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