Tuesday, May 06, 2008
"The Dirty Thirties"
Here's something to look back on and think about as we watch the cost of gas, food, and just about everything else skyrocket to unbelievable amounts, and as Americans face layoffs and a dismal job market....
A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to visit with a delightful 94-year-old gentleman about his experience of living in the heart of the Dust Bowl as a young man. His memories of "that ol' blue/black dust" and the "half-dugout" his family called home, put a real face on a time in history I had only read about prior to our conversation. I came away with some wonderful research material for my book, a different perspective of the High Plains where I've lived most of my life, and an awed respect for the people who struggled to make a life here during one of the worst disasters of the last century.
But "Mr. J" also sent me off with another story I had not sought or expected. At the age of 20, he said, "I'd been on my own for three years...but I didn't have a home...I didn't have nothin." He struck out for California, hoping to find work. "I rode the freight trains a couple of years...I was bumming. I'd ride a freight, walk, or ride my finger." But even in California, Mr. J discovered that "there just wasn't hardly any jobs to speak of." And the competition for the few that cropped up was tough. The state--the entire country--was full of men just like Mr. J. who were looking for work without success. After some time, he finally did find temporary work on a ranch. The offer came when he was headed off to get some sleep. "I guess I got the only job in the whole country! Now that happened to me at night...in a town just out of L.A. The old boy stopped me as I was going on the other side of town to find a soft spot under one of those trees or something like that, and find a piece of cardboard -- one of those great big ol' boxes we used to fold up and crawl down in so you could have a little something over you and under you. That's about all."
Wow. I wonder if those of my generation and my childrens' generation could be as tough and resourceful as Mr. J and the other men and women of his time. And I hope we never have to find out!
My friend and critique partner Anita sent me the incredible photo above!