Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Worst Hard Time

Do you ever read something that makes you feel like a complete wimp? Like all those stories of the pioneers crossing the plains with bloody feet and having babies in the snow and such.  Here is another opportunity to feel like your grandparents generation had the worst life ever.

Not only did this wonderful book make me feel amazingly spoiled, it also made me want to give every resident of the Oklahoma panhandle a big hug.

The book is written through stories.  There is a bit of narrative describing what was happening generally, but we follow a few families through the years. We see the hopes that brought people to the area. The desperate need to have a place for your family.

The government wanted people to make this area useful. No more "Great American Desert," now it was the "Great Plains" and anything could grow there.  They even told people that as more land was plowed up the dust would make it rain more. A few wet years had everyone convinced the climate had changed and crops could be grown without irrigation. Then nearly a decade of drought proved them wrong.

The pictures are amazing. Images of Black Sunday, when one of the worst of the storms went through are horrifying. These are scenes from a movie, not real life.  They ate tumbleweeds. That one fact summarizes the misery for me. If you have never been up close and personal with the Russian thistle, you are a very lucky person. I can not even imagine how hungry I would have to be to eat the stuff, despite this site.

Mr. Egan quotes people saying they thought it was the end of the world. Children died of dust pneumonia. There are instances of men caught outside in the dust storms suffocating to death. Twice storms brought twilight at noon to the east coast, to finally spur some action to help the  residents of these areas.

I have been in dust storms. I have been irritated because I couldn't keep the small amounts of red dust out of my house. It gathered in the window sills and corners. This is nothing compared to needing a shovel to get out of your dugout in the morning.

This is a moving, well-written account of a time we normally put in one paragraph between the crash of '29 and Roosevelt's New Deal. I am better for reading it.

The Worst Hard Time. Timothy Egan. Mariner Books. 2006

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