Feb 3, 2008

Summer of 1936

My grandmother is getting ready to have her 80th birthday in a few weeks. She's a precious woman that I remember as so strong and vital. There is no way for her to be approaching such a landmark.

She made such an impression upon me during my first 7 years, when we lived near enough to visit at least weekly if not more. After that were long distance drives from Omaha, Nebraska to Eldon, Iowa during summers and vacations. Not long after my parents divorced, those visits were cut off even more.

As I live roughly 2 full days drive from Gramma, my kids don't know her. I so desperately wish that were different. My talking about her is nothing more than words to them, no matter how much I do or don't elaborate.

I got an email from my father the other day that contained a short written memory of the summer of 1936 from my Gramma. Gramma is getting older, harder of hearing and a little confused at times. Since I feel that the memories of this nearly vanished generation are precious and few, I'm recording her words here for my own enjoyment and enlightenment. I knew of the dust bowl and depression, but having never lived through times like those, how can I understand?

Gramma, this is for you, with all the love I can send your way as I wish each day to see you again.

Summer of 1936

Dad was a farmer and did odd jobs for neighbors. We owned 18 acres in Northwest Iowa and there were no ponds. Only rich black dirt with no clay soil. It was very dry that summer, so many wells and streams dried up. We had to drive our cows a long way to the river for water every day. Gardens and crops suffered badly. Dust and dryness only got worse as the summer trudged on. The dust blew non-stop and even the sun was hazy. The dust was terrible, we lived about 500 feet from the road and it was very very dusty.

Besides driving the cows to the river, our well went dry and we had to walk ¾ of a mile to the neighbors and get water from to drink. We did not have electricity so we had to pump by hand.

We grew a garden and canned vegetables or put it in the cave. A cave is a man-made hump of dirt dug into the ground. We kept our milk, butter and eggs down there to keep cool. We put the eggs in a limewater solution so they wouldn’t go bad. They would keep several weeks and even months without going bad.

That summer we didn’t have enough rain and the garden was dry and hot. We hoed the garden by hand. We tried to grow potatoes because we stored them for winter. We milked cows and separated the milk and made this into our own cream for butter.

Mother sewed all of our clothes even our hats and coats and mittens. We had to buy shoes. We only bought one pair per year and only wore them to school. The rest of the time we went barefoot. We did not wear shoes in the summer time.

For entertainment we went every Saturday we went to town to the library and brought home books for everyone in the family to read. We sat around the dining room table with a fuel oil lamp and read our books after supper.

We lived quite close to the railroad tracks, and every so often there would be coal left for us to burn. That is how we kept warm in the winter with the wood that Dad cut. We also had many hobos visiting our house. Mom always fed them. They would work for meals cutting wood, or hoeing the garden.

We move to town and things seemed to get better. Dad got a job at the factory.

Sadly, it stops there. Because this is my family and my own story as well, I would love to read more. But then again, I always did love history and the view of normal people.

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