Friday, November 30, 2012

The Bad Times--the Era of the Dust Bowl

Last week I watched the PBS special on The Dust Bowl, a time in U.S. history during the 1930's when people in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and that area suffered greatly. It was on for two nights and I was intrigued. I was born in 1935 and remember seeing my relatives dressed like the people in those pictures. I remember stories my parents and grandparents told about hard times. My dad's parents lived in a tent like many people did then, even though they lived in the Dallas area. Before I was born, my dad worked for $1.00 a day to earn money to pay the doctor for my delivery. He and his family were migrant workers, and they knew hard times all their lives. So these pictures captivated me.

The announcer told about a woman who had written a book about her own experiences during that time, so I ordered the book and read it. Sonora Babb, the author, wrote with astuteness about that era. I am sure she incorporated many things she had seen and experienced to write this "fiction" book. It broke my heart to read about the hardships of these people. This book is similar to "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck. In fact, mention was made of his book in the PBS series. Babb audaciously wrote to a New York publishing house and sent them three chapters of her book, but before she could get there and sign a contract to finish the book, Steinbeck's book pre-empted hers. Sixty years later, her book was published by University of Oklahoma Press.

I remember seeing my paternal grandmother with expressions like those of people in pictures from that era. When I was a little girl, she lived in a small house, but she was still a poor woman. She had eleven children and five of them died at birth or shortly after.

I saw my grandmother caring for grandchildren like this. And I saw the futility and barrenness on my grandfather's face, knowing he could not make enough money to care for all those children. He was a barber until his eyes became too bad for him to see, then he became a migrant worker.

My dad tells about wanting to go to school, but he had to help pick cotton and other crops to help the family make enough money to buy food and pay "the man" who owned the places where they lived. The sadness of the Great Depression was more than anyone should have had to bear.

  In the book by Babb, I read about hunger. Little children crying, mothers making "pepper tea" which was water with salt and pepper and nothing else, men and women who fainted from hunger, but the worst thing was seeing the people lose their dignity. Many of them packed up and left the dusty country, and moved to California. But once there, they found the same indignity, poverty, and hunger. Children were ostracized and called "Okies" at school, while their parents worked as migrant workers for seventy-five cents a day.

In the book, Babb tells about the beginnings of the unions. People wanted the dignity of work. They wanted to provide for their families, but the enormity of the situation caused them to begin to accept relief. There just wasn't any work for them.

If you like to read about real events, and yet read a book that is like a novel, you would like this one. "Whose Names are Unknown" chronicles a period in our history that I hope will never be repeated. The book is worth reading because of the history, and because you will learn about the resourcefulness of people.

Pictures were taken from the internet by searching "Dust Bowl Pictures."


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  2. Juanita, I was also born in 1935, but I don't have a good memory of things like you do. I wish I did. WWe lived in Oklahoma. They were having a bad dust storm when I was born and Mother thought I was going to die even tho they had all of the windows covered with quilts. There were 7 of us siblings. I do remember when my dad made 5o cents a day and had walk long distances to his job. Later he made 1.00 a day. Mother swore that putting some Vicks Vapor rub in my mouth was what helped save me. Probably GOD just wanted me to live for whatever reason. Maxie

  3. Well i wish that i could've been born in the 30's since i definitely would've been all settled down by now with a good wife and family since the women of years ago were certainly a lot nicer and much easier to meet at that time since i am still single and alone today, and other friend of mine that i know are in the same boat as me.