On this page, you can read essays by visitors to this site. These essays are a response to the monthly challenge. Enjoy! Be inspired!
Phyllis Mitchell drew the diagram or “map” depicted here to represent the farm she grew up on. This helped her elicit a wealth of memories to write about. Here’s a compelling piece she wrote about the dust storms of 1934.
Dust, Danger, Destruction: 1934
By 1933 the land was dried out, parched and cracked from the lack of moisture. The wind lifted up the fine black, silt surface, and whirled it into great clouds of dust. The worst for us came in the spring of 1934.
For several days the wind blew, and the air was absolutely permeated with the fine powdery particles. The dust was so thick and suffocating in our one-room country school that we could hardly see the teacher. Mr. Lomax, a school board member came to the school about 2 o’clock and instructed Miss Cecil to dismiss school. He had come for his children who otherwise would have to walk two miles across a pasture with no fence line to follow.
My brother Herschel and I rode ponies to school. We carried our lunch and books in a flour sack with a big knot for a handhold. The teacher wrapped and tied those empty white bags around our heads with peek-holes for our eyes, to protect our faces from the cold wind and dust. She cautioned us to ride at the side of the road, so that any car driver would see us. But where was the edge of the road? Neither we, nor our horses, could see more than six feet ahead.
Duke and Midget, our riding ponies, always wanted to run, which we were forbidden to allow if we were going downhill. They would turn in circles each time we held them back, then go forward. If we relaxed the reins, they started to run again, so we held them back in another circle. We gripped the bridle reins tight as we spiraled down three of the steepest hills and finally let them run to the top of the next hill. It was a very scary three mile ride, almost like riding blindfolded. We could tell Mama and Daddy were relieved to see us safely home. Daddy patted Duke and Midget on their rumps, and to reassure us (and himself, too, I think) said, “Your ponies have a sixth sense of direction like a homing pigeon. You can figure they will always get you home.”
Mamma was busy, using a kitchen knife, to stuff strips of wet rags in all the cracks around the windows. She hung dampened sheets over the south windows, but by morning there was half-inch layer of fine dust covering everything – the table, floor, and most annoying, the beds.
Three mornings later, the back porch was laden with dust the color of red brick. Harold exclaimed, “Wow, that has to be red dirt that came all the way from Oklahoma!”
I had never before seen anything but black dirt, so this was quite a phenomenon. Drifts of soft dirt piled up along the road and fencerows. The wind had sculpted a grotesque landscape with rippled patterns, sharp ridge, and concave hollows. It was an invitation to the kids to romp through the soft silt, leaving deep boot prints and yet another surrealistic design in the bleak terrain. Conditioned as we were to bright snow to soften the edges of the landscape, this contradiction of nature played havoc with our psyche, not unlike the rolling terra firma in an earthquake.
The summer of ’34 was hotter and drier than ever. In fact, by August, the corn was burning up. Farmers who had silos rushed to salvage their crop by cutting the green corn stalks for ensilage before it was completely gone. Harold used the corn knife, which looked like a machete, and cut the cornstalks by hand, enough for each day’s cattle feed. Herschel, Camilla and I carried it by armloads to the wagon to haul to the barn. This chore lasted only a week or ten days, as the crops burned so quickly that summer
Mike Yanega mapped his childhood neighborhood, including a vacant lot where he and his friends used to play. His resulting essay included this passage:
“We used to play in the vacant lot which was sometimes Mars, sometimes the old West and sometimes a jungle — that is, at times when it wasn’t flooded by rainwater. Those times it was a lagoon or a lake or the ocean, as the story we were acting out might require.”
A Quiet Haven
The story below is adapted from my novel, The Apple Eater.
I was a small child in the Netherlands in the late ‘30’s and early ‘40’s. My grandparents , Oma and Opa, lived on a street that formed a triangle around a small park with blossoming trees and young poplars. I looked forward each week to my visit.
This day, daffodils, no longer in bloom, were naturalized in the tall grass, where white marguerites now grew. Handing my doll to my grandmother, I ran into the park to pick the tiny flowers, quickly returning to Oma’s side.
At lunchtime, I helped Oma set the table on the white linen tablecloth. I put out the knives and spoons and linen napkins, and we sat down to a meal of rusk and cheese, honey cake, and strawberries. Afterwards, Oma gave me a towel, and I dried the dishes that she washed. As we walked back to join Opa, my grandmother said, “We’ll sleep for a while. Your pillow is on the couch, in case you want to rest, too.”
“I’m not tired,” I said. I went to the dining room buffet, took a mahogany box out of the top drawer, and carried it to a round table by the window. A thick Persian rug covered the table, and I ran my hands over the plush woolen fibers. I removed the smoothly-varnished cover of the box and dumped the contents onto the table – ivory poker chips in various shapes. Picking up a few in my hands, I felt the smooth surfaces, and, as I let them fall, they cascaded to the pile with a gentle clicking. I fashioned a person with a round chip, a square for the torso, and rectangular arms and legs.
The mall French clock ticked calmly with unhurried beats. Oma had gone to the bedroom, but Opa slept in his chair. His beret covered the top of his head and one side of his forehead; the Scottish Tartan lap-robe lay over his legs. The gold watch- chain fastened to his vest gleamed in a shaft of sunlight. So quiet – only the ticking of the clock, Opa’s peaceful snoring, and the rattle of the ivory chips broke the silence. The sun shone through the window and on me. Feeling warm and sleepy, I picked up my doll and tiptoed to the couch.
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