Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl

I came across this book by Timothy Egan while looking for a new book to borrow for my Kindle.  Having just read about the Titanic, you would think I would want something lighter, but no, I was once again drawn to the history section.

As an Oklahoman, the Dust Bowl is part of my history -- even though none of my family lived in the affected areas.  Actually, my biggest connection to the region was when my mom and I were stranded in the Texas panhandle towns of Miami and Pampa with car trouble over two miserable June days in 2010.  Did I never blog about that?  I meant to, but I guess I didn't got to it.

Anyway, my family has its own Depression era stories, but I don't think any of them can compare to the torture suffered by the victims of the Dust Bowl.  Egan's book is long and painful to read, but I don't think I could have understood this part of American history so well without reading it.

I felt a sense of foreboding when (knowing what was to come) the plains were plowed at a reckless speed by needy families misled into thinking that "rain follows the plow."  I was furious when the only people who had money in one Texas town were the prostitutes.  I cried when an Oklahoma baby -- barely a year old -- succumbed to dust pneumonia even though her mother had done everything in her power to keep the swirling, penetrating dirt from the infant.  Of all the deaths, that one hurt me the most, but there were others.  Droves fled the plains, but many others stayed -- knowing there was nowhere for them to go.  At least at home in the dust they had dignity among people who understood their plight.  Those who left where branded "Okies" and worse than the dirt they shook from their clothes.

Reading this book, I could not escape one startling realization; the government stepped in and "saved" thousands of people from starvation thereby creating a norm of dependence upon government assistance, but the government was at fault more than anything else.

The government was hailed as the hero by beaten down, starving farmers who resorted to eating pickled tumbleweed, but without the government's faulty policies, the Dust Bowl may never have happened.  The land was never meant to be used as it was.  The government encouraged farmers to plow the plains en masse, ripping apart the the protective carpet of hardy grasses and exposing miles upon miles of exposed soil left to the mercy of the wind.  The Dust Bowl was not a weather phenomenon, it was man made.

I did not enjoy this book, but I am glad I read it.  I think more people should. Perhaps then our nation would have the foresight and understanding needed to support limited government: one that does not mastermind situations where it is forced to play both the villain and hero.  It is expensive and deadly.

When I think of that young mother and father who lost their precious baby girl to a painful disease caused by breathing dirt month after month, dying with ribs broken by coughing, I am somber.  Many of the victims of the Dust Bowl were young and hopeful just like me.  I have been so blessed, and I thank God that my own little Anna does not have to suffer like those poor children only eighty years ago.

1 comment:

Robert Wayne Moore said...

Thanks for the review, Elizabeth. I know it's tough to read about that period in Oklahoma history. You made a good point regarding the fallacy of reliance upon government.