Wishing You a Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year 2013!
Happy New Year 2013!
Seated with eight of our dance partners on New Year's Eve.
Seated with eight of our dance partners on New Year’s Eve.

Happy New Year to my friends and family!  This is my 86th New Year’s Day (I was born July, 1925).  Each year has been an adventure–and a blessing!  Best wishes to all for a year filled with excitement, joy, peace, and prosperity!

O Christmas Tree

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I love an old-fashioned Christmas Tree–even though, as a child, a Christmas Tree was a luxury we couldn’t afford.  Here are some images of Christmas Trees and ornaments past.

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In This Holiday Season

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It’s all about Family!  And here’s mine!

My son and daughter.
My son and daughter.
My grandson and his wife--and their baby, Iain (my great-grandson)!
My grandson and his wife–and their baby, Iain (my great-grandson)!
a four-generation picture (me, my daughter, my grandson, and my great-grandson, Iain)!
A four-generation picture (me, my daughter, my grandson, and my great-grandson, Iain)!
My husband Bob and I.
My husband Bob and I.

 

 Happy Holidays, Everyone!

THE DIRTY DAYS–How Growing Up in the Dust Bowl Impacted My Life

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Almost eighty years ago!  A rare picture of me when I was 8.  We didn’t have the money to afford very much photography when I was growing up.
Almost eighty years ago! A rare picture of me when I was 8. We didn’t have the money to afford very much photography when I was growing up.

I’ve often been asked “How did your experiences growing up in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression impact your life?  What lasting effects did your growing up during that difficult time and place have on you?  And, how much of what’s described in your book, THE DIRTY DAYS, really happened?”

Here’s my answer to all three questions:  I had so little growing up, and I believe that fact made me appreciate the better times I experienced later in my life.  When I was a child, a store-bought dress, bakery bread sandwiches, shoes that weren’t two sizes too big, a bathroom inside the house, and electricity were luxuries we didn’t have.  But for many decades since then, I’ve enjoyed having such luxuries, plus many more, and because acquiring them was such a long, hard struggle, I’ve never taken them for granted.

As I was growing up, I often dreamed of wearing pretty clothes, like the “children” did in my old, battered-up Sears catalog.  And going to school with well-dressed girls who came from wealthier families could make me feel like my clothes appeared too small or too big and tacky.  To this day, I cherish store-bought clothing—although I usually buy only clothing on sale and then I alter whatever I buy to make it fit—larger, smaller, wider, shorter.  I guess what I’m saying is—I’m very frugal to this day, but I still do relish dressing up.

Due to the short supply of water for personal cleanliness and other uses during my growing-up years in the Dust Bowl, I’ve always been somewhat of a need-to-be-clean kind of person. And because I learned to be so very frugal then, I still oftentimes get by without some luxuries I actually could afford, or I renovate what I have instead of buying new things or conveniences.

For example, I once found an old wood headboard at a farm sale and removed its worn-down varnish and refinished the beautiful wood.  Then I “commissioned” my husband to build a bookcase with the wood for our daughter’s bedroom.  Another time I bought an adult coat at a rummage sale, and from its good-as-new material, I made a winter jacket and cap for our then six-year-old son.

Growing up in the country without a telephone or an automobile readily available, I often felt isolated and friendless.  It seemed like my best friends in my early years were the “children” in the old beat-up Sears catalog that I brought with me when we moved from Arkansas to Oklahoma.  Today I still cherish friends and reach out to support or help anyone in need.  I’m also very loyal and patriotic as a result of my entering adulthood during WWII.

A Smartphone image of me at one of my signings at age 87. What a difference 80 years can make!
A Smartphone image of me at one of my signings at age 87. What a difference 80 years can make!

So basically, I’m saying my experiences growing up made me what I am today, the best part of me anyway.  Growing up in southwest Oklahoma during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl has served me well. I’m resilient, determined and full of hope—even at the ripe old age of 87.

Finally:  How much of my story, THE DIRTY DAYS, is fiction and how much really happened?  Of course, the names of people and locations and even the chronology of some events have been changed.  But I have to say most of the events and stories in my novel really happened.  As it states on the cover of my book, “A novel based on her life.” And it is.

