2 votes

'The Worst Hard Time' Epic Book, Epic Hard Times

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

The recently revived 2010 posting of Michael's 'Rare colored pic's from the Great Depression' instantly, (literally instantly) brought me back to my reading of this book.

I don't recall when exactly I read this book, but it was almost certainly before the Good Doctor woke me up from my political coma.

Therefore, it's too late for me to personally write a book review, however I will tell you three specific things the author wrote that I will remember for the rest of my life:

A farmer in Oklahoma driving home as fast as he could, with a dust storm coming up on his ass. He never made it.

And children dying from 'Dust Pneumonia' where they had breathed in so much dirt, they died, others puking up mud.

And the reason why the Dust Bowl ever even happened. We ripped up the root grass and tried to replace it with wheat, which the wind promptly blew away.

Blew away so effectively, that the OK topsoil landed in DC and NYC by the ton's and that's when FDR finally did something about it, because the American people outside of OK, W TX didn't believe what they were hearing.

Rarely will I use someone else's review, but this readers perspective is particularly compelling:

"I was raised by German immigrants much like the folks Egan describes in this book. When I was a teenager I was in part frustrated and perplexed by the scars the Depression and Dust Bowl left on them and our household 40 years after it ended. They were frugal people in the extreme. They made a sport of seeing how much money they could put aside with each paycheck. They never, ever spent money on vacations or in movie theaters. Spending money to eat in a restaurant was a huge deal to these people. Grandma insisted on making all of my clothes until I got a job to buy store bought jeans and t-shirts. Grandpa groused mightily if I wanted anything that cost more than $5. They horded everything from nails (new and used) to toilet paper to toothpaste. For the three of us Grandpa put in a massive kitchen garden in the spring, and Grandma canned enough fruits and vegetables to feed the 9th Calvary every autumn.

Whenever I'd tease them about their ways, I'd get a stern look in return and a lecture about living through the Depression in the Dust Bowl. They'd tell me time and again how lucky I was not to have gone through it, and each time my child self would shrug as if to say, "Whatever."

I didn't really "get" the Dust Bowl or the Depression until I read this book. We're all lucky not to have gone through what these folks did. Imagine having to decide which of your children will get to eat dinner. Imagine being forced to slaughter your starving farm animals because there is absolutely nothing left to feed them. Imagine watching your brothers and sisters slowly choke to death on dust. Imagine going to the ATM for some cash to discover that your bank went out of business yesterday, taking all of your savings and investments with it, and there's nothing you can do to get even a fraction of your money back. Imagine having to abandon your preschoolers to the streets and pray that someone will take them in and feed and cloth them. Imagine holding on to your last quarter for three days before hunger forces you to spend it on a meal, and you have absolutely no idea when or where your next meal is coming from.

Any one of these scenarios would be soul destroying, but all of these things happened to some folks.

My grandparents never really wanted to talk about how they survived the Dust Bowl; they told me a few things, however. Grandpa had to cut the toes out of his only pair a shoes when they grew too small and there was no money to buy a new pair. Grandma lost her youngest brother to an infection because the last doctor had moved out of their town, there was no hospital, and there was no money to pay for medical treatment, anyway. These remembrances came in dribs and drabs; mostly they had an "It's in the past and there's no used in rehashing all those bad times" attitude.

I teared up at times while reading this book, wondering which of the horrors Egan talks about happened to my grandparents. Finally, 20 years into adulthood, I "got" the Depression. I "got" the Dust Bowl.

My Grandma died 20 years ago and my Grandpa in '99. For so many reasons I wish they were still with me, but more than anything else I'd like to tell them that I understand what they went through and that I'm so very sorry it colored the rest of their lives."


Final Note* I'm almost done reading

'The Forgotten Presidents: Their Untold Constitutional Legacy' by Michael J Gerhardt and once finished, will be writing a review here promptly.


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Michael Nystrom's picture

Thank you for the review

I appreciate it. You are a bookworm too, like me and the poster-formerly-known-as-Chris.

My dad was a child of the depression. Born in 1918. He was always a very frugal man. He was the kind of guy who would find a piece of string on the sidewalk, pick it up, and think about how he could use it later.

Luckily, I picked up many of his frugal habits. I don't pick up string, but in Boston, especially in the spring and fall, students throw a lot of stuff out on the street. Picking through all that free stuff truly is one of the great pleasures in life.

But anyway - I have the book. Haven't read it. Plan to one day. The fact that you liked it puts more emphasis on me to eventually read it one day.

Looking forward to your next review. Hope we have more forgotten presidents. Like Ron Paul said once - he'd like to be the president of Switzerland. No one knows who it is!

To be mean is never excusable, but there is some merit in knowing that one is; the most irreparable of vices is to do evil out of stupidity. - C.B.

You're welcome Michael

Yes, I confess I'm a bookworm.

I even remember the first book I ever bought on my own in my early teens.

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, not a bad start huh?

One day, I'm gonna' change my name to Dale Lee Paul