Hardships facing a family living in mid-west during the 1930's
| Dust Bowl
My skin sizzled while I was looking to the sky. I could feel the burn; just like poking my face into an open fire. I have dragon-breath and I’m standing here sweating buckets. Even my shirt is a mess; wrinkled, sweaty, and half unbuttoned. But more importantly, I am so tired that I could sleep nicely under a shady oak tree, and my belly keeps reminding me that it is lunch time. I need to freshen up!
I began fumbling and searching though my pockets; a pint of whiskey, usually, in a back pocket, a pack of Lucky Strikes, and a handkerchief. I just need one sip to wet my whistle, and one puff to make it all better. Only then I started wiping my brow; while, looking across the landscape before me. However, I just can’t help asking myself how anybody could survive out here. It’s a barren wasteland!
I was blurred by the sweat dripping into my eyes; I had beady-eyes from squinting so much. But I was trying to read the sign; ‘For Rent – Room and Board! Working White Men Only!!’
Down the street I can see the heat radiating off the land; I felt sweaty just staring at it. Far off in the distance that looks like there is a barn down yonder, and I can see a swarm hoovering about it. Indeed, a rather large swarm; however, I seriously doubt they are locus because they are just staying there.
I was wasting time while I finished my cigarette. Just then a darn fruit-fly jumped right into my eye. Shit! That bugger burns like hell! In that moment it occurred to me that I am sweating much more than just moments ago. A final sip; I patted my face dry.
The door suddenly burst open like a vault; but, enough to surprise me. In fact, I darn-near jumped a mile high. Quickly, I turned my attention back to the house. Then I saw the front door swinging in the other direction; it slammed shut with another bang, just not quite as loud as that first one.
Slowly I began raising my head and focusing my eyes on that front porch. There was a big ol’ hole right there dead-center, and it had two broken boards sticking straight out of it. She was standing there a bit behind that hole; but, she held firm to a shotgun with a death grip. My legs just turned to jelly, my voice was cracking, and I showed my palms to her while I spoke; I wanted her to know that I come in peace.
She brushes her sweaty, long, blond hair out of her face with a swoosh of her hand. Just by looking at her appearance and her stance I can see that this woman is tired. She is tired of starving and the heat, tired of the lies and promises, and tired of nobody giving two shits. She is desperate for a change, or maybe I should be calling that a ‘New Deal’ also.
I raised my camera and snapped that picture of her; standing on her front porch with a shotgun, beaten down and hungry, and desperate. She lives a life of broken hopes and dreams, empty promises is all she knows, and she bears the scars of her torment. I depressed the button, and in flash her image is recorded for all mankind. In all her beauty, she will be the picture of my mid-west pioneer woman!
“You got any business here mister,” she hollered down to me; while, raising that shotgun to her cheekbone, and putting me right in her sights. Now I really feel scared. I am not accustomed to being at the end of a barrel. Even though this is a good time for my Bible, this is a very humbling experience to say the least.
The front of her blouse is partially unbuttoned, and her face, neck, and arms were scorched and sweaty. She comes off to me as an argument just itching to happen; therefore, I have every intention of complying to her demands. I can very easily visualize her disagreements ending with that shotgun in her hands.
I politely began taking a step forward until I saw that barrel raise two inches. This is my message; stop right there! Pointing to her sign I said, “I see your sign.” Then I tipped my hat, “You see ma’am I am passing through these parts, I didn’t see a flop until now ma’am.”
This woman pushed back her long, sweaty blond hair; it keeps blowing in her face when that breeze comes in across the plains. She lowered the shotgun, placed the butt atop her foot, and then she spoke. “Yep! That’s ‘bout it ‘round here; Croweville sure ain’t New York City. That sign been out there over a year, but I have room over in the barn. Also, you’ll have to clear out a space for you-self and I’ll feed ya, but it’s gonna cost ten dollars a week- I have three kids to feed! You did say you is stayin’ a few days; unfortunately, you gonna have to pay for a week no matter what.”
Slowly I turned around and grabbed my suitcase from my car. I have a 1932 Ford Custom; it’s green just like an emerald. “Hey, Mister! That sure is a nice car you got,” she hollered. When I turned around with my suitcase in my hand; she stood before me with her hand out, but without that shotgun. “I get paid in advance,” she boldly stated.
“My name is Caroline Winters,” and she brushed her hair out of her face again. When I put the money in her hand; though, I thought I saw her smile. Caroline held out her hand so I can see her wedding ring, “I am a married woman; Joe is out of town looking for work. However, I do ‘spect him back any ol’ day. So,” Caroline stated with her hand on her hip, “don’t get no foolish darn ol’ ideas with me,” and she smiled again.
That comment took me by surprise. I stopped, looked directly at her; which, I could see she was dead-ass serious, and I laughed. In a moment we both stood there laughing ever so hard; in fact, I had tears in my eyes and my nose was running. I still ain’t too sure if she was laughing with me or at me. Nonetheless, the mood just changed and it took on a much lighter; a more relaxed tone.
After I wiped my forehead I began to speak. “My name is Sam Roberts and I am a reporter. I work for a magazine out of Chicago area; it’s called Global Life. I am out these parts looking to do a story on the hardships facing the families effected by both the depression and the drought.” She looked so impressed by my words. Perhaps, she is hoping that I am the answer to her prayers.
“Well,” she started, “you’re sure gonna get your story ‘round here; you came to the perfect place Mr. Sam Roberts,” and then she managed a sarcastic smile. “I see you brought your notebooks. Hells-Bells! You might even fill one of them just talking with me. Then we both laughed again; she laughed much louder this time. Perhaps, she is more relaxed than earlier.
Abruptly that front door cracked open again; we both darn near jumped out of our skin. Just standing on the porch was a small, sweaty, crying child. “Momma,” that child began, “Suzy tryin’ make me do thoze darn ol’ dishes m’self.” Quickly, Caroline glanced back to me, “you can go settle-in and there is a loft over there. Come back ov’r the house then and I’ll fix ya a lunch. You can have one of my special tall, cool glasses of iced tea; I make mine fresh daily,” and she smiled and winked.
After laying down in the loft I began to write. ‘I believe I like Mrs. Caroline Winters in a special kind of way. I think I will enjoy working with her very much; I am very interested to find out what her story is.
I always thought that the families that packed-up and moved out here are pioneers of sorts. It is as though they are living out in God’s Country; so, damn far away from everyone else- just isolated out on the prairie.’