Note: It seems appropriate to remember some of our past history as a nation, given the times that we currently going through. I hope this will be an encouragement to you!
Dust Bowl Days
Trust in the Lord and do good. Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Psalm 37:3
We’re going to go a slightly different direction today – we won’t be touching directly on geology. But these experiences are drawn directly from hard learned lessons that come straight from geology. Dust bowl days.
Both of my parents, as probably some of yours (or maybe your grandparents!) weathered the Great Depression. But there was a subset of those that went through that awful time that went through an even darker time – the Dust Bowl. My mother was one of those. My parents are both gone now. I lost them both in 2018. And there are times I wish them back. I have thought about that a lot, especially in light of the struggles we, as a nation, are facing right now. But I have decided that, no, I really wouldn’t want them to be here for this, as they would be among those that would be hardest hit. I wish, however, I could hear their voices, saying, “You can do this!”
My mother had lots of stories of growing up in tiny Johnson City, Kansas. It is in the southwest corner of Kansas. I remember visiting relatives many times there when I was growing up. Even then, it was hot and dusty (at least in the summer, that is). But it was nothing like it was back in the 1930s, when my mom was a youngster, just emerging from childhood to her teens.
My mother lived with her mom and dad, and eight siblings. Theirs was a farming family, but my grandfather had the good fortune of running the local farm co-op. And on occasion, my grandmother played piano, and my grandfather trumpet, for silent movies! So in some respects, they had more than many.
When the Great Depression came, and the dust storms at the same time, it was life changing in so many ways. (This picture is of their home. It’s the building almost in the center. And that is not a hill covered in trees in the background. That is a dust storm rolling in. This picture appeared in Kansas state history books for many years.) I visited that home many times as a girl.
The map shows where the Dust Bowl had its most profound effects. If you look at the map, you can see Stanton county, Kansas. It is inside that tiniest circle on the map, down in the corner. That is where Johnson is. Right in the heart of the worst of it.
My mother had told us of storms that blackened the sky. Black Blizzards. Choking dust. Of stuffing the cracks in their house with wet cloths to keep the very fine dust from seeping in through any opening, no matter the size. I heard stories of preparing food under a sheet on the table. Using a small shovel to scoop the dust from the baseboards after a dust storm.
Stretch the Food However You Can
And then there was “Depression Food” (what my sisters and I called it, when it showed up on our plates when we were growing up.) Stewed tomatoes thickened with bread. Or stewed chicken with noodles served over potatoes. Anything to make the food stretch just as far as it could. One can of tuna for the family, turned into gravy over toast. Lots of toast. And creamed spinach. Bread and butter sandwiches. Or bread and lard.
Clothes Made From Whatever Was On Hand
And clothes? Especially with that large family? Of course there were hand-me-downs. That was a given. But did you know that large flour sacks were printed with patterns on them so that people who used them to make clothes could have some prettiness in their lives? Nothing was wasted! And what a wonderful gift that was from the manufacturers to those who had so little, to add the designs to the sacks.
But when potential harvests blow away, or aren’t even planted, what is there to live on? Many families moved, left the area, ruined, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Remember reading “The Grapes of Wrath”? This was my mom’s childhood. Because they were not totally dependant on a farm income, they were able to continue living in their town, but many were not able to. And remember, the Dust Bowl didn’t last a week, or even a few months. This lasted for years.
It Wasn’t All About Dust
But there were good times, good memories, even in this very tough time. Some families loved playing that new game that came out, Monopoly. Maybe you were in a tough financial condition, but you could be a financial tycoon at least for an evening! Many enjoyed putting together jigsaw puzzles. I know that my mom carried this love of puzzles her entire life.
My mom had other good memories, as well. She loved telling us how she outran the boys at school; of helping her brother that was hearing impaired from scarlet fever; of playing with improvised toys from castoff “junk.” (“One man’s junk is another man’s treasures!”) A hub from a cast-off wheel could quickly become a rolling toy. Music was a big part of their family, and playing tuba in their high school band was a bright spot for her, as it was for other kids. Helping out at the co-op. (My mom learned how to do books from a young age!) Learning how to make a type of air conditioner for their home.
What You Make Of It
It really is what you make of it. The times we are living in are certainly challenging. And that includes us, as well. But we are trying to live well, remembering and doing the things that make for a truly rich life. When much of our life is stripped away, it has the effect of showing us what truly matters, in sharp contrast. It reminds me of when Dorothy left her home in the Wizard of Oz movie, and walked into Munchinland. Black and white to brilliant color. It can be that stark. (Hmmm…that movie was made during the Great Depression!) Interesting that the lesson from that movie was, “There’s no place like home.” (Do you remember what Dorothy’s home in Kansas was like? Lots of hard work, lots of dust. Lots of love.)
I’m pretty sure my parents, especially my mom, would be cheering us on, saying things aren’t really that bad, looking for ways to make things work, to make the best of it; to be resourceful, and always to share. Let’s seek to embrace these trials as experiences that show us where we need to grow in ways that we may not have noticed – in being aware of neighbors, noticing needs, being kind, extending a helping hand, and especially to the elderly who really can’t leave home at this time. Someday we will come out on the other side, but that day is not today. Today is the day that we grow and change for the better.