Dust Bowl

Reflecting on an Evening with Family

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Just thinking.

Wow, what a giant step from the poverty of the 1930s Dust Bowl to a 2014 upscale restaurant with delicious leftovers.

The young woman shown in the background, my granddaughter ‘elect’ and mother of the two young children pictured (my great grandchildren), set a good example when she asked for take-home boxes for the leftovers.

She was thinking of her husband (my grandson) who would be arriving home tired and hungry later that night from his job as an airline pilot.

I’m so grateful to have such wonderful family! Also pictured, my daughter and my husband, Bob.

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Looking Back on 89 Years

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Bob and I at his 90th birthday party last October!

 

My birthday is later this month and I will be 89 years old. Since I first published my book THE DIRTY DAYS two years ago, many have asked me if I would go back and change anything about my life if I could. My answer is usually well, yes–but then again, maybe not. So many of the events that changed my life forever were never under my control. I was born the oldest child of a tenant farmer during one of the most difficult times in our country’s history. A great depression, the dust bowl, and then WWII. All of these events had a profound effect on who I was and would become.

As a result of our hard times, I learned the importance of friends and family (on whom we often relied), the necessity for resilience and tenacity (giving up was not an option), the need for charity and faith (someday things were going to get better–they just had to). My daddy and mother taught me integrity, the value of hard work, frugality, and pull-togetherness.

Do I wish my little baby sister had not died, causing my daddy to weep behind the house so no one would see him; or my mother seemingly lost and inconsolable over a tragic death that could have been prevented had we had the money to seek the best medical help possible? Do I wish I could have had store-bought dresses to wear and bakery-bread sandwiches to eat? Do I wish I could have had enough to eat–so often I went to bed hungry, yet never told my folks. Yes, yes, yes, and yes!

What I did have was a close-knit family that worked together, played together, grieved together, and stayed together. There’s no question I grew up with more hardship than I’m fond of remembering, but I also grew up in a house filled with love, courage, and hope. Would I ever want to change that–of course not!

Just some observations from a woman who has lived 89 years–and I’m looking forward to stacking up my 9th decade!

Stillwater, Minnesota High School Junior English Students Want To Know

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It couldn’t have been a better time and place. It was an exceptionally balmy April 11, 2014, and I was the guest in Stillwater High School teacher Peter Schield’s Junior English classes. Fresh spring air wafted gently though the open classroom windows, and much to their credit, the students conveyed very pleasant vibes as they entered the room, then later with their ‘thank you’ and/or pleasant nods as they exited the classroom. I so appreciated their polite withholding the desire to be sitting outside in the sunny breeze, or strolling in the park with a friend.

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Taking a short rest on the edge of a table while answering students’ questions.

They had recently completed a unit of study on John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, which depicts a poor Oklahoma family who migrates to a far less pleasant time and place in California than the students could scarcely imagine; and I, their guest speaker, was there to tell them what it was like for those who didn’t leave the Oklahoma Dust Bowl——an experience unfortunately equally unpleasant. And I did share some of my experiences.

After my presentation, students asked some thought-provoking questions. Here are some of them: Did you have hope? What kind of food did you eat? Did a poisonous spider or insect ever bite you? It was very dry, so where did you get your water? Did you ever want to go ride the rails? What was your clothing like? Did you ever want to move to California? What did you do for fun? What was the saddest thing you experienced?

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Walking the aisles to give students a close up view of my hometown location on an Oklahoma map, which I found on the internet. My hometown was within the area that the mapmaker had color highlighted as having suffered the worst dust storm damage during the 1930s.

There were more, but I think these “from their perspective” questions exemplify the range of thoughts these students had about my experiences. I hope you enjoyed this peek into the minds of this very nice group of teens, who made that day for me, one of the most beautiful days in the twilight years of my life.

Sprucing Up a Brown Cotton Dress

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A normal teenager in the early 1940s.
A normal teenager in the early 1940s.

It was the beginning of the 1940s, and we were still in recovery from Oklahoma’s worst economic hard times, which was compounded by drought and dust storms. My forever-frugal mother, knowing brown wasn’t my best color, found the brown dress I’m wearing in the picture on the right on a clearance rack. But to her credit, she splurged a little and bought a piece of white lace to trim the collar and a strip of white taffeta ribbon for a matching hair bow. I had just learned how to coax my very soft hair into the then-trendy high pompadour style, which was not an easy feat in that pre-hairspray era.

A large bow anchored with bobby pins behind the pompadour and wearing a blob of red lipstick were the mark of teen fashion consciousness that linked us in those days to the big world. Just being a part of local teen look-a-likes also may have given us a healthy feeling of a cohesiveness that subsequently quelled a bit of the gloom of WWII.

An Evening to Remember

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I know, I know! I’m running over a month late in writing about my visit to the University of Wisconsin post-graduate writing class on April 29. But you don’t want to know the reason why. (Okay, I forgot my camera in River Falls and it took me awhile to go back to retrieve it—and I wanted to post only after I had some pictures.)

