Today I am pleased to bring you a guest post from author C.H. Armstrong. C.H. wrote the fantastic The Edge of Nowhere, see my review here, a historical fiction set in Oklahoma in the 1900’s. The Dust Bowl setting was a powerful addition to the world C.H. built and she is here is give us a bit of a taste of it. In addition to this post, there will be two prizes. The grand prize will be a signed copy of The Edge of Nowhere and an Oklahoma Cherokee Rose Rock (US only) and first prize is a digital copy of The Edge of Nowhere. Will run April 15 – April 21, so enter via Rafflecopter below.
April 14, 1935. It was Palm Sunday, and though the plains states had been immersed for five years in the Hell that became known as The Dust Bowl, it was a day that dawned bright and gave hope for better days ahead. Families went to church, and children enjoyed the warmth of the early spring day. While the dust and dirt in the air was still as pervasive as ever, the sun tried hard to pierce through the dirt hanging in the air. What we didn’t know is that it was a day that would go down in the record books for having the most horrific dust storm in the entire ten years of The Dust Bowl.
When I sat down to write, The Edge of Nowhere, I thought I understood The Dust Bowl. I’d grown up on the stories of the dust and dirt that entered through every crack and crevice of a home, and I thought I understood the terrible dust storms that swept through the high plains. The truth is that there is so much I didn’t know. Now, on this 81st anniversary of Black Sunday, I hope to bring some of that information to you.
By 1935, the dust storms that swept primarily through the states of Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Texas had reached epic proportions. Just the year before in 1934, there were 38 reported dust storms. Some of these storms had winds as high as 65 mph and traveled as far as Boston, New York, and Washington D.C. In the other direction, they’re said to have reached as far as California.
On a daily basis and in the absence of an active storm, the sky was still overcast with a constant haze of dirt. It got into your eyes and noses, and even into your ears and mouth. If you spit, the phlegm resembled tobacco. On the few occasions when it did rain, it came down like dark droplets of mud. School children had no choice but to go out into the elements and were forced to wear goggles over their eyes to keep the grit out, and wet washrags over their faces to keep the dust from seeping into their lungs. Dust pneumonia was rampant and targeted the young and old primarily. And that was just on a normal day.
The dust storms of the 1930s were dangerous – deadly, even. Unlike a tornado, there was no escape from them. Though you weren’t likely to lose your home or be blown away in a dust storm, the likelihood of dying or succumbing to life-threatening illness by being caught out in a storm was very real. There are stories of farmers slicing open the bellies of cattle after these storms, and the contents revealed stomachs full of dirt and dust. And, though there were only five states in the heart of destruction, there wasn’t a single state in the nation that wasn’t affected. In fact, the term “The Dirty Thirties,” is a direct reflection of the dirt from the Dust Bowl states landing around the nation. The dust quite literally blew everywhere. It was relentless.
Now, on the 81st anniversary of the largest and worst dust storm to ever hit during this era, I’d like to share with you a chapter from The Edge of Nowhere that describes in detail the experiences of my fictional family – Victoria Hastings Harrison Greene, her four small children at that time, and her adopted parents.
Black Sunday: April 14, 1935
An Excerpt from The Edge of Nowhere by C.H. Armstrong
Used with permission by Penner Publishing
…The end of February brought snow showers, but it was nothing like I’d ever seen before or since. Instead of beautiful flakes of white powdering the streets, the snow fell in dark flakes of gray and black. It looked like ashes falling from the sky. The dirt and dust now overtook what should’ve been the purity of fresh snow. We wondered how much more we could take of the nothingness that had become our world. Everything was so barren. There just wasn’t ever enough rain to moisten the earth. If ever I wondered what hell looked like, I wondered no more. This was surely hell on earth.
Spring brought warmer temperatures, but still no measurable rain. What rain did come, came down in dark droplets tinged with dirt. Everywhere you looked was just pure ugly. Though spring had arrived, all the beauty had been choked out by the dry, dusty earth.
April of 1935 arrived and, with it, a day I will never forget. Now, almost sixty years later, I still awaken in the dead of night, terrified from a recurring dream that takes me back to that time and place. It was Palm Sunday, and we’d all gone to church that morning. The early part of that day was pleasant. If not for the dirt and dust, the day might’ve been gorgeous. In spite of the barren ground, the sun was shining and brought us hope for better days ahead. We’d returned from church and eaten a light meal, then Father Caleb headed out with several other men to hunt jackrabbits. They’d heard that the fields east of town were overrun, so a party of men gathered to remove them. The jackrabbits often gave us some of our only meals back on the farm, but their numbers were now too large. They were eating every living thing that attempted to grow on the earth. Groups of men had gathered together to try to diminish their numbers and, in the process, they’d each planned to bring back more food for the table—food we didn’t have to pay for.
Jack and Ethan had planned to go with Father Caleb, but the two boys had squabbled endlessly since we’d left church that morning. Frustrated with the both of them, I’d decided to punish them by keeping them home. I’d given them a series of chores as penalty for their behavior. They’d cried and begged to go, but I’d put my foot down and refused to allow it. So Father Caleb went without them.
Around the middle of the afternoon, some hours after Father Caleb had gone, I’d sent the kids out into the backyard. They’d worked hard and I needed them out from under my feet. A short time later, Grace came inside alone.
“Thought you wanted to play outside,” I said to her.
“I did but it’s gettin’ chilly. And the birds are actin’ funny,” she said.
“What d’ya mean?” Mother Elizabeth asked.
“They’re chatterin’ and actin’ all nervous-like. Kinda like they do before a tornado comes through, but the weather ain’t right for it.”
“Where’re the boys?” I asked Gracie.
“In the backyard, playin’ kickball.”
“Out with you,” Mother Elizabeth said, opening the door to escort Grace outside. “It’s too nice to be inside. Go.”
I followed Grace outside and watched the boys kick the ball back and forth to each other.
The birds caught my attention immediately. Grace was right; they were acting strangely.
“Mother Elizabeth,” I said. “Come look at these birds. Have you ever seen ‘em act like this before?”
Mother Elizabeth stepped onto the stoop behind me. She watched the birds for a moment, but didn’t say anything. She just shook her head in amusement.
“They seem nervous,” she observed.
“Mama, what is that?” Ethan pointed at the blackened sky some miles away.
Glancing into the distance, I saw what looked like a large cloud moving quickly toward us. Instead of being white and puffy, however, it was pitch black. Mother Elizabeth noticed it at the same time, and the two of us just stared for several seconds, trying to understand what we were seeing.
“Oh, my God!” Mother Elizabeth whispered under her breath. “Victoria—get the children inside. That’s a huge dust cloud…”
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