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- - - Chapter 1: Early Days - - -
My father was a rich man, la, *
Though schooled in poverty, (1)
As such he seldom raised his head,
The center of the ‘Dust Bowl' years,
Just thirty miles from home.
And children, seniors died from this
(Their lungs were clogged with loam) .
A huge tornado struck Woodward, (2)
Destroying our downtown,
It, cut a swath near one mile wide,
Dad fought back, doubled down.(3)
When storm had cleared, sky was fire red,
Dad put me in the car,
But roads were blocked in just three blocks,
The world become bizarre!
Barbed wire that penetrated trees,
Homes cracked like eggs insides,
Our home had grass blades drove like nails,
Into its wooden sides.
The biggest storm in history,
My dad was gone for days,
Storm victims sleeping on our floor,
The whole town in a daze.
Dad's rebuilt store, nicest in town,
Our home ‘across the track, '(4)
Attended too the poorest school,
But did not suffer lack.
Appearance was Dad's calling card,
No pretense there to see,
For ‘living too high on the hog, '(5)
Caused bankers misery.
The school board melted to Mom's charm,
(Or to her tongue of fire) ,
For with Dad's stature in the town,
Few dared to risk her ire!
Good teachers forced to leave rich schools,
Complained it wasn't fair,
Till they encountered Sis and I,
And found that they could care.
That was my mother's legacy,
And ‘ART' (6) the air she breathed,
Though slight she strongly stood her ground,
Our future she bequeathed.
We did not know the difference,
Just sometimes things were tough,
Our clothing did set us apart,
We always had enough.
There were some very poor kids there,
The same clothes thru the week,
Impoverished not just in clothes,
But that which all men seek.
I had a bike to ride around,
Of course it was a Schwinn,
And almost always home for lunch,
For Mom thought we were thin,
With two desserts at every meal,
(And Mom was quite a cook.)
But if you didn't clean your plate,
From Dad you got a look,
The waste of food a mortal sin,
A thump upon the ‘bean, '(7)
Made every meal traumatic fare,
And tears a daily scene.
My guess is Dad got worse than me,
Depression's (8) oldest child,
I mourn the innocence he lost,
That made his wrath seem mild.
Our parent's roles were well defined,
My dad brought home the bread,
My mom the joy of hearth and home,
Dad's entrance met with dread.
My dad did most the punishments,
But whippings weren't enough,
We even weren't allowed to cry,
To show we had the stuff!
Small wonder romance frightened me,
(So sure I'd be like him) ,
To challenge violence I feared,
Chose music over gym.
An auto-biographical look at family life impacted by both the American Great
Depression and the Dust Bowl years (1930-1950) in the Mid-West, divided into
This is a work of love and homage to the courageous and desperate people who
survived both. I hope that you enjoy it. New Chapters will be released as I complete
* When I was in the American Peace Corps in Tanzania, East Africa we had a group of
7 surveying assistants that were always with us in the first year and that we became
very close to. Their conversation was always sprinkled with 'la' and I thought it was
kind of cute. Like they might say to me, 'Why don't we stop in this village for some
food, la.' They used this word kind of like I use the word ‘OK' in casual conversation.
'You've got food in your teeth, la.' I really enjoyed this idiosyncratic affectation.
(1) ‘poverty' - born in 1911, my father was just 19 years old when ‘The Great
Depression' hit the US economy. The Dust Bowl began shortly after.
(2) Woodward, Oklahoma - the town that I grew up in.
(3) ‘doubled down' - after Dad's business was destroyed completely by the tornado,
he doubled his efforts to be successful in Woodward, borrowing heavily from the
local banks to do so.
(4) 'across the track' or 'wrong side of the tracks' referred to the part of town where
poor people lived, frequently, but not always, meaning 'colored people' as well. In some
towns no 'colored people' were allowed to live in the more prosperous 'white only'
area. Some towns (like Woodward) had no Negros at all. I take that back. One black
male did have a job shining shoes in the local 'Baker Hotel' but I think his home was
in the country somewhere (He did not live in town).
(5) 'living too high on the hog' - an idiom referring to people who have to have the
most expensive things in life and buy them frequently on credit even though they
can't really afford them.
(6) ‘ART' - My mother was a gifted painter and wood carver, but even meals she
prepared were done artistically. Art was always spelled with capital letters in her life!
(7) ‘thump on the bean' - to hit the offending child hard on the head with the
knuckles of your closed fist.
(8) 'Depression' - Hard times, not mental issues. (Actually works both ways though
I guess!) Born the oldest of 3 brothers and one sister, my dad's father worked him
hard and used a leather shaving strap to whip his boys when he was upset with them
about anything. Grand Dad Johnston made my father seem like Florence Nightingale.
I believe that he beat his wife as well (just a guess) .
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