I Remember When . . . .
Great Stories about growing up in the Horntown, Oklahoma area!

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The Drouth Years Of The Dirty Thirties

     A highly admired friend of mine, Le Triplett, wrote to me not long ago and mentioned the drouth of the 1930s. Le and I attended Moss School together and he was a member of my graduating class of 1943. Le has a PhD, and I was pleased to know that a man of his stature would still use the word drouth, when all the news media use the word drought. The word drouth, may or may not have been coined by the inhabitants of the vast dust bowl, but that is the term we always used, therefore that is our word, and who knows more about it than we do?
   My parents moved to a rental farm 2 miles west and 1/4 mile north of Hornetown in 1926. The rent was third and fourth crop rent. I was born there the same year and grew there until I left home at age 17. The people of the area were doing very well at that time, life was good. The house we lived in had carbide gas lights, and with a windmill and water storage tower giving us running water to the kitchen sink, and to the concrete watering tank in the barnyard lot/pasture. My father was able to pay in cash to purchase a new 1929 Chevrolet. Things were looking so good that he made the decision to borrow the money and buy more dairy cattle to add to his herd. This was a mistake that nearly ruined him.
   The stock market crashed that same year, 1929. My dad was a very honest man, but could not pay the debt he owed the bank for his cattle. Neither was he allowed to sell mortgaged cattle without paying his debt in full, which would have been only a pittance anyway. The bank was demanding remuneration and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. He was completely helpless, and that is a terrible feeling when the dark cloud of such an awesome obligation is hanging heavily over one’s head. It was several years before he was able to pay it off. Then the carbide that produced the gas for our house lights was used up and no more could be afforded, so we changed to coal oil [kerosene] lamps. At one time, as I remember, we only had one of those. Then some mechanism on the windmill broke and without funds for repairs, we were reduced to pumping water by muscle power into a bucket and carrying it into the house.
   In 1932, the seemingly infinite drouth of the thirties depression began. Crops shriveled and died in the parched fields. The corn and cotton fields appeared as wastelands. Oat harvests were very little better. Yet we always toiled through the same routines day after day in the blistering heat, with hopes of maybe getting back more in harvest than the cost of our seed. To make matters much worse, in 1934 the barn burned to the ground, destroying all our grain in the storage bins, our harnesses and most of our farm machinery. Mom said Dad actually cried. I had never seen him show any such emotion. The only emotions that I had ever witnessed from this man were laughter and anger.
   We wore shoes with holes in the soles and formed cardboard into insoles to cover the holes. When the stitching of a shoe sole would wear out, leaving the sole flopping and the insole filling with a mound of dust, used rubber fruit jar rings were placed around our shoes to hold the soles to in place. We ate a lot of cowpeas. We cured hog meat that lasted through the winter months, then ham, bacon or sausage had to be purchased, though some was canned in a pressure cooker. This often resulted in our having one of these meats with gravy and biscuits for breakfast one morning and the next morning, only biscuits and gravy, made from the drippings of the morning before. We did have chickens, but never used their eggs for breakfast. These were used in making pies and cakes and sold to grocery stores. A milk separator was hand cranked to remove the butterfat from the milk. The cream was sold to grocery stores and Harrod’s Dairy. The skim milk from this operation, we fed to the hogs and cats {good mousers}, sometimes mixing in shorts {a more nutritious part of wheat than bran}.    My father usually bought Purina Cow Chow to feed the milk cows, but at times had to grind corn, mixed with ground oats, and feed that instead. When we didn’t have much corn he would have it ground, cob, shuck and all and mix a handful of shorts with it.
   School vacations [vacations?] were split, half in the spring and half in autumn, so the students could labor in the fields. Then we attended school in the hot summertime. No air conditioning, no electric fans, with the only cooling coming from perspiration and evaporation. Normally we say “boys sweat, girls perspire”. We all sweated in those days. We usually arose from bed at about 4:30 in the morning and worked until after dark. That’s a little longer than from kin till cain’t.
   Homemade dresses were the fashion for my two sisters as they were for most of the other girls. Very few could afford a store-bought dress once in awhile. My sisters were embarrassed to wear these dresses made from printed Gold Medal flour sacks, but actually they looked better than most dresses that were bought off the rack. My mother was an expert at dressmaking and could make her own patterns to custom fit their bodies. Patches were common for the boys’ overalls. During the passing of one winter only a button up sweater could be afforded for me to wear to school. Before that I had outgrown my nice sheepskin wool lined canvas coat and warm aviator cap. But Mother Nature was kind to me that year, the winter was mild.   
   The whole family toiled hard many hours each day, and if we were ever lucky enough to get a little shower the kids really enjoyed the day off. We kept our immune systems exercised a lot of the time by bathing only once a week, though we washed our hands, faces, and feet every day. My feet were sometimes not accommodated in this fashion because once in awhile I was able to slip into bed early and pretend to be asleep before my mother ordered me to wash them. Bless her sweet soul, she didn’t have the heart to awaken me and send me back to correct that mistake.
   My father, as most farmers in those days were, was an excellent weather forecaster. On one occasion, after breakfast, he instructed me to harrow the cornfield, because he was expecting a dust storm at 1:30 in the afternoon. It was really late to harrow the corn since some of the stalks would be broken because of their height, but this was done anyway. His prediction was accurate, I believe, within 10 minutes. A ditch that been dug ran along the south side of our field to carry flood waters out and prevent erosion. This ditch was about 4 feet wide and 4 feet deep. After the dust storm had spent it’s energy, this ditch was filled and the first 12 rows of corn were completely covered by our neighbor’s topsoil. He should have harrowed his.   
   We and our neighbors were survivors. Carefree children will always find time to play and have fun, therefore enjoying many hours of happiness. It was extremely stressful on the parents though, who had the awesome responsibility to eke out some sort of a meager existence and raise a family during those dreadful days. We, as a nation of people from this generation are strong survivors and most of us can still enjoy the small pleasures of life. Much, much more could, and has been written about those days, but today, we and the newer generations must know and remember what made us that way, and know that we all still have that quality of survivorship in our beings. I firmly believe we have. Our younger generations have enjoyed a much better life of ease, but I believe, God forbid, if an occasion such as this should ever arise again, our newer generations could and would rise to the occasion. We have this kind of history. Our founding fathers gave us this heritage. These men and their followers were some of the greatest people this world has ever known. They came here to build a free republic, under God, where the people rule. The immigrants that followed were the strong, the independent, and the determined of high moral character.
   This is in our genes, transported down through the centuries by our strong and faithful ancestors. In the drouth years and depression days, most of us needed to have something strong and mighty to lean on and we found it in the author of our universe, our Heavenly Father.
Harry Shumard

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