Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Dust Bowl

Pardon the expression, but I had to "dust" this story off and share it with you. It comes from my article writing days, which are long gone. It seems applicable now that we are facing hard times again. Maybe it will help us keep our circumstances in perspective.

The Dust Bowl

The years of the depression could be summed up in one word for so many of its victims: desperation.

You could see it coming as far as the horizon would permit. Soon, everyone’s windows and doors served only to hold back the fierce wind howling outside. Dust as fine as silt drifts in from every crack in the wall, filling the floor and cracks with sand deep enough to plant corn. Nothing could stop it. Children would sit in the floor and play with large piles of sand as the dirt blew in from outside. If bad luck were your fortune, it would rain while the sand was blowing and fall in the form of mud. The locals called them “dusters”, but everyone called them the worst thing to happen in farming history.

For the poor sharecroppers in Oklahoma, the dust storms of the Dust Bowl years were nothing short of a death sentence to their way of life. Most farms were foreclosed as banks began to call in notes; notes the farmers could not support. Slowly, one by one, then by the hundreds, Oklahomans abandoned their homes and went west to California, desperately seeking some way of making a living.

The dust meant much more to others. For them it meant completely changing everything they ever knew about life. They packed up their belongings and started driving west. Many people had to leave behind farms that their families had established some 70 years before. Old men cried as they left the home that had born their fathers, their children, and their grandchildren. For many, the trip was too much to bear and they died from broken hearts before they ever crossed the state line of Oklahoma. At night, they would eat fried dough while dreaming of chicken and dumplings. For many, beans and corn bread was a feast to remember. When they arrived in California to find no work available, they gathered into communes, sharing what they didn’t have to share. Instead of finding work, they found hostilities. For California had been overrun by those looking for a solution to their desperate problems. Local vigilantes, hating the Oklahomans for bringing their hard luck to California, burned out many times their camps. Their words, “brother, can you spare a dime?” became the national anthem as tough times got worse for so many. Honest, hard working people were reduced to beggars in order to survive. However, they did survive. They survived to go on and help build a bigger and better America.

For the strong, the tough times brought on by the dust storms amounted to insurmountable grounds for true bragging rights, lending testimony to the tenacity of the human spirit. “Why, where I come from, the dust was so thick that I had to chop my way to the barn with my ax just so I could tend to the cows.” And, “Shoot that’s nothing, it was so dusty at my house that when we jest got used to drinkin’ dust and bathin’ in durt.” Such folks just found a way to survive, despite the overwhelming odds against them. Their families still farm that same land today, with the same grim determination so appreciated by their fore fathers.

In only a few years, America was in the full throws of World War II, fighting to preserve their way of life; fighting to have the right to try their luck again just as soon as they get the chance. These people couldn’t be stopped by hard times. The hard times only made them more determined to survive.

Pay special attention to the photo of the man and the two boys running for cover as a dust storm started to blow in on an Oklahoma farm. What you will see is a desperate attempt to defy the odds and hold out just one day longer. You will see grim determination in the face of odds greater than any man should face. You will see great sorrow and great longing for better days. You will see the embodiment of everything great that is found in humanity.

12 comments:

lynnrush said...

Wow. What a story. That picture of them running to the "hut"....and your word, desperation....

Paints an accurate picture. THANKS for the post.

Tracy said...

Very powerful, Travis. I pray things don't get as bad this time, but our can-do spirit sure seems to rise up in the face of extreme adversity, and I'm sure it will again. Thanks for sharing this post.

Billy Coffey said...

And here we are, complaining.

Dave said...

Great post. I remember seeing that last picture as a kid (must be a west texas requirement) and thinking about how hard life must have been for them.

Rosslyn Elliott said...

Hi Travis!
I think you have a real talent for historical non-fiction. Have you thought about doing something with that? Or perhaps basing a novel on the Dust Bowl?

Travis said...

Yes, these photos are a very powerful representation of how things once were. They are also a reminder of how things could be. Besides that, it's really cool to see these photos and realize what life was like for our parents/grandparents.

Rosslyn-
You are too kind. To answer your question, I wrote a series of these articles to submit to a variety of magazines as human interest stories. Sadly, I was never entertained by any editors.

And, to answer your other question, I've never even thought of doing a novel based on those days. The closest I've come to historical fiction is the Western I put together (big surprise there). I never intended on writing love stories! I always envisioned myself writting Westerns. Go figure!

Alison Bryant said...

I keep thinking about "The Grapes of Wrath" as I read this. That was one of the novels in high school that affected me the most.

Lighthouse Prayer Line said...

Hi Travis,

Great post! Very insightful! Thanks for sharing that with us.

Hey. If you get the opportunity, would you
mind praying for the prayer requests that are
on our main page?

May the Lord bless you and your family!!

Mark, Lynn, Brooke & Carley Seay
www.LighthousePrayerLine.org

ps - please consider "following" our blog -or- atleast
grab one of our free, linking, blue buttons. (see top
sidebar at www.LighthousePrayerLine.org).

gzusfreek said...

Very nice, Travis. I love reading about the depression and Oklahoma. In there you can find my roots.
Pauls Valley is where my dad was from and after the war they had to move on to Roswell, NM.
My Grannie worked in a mattress shop and then had a cafe there in Pauls Valley, OK.
I like the dust twist :) And I hadn't heard about the dust storms -- informative - touching - **applause**

gzusfreek said...

I love this line BTW:

they gathered into communes, sharing what they didn’t have to share.

Lighthouse Prayer Line said...

Hi Travis,

Thanks for sharing that with us! Awesome story!!

Hey. If you get the opportunity, would you
mind praying for the prayer requests that are
on our main page?

May the Lord bless you and your family!!

Mark, Lynn, Brooke & Carley Seay
www.LighthousePrayerLine.org

ps - please consider "following" our blog -or- atleast
grab one of our free, linking, blue buttons. (see top
sidebar at www.LighthousePrayerLine.org).

Avily Jerome said...

Thank you, Travis. That's really powerful!