The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Food

July 19, 2011

Remembering the dust bowl days

ENID — Hot enough for you? Think about it.

I was asked that very question in the grocery store by a friend recently, and it brought back old memories of the way things used to be in the olden days of the dust bowl.

Back then friends, relatives and neighbors sat around on the porch or leaned back in a chair in the shade and discussed the terribly hot weather and what to do about all the dust rolling in.

They questioned whether they should have broken sod to plant fields. The grass would have prevented the top soil from blowing away.

Not only was it hot, but there were days and days without rain. We were lucky. There was a spring on our place that had plenty of water. Daddy could not remember a time when it went dry, and he remembered back to statehood.

People from all around drove their cattle to that spring for a drink, and while they were there they bathed and got water for their home use. Water is a precious commodity. Guess that is where the saying comes from: “We don’t miss the water until the well runs dry.”

Nowadays with irrigation and dug wells, there is an abundance of water, so we don’t experience a dust bowl, even though it is hot. All we can complain about now is the heat and how to cope with it. Back in the dust bowl days, there were no air conditioners and no operating fans because few had electricity. We relied on shade and fanning ourselves with a newspaper or piece of cardboard. We survived.

We forget how hot it used to be without air conditioning. We fondly call them the “good old days of summer.” Some people called them the “dog days of summer.”

But for kids we only remember the fun of the summer, and we never seemed to notice the heat. We played until mother made us come in to cool off, although it was as hot in the house as it was outside. We would wipe our faces and arms with a cool, wet washcloth. We couldn’t wait to get back outdoors to play.

We have all seen those sad, sad pictures of “Okies” going to California during the dust bowl. They look so forlorn and defeated. They were. I always have had empathy for the people who could not endure the hardships of the dust bowl and were forced by hunger and their very survival to move West. Many, many people could not bear the loss of crops and children or the elderly ill because of dust pneumonia.

Those who did not go to California during the dust bowl caulked their windows with old rags or newspapers to keep out the dust. The dust came in anyway. There was no way to keep it out. Houses were not as tight back then as they are now, and it was impossible to keep the dirt out.

People put wet sheets over the windows to stop the dust. In no time at all, those sheets were full of mud. There was grit in everything you ate, drank or slept on. Dirt was everywhere.

Kids wore bandannas over their faces walking to school so they could breath. It could be clear and then in the matter of minutes the sky would darken red and a huge dust storm would roll in.

With endless heat and only occasional rain, there was little grass for livestock and cattle, so most of the cows dried up, leaving the family with no source of milk, a mainstay of people on farms. They relied on cow’s milk even to feed chickens and pigs. Butter and cream were a thing of the past.

Back then there were no government subsidies to help people in distress. They were on their own to survive as best they could, relying on relatives or others to provide food or clothes or any supplies.

Now when I complain about the heat, I feel guilty because we have an air-conditioned car and an air-conditioned house and every place we go is air-conditioned.

We only have those few steps from the house to the garage that are hot. In that short time, we have condensation on us like a glass of ice water. We are not sweating. Our bodies are just so cool moisture condenses on us. Is that really anything to whine about? Have we lost our spirit of survival?

During these warm days we are experiencing we really don’t want a lot to eat and certainly don’t want to heat up the kitchen to cook a heavy meal.

One of our favorites is grilled pork tenderloin, garlic potatoes and this salad. All that’s needed to complete the meal is a huge glass of ice tea.

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