But back to my writing class visit. The class meets evenings once a week for two hours and forty-five minutes, and that is a long time to hold the attention of students, even of post-graduate students who are twenty-something in age. No worries, however.

I was very privileged to team with Dr. Geoffrey Scheurman, the University’s Chair of the Department of Teacher Education. His excellent presentation followed mine, and I was so absorbed in his teaching technique and Dust Bowl visuals that I forgot to take his picture. I deeply regret that missed opportunity. But I’m very grateful we could share that enjoyable, spectacular evening!

Listening to a student’s very interesting comments.
Listening to a student’s very interesting comments.
With Deb DeSteno, our gracious host for the evening.
With Deb DeSteno, our gracious host for the evening.

A Unique Book Club Experience!

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My visit to a Hudson book club last month turned out to be a very unique experience. It began with not-unique sleet and snow driving conditions that

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caused most of the members and me to be late. Subsequently, we were told that our reserved private dining room had been inadvertently double booked and the other group was already in the room. But this book club group had read my book and their pulsating perseverance spurred them to accept a narrow hallway-size room in the back of the restaurant.

So we sat in the windowless hallway facing each other along the two walls so close our knees almost touched. My reward was a wonderful meeting/discussion. What a gracious group of women, and wow, they were set for discussing THE DIRTY DAYS and to learn much more about life in those times! Meanwhile, the bad weather conditions had escalated outside. But my almost two-hour energetic discussion with these very bright women was worth my hazardous twenty-mile drive back to St Paul.

I would do it all again in a minute!

 

Mother’s Depression-Era Vinegar Pie

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Perhaps Mother’s vinegar pie would have been more aptly named if it had been called Sweet ‘n Sour Dumplings, or better yet, Emergency Dessert. For in my book, THE DIRTY DAYS, my brief account of Mother’s vinegar pie surely did give the impression of an emergency situation. As desserts go, Mother’s vinegar pie wasn’t exactly spot on when it came to flavor and texture. I dare say it would have missed the mark considerably for a blue ribbon in the county fair pie contest, had she been naive enough to enter it.
It truly was kind of an emergency when Mother tried to satisfy her family’s sweet tooth when supplies were scarce and the times were tough. Undaunted and without apology, she would boil a mixture of water, sugar, vinegar and vanilla for about two minutes, then set it aside while she made a dough with flour, baking powder, salt, lard, milk, and maybe a beaten egg. She rolled out the dough on a floured surface to piecrust thickness and then cut it into strips, each about one inch by two inches.
She would bring the liquid mixture to a boil again and the strips of dough were dropped into the boiling liquid–one at a time. Mother would swirl the liquid for about three seconds before dropping in each dough strip. After the final strip was dropped in and swirled, she would loosely cover the pan and simmer the “dumplings” for about ten minutes.
I have to admit the end result of the depression-era dessert wasn’t as bad as it might sound. Its flavor actually fell short of terrible. The liquids and sugar mixture were cooked to an appealing, somewhat thick and pale caramel color, which compensated for the dumplings that were fairly rubberized due to the skimpy amount of shortening used in making them.
But with a drizzle of whole milk on the warm dumplings and thick juice, Mother’s efforts were not wasted. Most important, both then and in retrospect, her efforts were and are viewed as an act of love worthy of the highest award.
Pictured below is my version of Mother’s Vinegar Pie, which my husband Bob nicknamed, Fruitless Pie. I must admit that I bastardized my mother’s vinegar pie recipe. I added a bit more sugar, a teaspoon of butter and vanilla and used a mixture of half plain flour and half Bisquick to make the dumplings. Then I topped the dessert with Cool Whip. Although she has been gone for ten years, I can almost see Mother’s nod of approval and hear her soft chuckle.
 I always took it for granted that Mother created her recipe for Vinegar Pie, which she sometimes referred to as Vinegar Cobbler. Much to my surprise I recently found recipes on line for vinegar pie and cobbler, both calling for a top crust over the dumplings, then baked in the oven. My frugal mother simply cooked the liquids and dumplings on the stovetop and never applied a piecrust.

I always took it for granted that Mother created her recipe for Vinegar Pie, which she sometimes referred to as Vinegar Cobbler. Much to my surprise I recently found recipes on line for vinegar pie and cobbler, both calling for a top crust over the dumplings, then baked in the oven. My frugal mother simply cooked the liquids and dumplings on the stovetop and never applied a piecrust.
 
Having sampled my rendition of Mother’s Vinegar Pie (Cobbler), my husband and I recommend that anyone interested in making Mother’s depression-era dessert should select one of the on-line recipes.
Having sampled my rendition of Mother’s Vinegar Pie (Cobbler), my husband and I recommend that anyone interested in making Mother’s depression-era dessert should select one of the on-line recipes.
Here’s a link to a Martha Stewart recipe for Pioneer Vinegar Pie–a significant contrast to the “recipe” used by my mother.