Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dust Bowl Humor

"Why do birds fly backward in a dust storm?  To keep the sand out of their eyes.”

Making a joke out of hardship, commonly called “gallows humor,” has been around a long time. The people struggling through the Dust Bowl were no different from anyone else. They also used humor as a way to cope. Here are a few jokes born out of the Dust Bowl.

“Did you hear about the farmer who went to the bank to get a loan. They turned him down when they saw his land blow past the window.”

“During a long dust storm, the air was so thick with dust that the prairie dogs thought they had been buried. So, they dug UP through the dust to get out. Later, the dust storm settled, and for three hours it rained prairie dogs.”

"How did folks revive the farmer who fainted when a drop of rain hit his head? They pour a bucket of sand on his face.”

“In the middle of the dry years, it got so hot that hens were laying hard boiled eggs.”

 “I hope it rains before the kids grow up,” one farmer said, “They ain’t never seen any.”

Why is gallows humor funny, irresistible, irrepressible?  Perhaps humor is a sign of resilience and sends a message that suffering has not diminished one’s sense of play. Or a sign of defiance and resistance because it shows that one’s wit and intelligence have survived. And it certainly fosters a sense of community, a shared suffering, and a connection. It helps people gain perspective on their struggles. 

Sigmund Freud even had something to say about it. “The ego refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality, to let itself be compelled to suffer.  It insists that it cannot be affected by the traumas of the external world; it shows, in fact, that such traumas are no more than occasions for it to gain pleasure.”

Theorist Martin Armstrong, who wrote about the function of laughter in society, may have said it best when he wrote, “For a few moments, under the spell of laughter, the whole man is completely and gloriously alive: body, mind and soul vibrate in unison… the mind flings open its doors and windows… its foul and secret places are ventilated and sweetened.”

Oh, one more joke before I go. “Did you hear about the pilot who parachuted out of his plane in a dust storm? He had to shovel his way to the ground.”

Jokes courtesy of Wessels Living History Farm

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Home on the Range -- A telephone but no toilet

Try to image what it was like to live on a prairie farm in the 1930s. What conveniences do you take for granted which would have been missing from a farm back then?
I recently came across the following statistics from the 1930 census.  Interestingly, many more farms had a telephone and a radio than had water piped into the house or electricity, other than the small amount they produced themselves with a wind generator.
Imagine trying to stay clean with all that dust, but no shower, no running water at the sink, and no indoor toilet.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Vona, Colorado Today…Ghost Town or Not?

Photos by Diddley Squat

 In researching Vona, Colorado, where the historical chapters of COYOTE WINDS take place, I came across Ghost towns--Vona, a site full of fabulous pictures of hundreds of abandoned (or nearly so) towns throughout the United States and Canada.  

I was somewhat distressed to see that Vona is among them.  The photos are courtesy of Diddley Squat.

Wikipedia puts the population of Vona at 106 people in 2010, so it’s not completely a ghost town.  And there is an elementary school serving a school district of 510 square miles. Well, that is a lot of open space.  And a lot of empty homes and buildings.  

When my father was in his late 70s, he talked about going back to visit the town where he grew up, but he never did get around to it.  I think he knew that his sweet memories of Vona might become too bittersweet if he saw a boarded up town.
Take a look:  VONA

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Announcing the Second Edition of COYOTE WINDS

The new edition of COYOTE WINDS launched last week. It features a new cover and additional material.

Many readers have wanted to know more about Clare Vincent, the sister of the main character Myles. Throughout the book, Clare writes letters to friends, to Henry Ford and even to President Hoover. She writes and sells articles to Good Housekeeping and local papers.  The new edition includes her letters and articles as an appendix. 

Here is one of them.

Clare Grace Vincent
Vona, Colorado
October 1, 1930
Mr. Henry Ford
Ford Motor Company
Dearborn, Michigan

Dear Mr. Ford,

My father has one of your gas-powered tractors. He says with your tractor he can plow 40 acres in 3 days. If he had to use a team of horses it would take weeks. I am wondering if you can make something like a tractor for my mother. We have no electricity, so my mother and I have to do everything by hand. Laundry, dishes, pumping water. Our stove uses coal, which makes a big mess, which we have to sweep up because we don’t have a vacuum cleaner. 

The other day, while my mother and I were hanging laundry, I heard what I thought were the drums of a marching band. I asked myself, what is a marching band doing in the middle of Kit Carson County, Colorado? Well, I saw dark cloud coming our way and white hail stones bouncing off the ground. The cloud was still a quarter mile away, so I knew those hail stones were going to be egg-sized at least.

My mother and I shooed the chickens into the hen house and pulled the cows into the barn. Cows can be really stupid and stubborn, so it took a while. We hid in the woodshed when the hail hit. The woodshed has a tin roof, and it sounded like we were inside a kettle drum. I thought my head was going to explode. 

When the storm moved on we went to check on the laundry. Every sheet and nearly stitch of clothing had been snapped off the line and was covered with mud. Some were torn up. I have never seen my mother look so tired, so I didn’t complain, which I am often accused of doing. We started all over again with the laundry.

Is there a way to make a gas-powered washing machine? If there is, please let me know how much it would cost. Thank you very much.

Clare Grace Vincent