Now is Not "The Worst Hard Times"

by Katy on May 27, 2009 · 8 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published blog. Enjoy!


Times are hard now. There’s no debating this fact.

As an RN, my job is pretty much recession proof. But that doesn’t mean that my retirement is doing better than anyone else’s. Or that food prices aren’t shockingly high.

We are in a recession, and the media keeps making comparisons to the great depression of the 1930’s.

But there’s one big difference between now and 80 years ago — the great dust bowl.

The great dust bowl of the American west will forever be entwined with the abject poverty of the depression. The mile high dirt filled clouds that swept through towns and country, demolishing both crops and dreams.

I’m currently reading an excellent book called, “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl,” by Timothy Egan.

This gripping book follows the stories of a few families through the homesteading of Texas and Oklahoma in the early 20th century through the dust bowl. Before this, my knowledge of this disastrous time in America’s history was pretty much limited to a single high school reading of “The Grapes of Wrath.”

Trolling through the internet, I found the wonderful Dust Bowl Oral History Project out of Ford county, Kansas. Transcribed interviews with people who had lived through these times proved fascinating and riveting.

Tales of never ending grit and dirt that frustrated women fighting a daily losing battle against the dusters. The impossible goal to keep a clean house, despite the dust that seeped through every available crack. Memories of how they would cut worn-out sheets down the middle to transform the center into the outer part. Stories of dried out crops buried in sand and blowing silt. Death by “dust pneumonia.”

In answer to the question about “the greatest lesson learned” from the great depression, one woman answered:

“I learned how to do things, how to make things work, how to use things, how to appreciate things. Don’t throw anything away. I think, I had to know how to do things, know how to cope.”

The stories are heartbreaking, yet inspiring.

So I will not let myself compare our current economic crisis to the great depression.

I’ve got a good job, ability to live well on very little money, and fresh air to breathe.

Have you grown up hearing stories of how your parents or grandparents survived the great depression? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

BarbG May 27, 2009 at 10:24 am

Great post Katie.

When I think of these times and how just week I was laid off I try to remind myself of the times long before I was born.

As your post mentions, the Great Depression and drought.

throw in a couple world wars and
a flu pandemic that killed millions.

Add that to knowing that there was a good chance your baby would die after childbirth if you didn’t die yourself.

Woman didn’t have the right to vote.

There was no place to turn for women that were battered.

There was no unemployment insurance or welfare systems in place.

There were no unions to make their jobs safe.

Times are hard right now. I cry a lot lately but I will be OK. That is the part to remember. I will be OK.


Teresa May 27, 2009 at 8:35 pm

Well, I’m an Okie and one of my husband’s bands is The Dust Bowl Refugees but I don’t know much about the Dust Bowl. My grandmother was a young woman in Tulsa at that time.

We just had an hour-long conversation last week about the Great Depression and now it’s time for me to ask about the Dust Bowl. Thank you, Woody Guthrie for “So Long it’s been Good to Know You” and oh, a couple thousand other songs….

“I’ve sung this song, but I’ll sing it again
Of the place that I lived on the wild windy plains,
In the month called April, county called Gray,
And here’s what all of the people there say:

So long, it’s been good to know yuh;
So long, it’s been good to know yuh;
So long, it’s been good to know yuh.
This dusty old dust is a-gettin’ my home,
And I got to be driftin’ along.”

Katy, you don’t have any family around KS or OK, do you?


Francine May 27, 2009 at 10:21 pm

I’m 65, and my parents lived “The Grapes of Wrath”, leaving Oklahoma and following the crops in Arizona and California, living in labor camps. They earned each day enough $$ for food for dinner that night. Breakfast next morning was “doughboys” (thick pancakes, flour and water, probably baking powder) with maybe some leftover grease for flavor. But I never knew any of that … by the time I was born (’43, the last of four) Daddy had a real job and we had a house to live in. They never talked too much about it, just got thru it, made a living, and moved on. Altho many people are in serious trouble right now, it’s nothing compared with Dust Bowl/Depression years. But they survived, and we all will too, hopefully having learned some lessons in the process.


Sarah Williamson May 30, 2009 at 6:20 pm

I too just finished reading The Worst Hard Time and it is the book I am recommending to everyone constantly. I’ve read lots of Depression history but Timothy Egan ties it together and brings it alive. Every page is a page turner and a knuckle biter. It has had a huge influence on how I think about the world, my place in it and ecology. For this was possibly the worst man-made ecologocial disaster of all history and the earth and everything in the eco system will likely never recover. The events of that time period and our own time period are a mirror reflection in too many ways, People who lived through this are still alive and what has all this taught us about changing our ways? The same real estate scams, easy money, loose loans, credit, the same party, play, purchase way of life and personal boundaries are gone. “Everybody else is doing it” is the rallying cry. Just read it and think of our own world. We learned nothing. We applied no lessons from that time period and that was a very fierce lesson. Then let us hear from you in this column. It is staggering…


tryingtolivesimply June 24, 2009 at 10:13 am

My 91 year old Grandma lived through the Depression in rural Illinois (not the Dust Bowl area).
She talks of how her father would catch squirrels in the fields, clean them, and her mother would cook them with dandelion leaves. Her dad would eat the brains, which she always thought was disgusting, and he always said he loved.
It didn’t dawn on her until later in life that he was trying to give his children the good parts and would sacrifice eating the bad (i.e. gross) parts in order to survive.
She also told me that the men did anything to make money. Her family lived near a river, and (after he lost his job) he would dive for clams, shuck the shells and sell them to the button factory to make mother-of-pearl buttons. The clam meat was not edible, otherwise they would have eaten those as well, so she says.
Each man in the area had staked claim to a river bank area. He would get into fist fights with other men in order to protect ‘his clam territory’ on the river.
She always talks about how she desperately wanted a pair of shoes. That was really the only heartache she felt when she was young, she says. She said that although life was tough, it was not bad. The family would go around the room and every family member would recount what they were thankful for, which helped them remember that they will get through it.
She always says that the bigger cities (like Chicago and Rockford) were feeling the Depression much worse, as those areas had a more dense population of people to feed, and not enough land to live off of the resources. Fortunately, her family live in a rural area, where people did favors for food and such.
It’s always interesting to hear her talk about that portion of her life. She’s so matter-of-fact about it.
It’s definitely something to learn from.


Jackie April 20, 2010 at 1:04 pm

I saw a story on this subject (the dust bowl) on the History Channel and was in awe of what those people lived through. I don’t remember studying that in school. Either I slept thru class or they didn’t teach it. I think it’s something every American should learn about.


greenstrivings October 9, 2012 at 3:18 pm

These stories are amazing, but one correction to one of your commenters: the 19th Amendment, in which women won the right to vote throughout the U.S. (prior to this some territories and states had universal suffrage; Wyoming was the first), was ratified in 1920.

Yup, still reading along. I do read your new posts but am enjoying chugging along catching up!


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