THE DIRTY DAYS—What I’d Like Readers to Take Away from My Story

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I, like so many last week, watched the Ken Burns PBS special on the Dust Bowl.  Here is what I personally took away from the 4-hour documentary:  It was a powerful reminder of my difficult years growing up during that terrible time and place, which I document in my historical fiction novel.

And like Ken Burns’s deeply moving dust bowl documentary, my novel, The Dirty Days, isn’t JUST about the hardship; it’s also about perseverance, resilience, hope, support for the less fortunate, and respect for family–all interlaced within the context of a national tragedy. It’s the combination of these themes that provides the texture to the story of the heroic survival of the noble folks and their children who managed to live through the devastating 1930s.

Mother and Daddy’s wedding picture. All dressed up in better times (several years before we moved to Oklahoma, with hopes for a better future. Unfortunately, we headed instead into what became known as the Oklahoma Dust Bowl.).

Perseverance, combined with hope that things WOULD get better, was an overriding theme of the 1930s dust bowl. It motivated the farmers and their families and contributed to their survival of the poverty and ever-present dust storms. The characters in The Dirty Days (who are based on real people with real struggles) demonstrate perseverance in nearly everything they do and say and are what causes readers of my novel to comment, “It’s a gripping story. I couldn’t put it down.” And that is what I would like all of my readers to say.

In both Mr. Burns’s documentary and my story, there are clear examples of resilience, the ability to bounce back under even the most harsh of circumstances.  Resilience is ever-present in the stories about the dust bowl, as the men, women, and children humbled by the debilitating weather conditions and crippling poverty, focus their efforts on the belief that better times have to come–eventually.

Support for the less fortunate was touchingly portrayed in the documentary and is also found in my novel. My protagonist, Molly, and her parents are the recipients of such support, and they, too, perform noble acts of kindness for those even less fortunate than themselves. I think about the many times my mother served just a little bit of the food we had struggled to provide for ourselves to wandering tramps, who were mostly married men and fathers, as they made their way across the plains toward some place—any place—where they might find work.

Last, but certainly not least, respect for and strength of family was befittingly portrayed in the Ken Burns documentary and is repeatedly portrayed throughout my story. Such respect is seen right up to the surprising good deeds of Molly’s step-great-grandmother during the story’s fast-moving conclusion.

I hope readers of The Dirty Days will admire my protagonist, Molly, her parents, and their kind neighbors who showed so gallantly that you can accomplish or survive just about anything–if you dig deep, persevere, and don’t lose hope–even under the most challenging of times/circumstances.

Daddy years later, during hard times, collecting what few eggs he could find from the chicken coop.

I think readers will feel empathy for the characters in my book, just like I did for the folks whose experiences were so touchingly depicted in the Ken Burns documentary.  I hope so.  While the characters and events in my story are fictionalized, they all existed in real life–and their tragedies and triumphs really happened.  They, like me, were survivors, too, of that emotionally and physically demanding time and place.

Here’s what I’d love for readers of The Dirty Days to say after reading my story:  I feel as though I, too, was in the midst of surviving the 1930s Dust Bowl and Great Depression–experiencing “first-hand” what it was like to endure and overcome this terrible tragedy.

THE DIRTY DAYS—Relevance to the Present!

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Then! My little sister, Sue, and I on a visiting neighbor’s car the day after a dust storm.

The setting of my book, The Dirty Days, is the 1930s to early 1940s in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, and the story is brimming with episodes that present an opportunity for today’s readers to see its relevance to present-day circumstances.

Recent drought, dust storms and harder economic times across Texas and the mid-section of our country don’t yet compare completely to the historically devastating events of the 1930s. Yet it is almost uncanny how the recent climate issues in our country threaten to parallel those of that earlier time and place. For these reasons, much of the nation can relate to the events in my book.

A large percentage of the nation’s teens and adults have heard at least fragments of stories about the devastation in the 1930s Dust Bowl. Many of them are also aware of the impact of recent climate change in significant agricultural areas of our country. The media makes it easy for citizens young and old to know about this current weather issue, as well as our worrisome unemployment rate and our economy still struggling.

Now! The homestead in October of 2012–seventy-five years later! The house, barn, and chicken coop are all long gone. What’s left is the land—now green, not brown.

