don't drive anymore. I can't keep a garden anymore," lamented Mamie.
Just as the river has done to Commerce, age is stealing from Mamie. It's frustrating as much as it is inevitable. We will all grow old. Mamie knows this, but at 97 her mind is as sharp as it was 50 years ago. The body isn't cooperating. Still, from her seat on her front porch Mamie said with a smile, "I've had a good life. I've been blessed."
Ninety-seven years old and every one of them spent in Commerce. Life has been good to Mamie.
Next week Everybody in the Heartland Has a Story heads to Marquand. We'll tell you what a federal prison and a sommelier have in common.