SIKESTON - It's not just that the American Legion Cotton Carnival is celebrating its 58th anniversary this year that makes it so meaningful.
It's the fact that the event is responsible for more than five decades of memories for generations of area residents.
Megan Looney has looked forward to the event, which begins today and will conclude on Saturday, since she was little.
"Cotton Carnival? I love the Cotton Carnival," she exclaimed. "My family has a background in agriculture so that makes the carnival even more meaningful to me because it's a celebration of the harvest."
Although Dianne Jackson didn't grow up with the American Legion Cotton Carnival, it's still near and dear to her heart.
After moving here in 1980, she and husband Homer quickly learned during Cotton Carnival week little else seemed to matter.
"My patients wouldn't even go get their prescriptions filled for fear they'd miss the carnival," recalled Jackson, a nurse practitioner. "It was like a rite of passage."
Soon she learned what all the fuss was about. It was a lot of fun.
Taking their son, Desmond and daughter, Ebony, to the annual fall event became a tradition and one that created many happy memories for the family.
Like caramel apples, she quipped. "I used to like candied apples but caramel apples...... I just love them, with or without nuts. You bite into them and they're sweet and gooey. But probably my favorite part was seeing the faces of the kids, to me that was the coolest part."
Looney recalls her parents putting a limit on the number of nights she could go to the carnival and the amount of money spent. "That's what we've done with our son," she said. "I was born and raised here and so was my husband and we chose to move back here. The tradition of the Cotton Carnival and the parade is part of this community. I remember growing up, marching in the band and riding on the Red Pepper float in the parade. I liked the candy and the clowns. Oh, and the fish sandwiches, without question. We still go at lunchduring Cotton Carnival week for those fish sandwiches."
Although she still enjoys the Cotton Carnival, Jackson says it hasn't been the same since her kids, now 19 and 16, have declared the event a no-parent zone.
"They're too big now for us to go with them, that's a rite of passage for teens, no parents," Jackson laughed. "That would not be cool to go to the Cotton Carnival with them, I'd lose all my cool points. I still make them bring me back a caramel apple though."
She said what she enjoys most about the Cotton Carnival is the fact that it's for everyone. Race, social grouping and income doesn't matter.
"It's like a big social event but there aren't any airs and everybody pays the same thing and has to wait in line just like everyone else, there are no VIP admissions. I like that."
She compared the event to a similar celebration called Junkanoo which is celebrated in the Bahamas, where her father is from.
Going with the kids might be off limits, but Jackson said it doesn't mean they can't go. "I'm scared of roller coasters so that's out, but Homer and I go to eat and to look, it's kind of like a date," she grinned.