The majority of these individuals are concerned. They fear that our current economy might sink as badly as it did in the 1930s, and they want to know how bad it could truly get. Considering the possibility of a prolonged down turn in our economy, combined with weather conditions like Superstorm Sandy and/or other natural disasters, my book paints a vivid picture of what it could be like.

Also, because so many in our country are interested in history, I think readers are intrigued by real-life stories like mine that tell about everyday life during one of our nation’s outstanding historical periods, the 1930s prolonged drought, dust storms and poverty.

Baby Boomers–or Boomers as they are now called, are deeply interested in what life was like for their parents, who were dubbed the Greatest Generation in the late 1990s. And Boomers are especially interested in the lives of those who were survivors of the multiple-state Dust Bowl area—and/or the Great Depression. Even grandchildren of the Greatest Generation are eager to learn about what everyday life was like for their grandparents.

Then and Now! The abandoned house of a neighbor.

Both adults and teens nationwide can read my book and relate to the protagonist in my story. The setting and culture may be different than theirs, but they will identify with the young girl’s dreams, disappointments, fears and accomplishments as she grows to adulthood implementing the perseverance and determination she has learned from her life experiences.

Growing Up in the Dust Bowl During the Great Depression

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In many ways, growing up in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl during the Great Depression was a double whammy! There was the extreme heat, drought, dust in your food, your eyes and lungs–and we were terribly poor.

I was the daughter of a struggling tenant farmer and it was disturbing to me to overhear my parents’ worries and to witness their extreme efforts to raise productive crops on the rain-starved plains, with topsoil depleted by lack of water and high winds.

And, due to the severe economic hard times, the little cash we earned for crops fell far short of providing a living wage. I rarely knew what it meant to have a truly full stomach.

My little sister and I sitting on a neighbor’s car the day after a dust storm. Our barn is visible behind the car on the left. I’m wearing a pair of knee highs (a favorite gift from my step-grandmother several years earlier). I actually had to cut the toes to accommodate my growing feet. I wore these knee highs that I loved for many years.

Poor children like me were thin, had few clothes for school, and with the shortage of water, we didn’t appear as clean and well groomed as the well-off landowner’s children, who were plumper and healthier, due to a better diet. And they wore freshly laundered clothing every day.

But I think that like most families, poor and otherwise, in that time and place, my family was resilient and determined; for we managed to survive and in spite of all the stresses, we at times even enjoyed some soft humor and had a little fun once in a while.

I think I internalized all of my difficult early growing-up experiences in a positive way, and when the time and circumstances were right, I had accumulated the where-with-all to make a better life for myself.

While my story,The Dirty Days,is a fictional memoir based on my life growing up on the dusty plains of Oklahoma during the Great Depression, the characters and events are based on real people and their very real struggles with poverty, drought, dust storms, and disaster.

The Dirty Days … A Young Girl’s Journey to and from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl

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Dirty Days, Dust Dowl, Great Depression, 1930s, history, Norma WeltyI think I always knew I needed to write about my life growing up in the 1930s Oklahoma Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. But my need to write about the courage and perseverance of those who survived these two major events intensified when the news media emphasized the courage and perseverance of the people during and after the April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City Murrah Building bombing. Yet, I did not write my story, and ten more years of persistent musing about the many profound Dust Bowl events I could write about went by.

Then, not long after I finally put pen to paper, the History Channel aired a Dust Bowl documentary. The visuals, both historical images and the recreated, awoke inside me still more memories of my childhood. But it was the video testimonies of the older folks who had actually lived through those times that pumped up my determination to move from thinking about the profound events to recreating them with vivid description, realistic action and dialog. My family and all those who survived those difficult years deserved a book to be written about them.

I believed with all my heart then, and still do, that readers interested in the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression need to be taken into the day by day, year by year life events in the home, neighborhood, community and school. Those who are given the opportunity to read those intimate accounts can actually feel the severity of those times on the people–especially the poor. For it was the poor whose survival was most challenged in those years; and they courageously persevered in that troubled area now showcased as the place where our nation’s worst hard times occurred.

And so my story (finally finished) about my days growing up in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl begins in 1933 with a beat-up truck traveling down a dirt road away from my family’s Arkansas mountain home, where my fictional character, Molly May Dowden, can only hope a better future awaits her and her parents in Thistleway, Oklahoma.  Unfortunately, they have no idea of what is about to come.