Book Review: The Worst Hard Time…

Before I start my book review, which I promised you last week, I want to thank you for responding to my poll yesterday.  I will be establishing a posting schedule in a few days based on your advice.

Attention English teachers!!!  The Worst Hard Time:  The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan reads almost like fiction. History and science teachers join forces by using this book as primary source background information to introduce or expand the topics including the Dust Bowl and the environment.

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Hundreds of thousands of people fled to Arizona and California to escape the worst natural disaster in modern times.  This book focuses on those who stayed, and lived in wooden shacks with no insulation to keep out the dust.

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You will experience the emotional debates raging in the hearts of the hanger ons when their lives blew away.

“In those cedar posts and collapsed homes is the story of this place:  how the greatest grassland in the world was turned inside out, how the crust blew away, raged up in the sky and showered down a suffocating blackness off and on for most of a decade.” p. 2

This book includes shocking facts beside the tragic stories of the nesters who had obeyed their government, farmed the land, and reaped a bowl of dust.

“…Black Sunday, April 14, 1935, … the storm carried twice as much dirt as was dug out of the earth to create the Panama Canal.  … More than 300,000 tons of Great Plains topsoil was airborne that day. … Jeanne Clark could not stop coughing.  … The doctor diagnosed Jeanne with dust pneumonia, … she might not live long….  Jeanne’s mother… had come here for the air, and now her little girl was dying of it.” p.8

The “great plowup” of millions of acres lasted only thirty years, but the consequences lasted a decade at its worst, and continues today with a cautionary tale for the future.

“The land came through the 1930s deeply scarred and forever changed, but in places it healed. … After more than sixty-five years, some of the land is still sterile, and drifting. … The (nearly 220 million) trees from Franklin Roosevelt’s big arbor dream have mostly disappeared.  … When the regular rain returned in the 1940s and wheat prices shot up, farmers ripped out the shelter belt trees to plant grain.” pgs 309-310

What is frightening after reading this book is the realization that it could happen again, and this time there would be no remedy.

“The government props up the heartland, ensuring that the most politically connected farms will remain profitable. …  To keep agribusiness going a vast infrastructure of pumps and pipes reaches deep into the Ogallala Aquifer, the nation’s biggest source of underground freshwater, drawing the water down eight times faster than nature can refill it. … It provides about 30 percent of the irrigation water in the United States.”  p. 310

This book is guaranteed to make you more aware of the extreme dangers of continuing in the direction we are going as a nation with regards to what and how we grow.

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In Central California where I live, the subject is especially poignant for two reasons:

  1. Many people have relatives still living in the Dust Bowl states.
  2. Central California depends on aquifers and agribusiness to exist.

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I recommend this book for use in Common Core classrooms grades 5 and up.  It covers science as well as social studies topics as it combines environmental issues with historical facts.

Please rate this review.  Thanks  🙂

Daily Prompt: Silver Linings

Extreme bad times give birth to silver linings.  Disasters and tragedy can bring out the best in people.  Right now we think of those in Oklahoma who are suffering with the ugly effects of tornadoes.  They need to see beyond their present circumstances and know that there will be a silver lining, or they might give up hope.  It makes those of us who are not touched by those tragedies to give gratefully to help those in need.

Blogging friend Darla Welchel posted this picture on FB
Blogging friend Darla Welchel posted this picture on FB of her property in OK.

People in tragic times:

  • draw together to help each other,
  • demonstrate supernatural strength
  • alter the world – moving, building anew, seek solutions to prevent the same problems from recurring.
  • develop empathy
  • develop personal flexibility and resilience
  • break down cultural barriers

The bigger the tragedy, the shinier the silver lining needs to be.  I’m not sure it always makes up for the tragedy, but people go on.  The choice is either you go on or you don’t.  The choice is yours.  I am reading non-fiction book, The Worst Hard Times by Timothy Egan, about the people who stayed in the Dust Bowl states when over 300,000 fled to California alone.  According to him, the high plains never fully recovered, although much of it being returned to its original grass covering.  Farmers now have connected with soil conservation districts to manage the land as a single ecological unit.  Some of the individuals he followed lived to be around 100 years old.

Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas at a different time in history.
Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas at a different time in history.

The biggest tragedy I can think of was the Holocaust.  Had I been born in Nazi Germany at that time, I would not have survived it even though I was a blond, blue-eyed, non-Jewish child because I was born with a harelip.

Me, Great-Grandma Martha, Grandma Golda, and Mom Peggy.
Me, Great-Grandma Martha, Grandma Golda, and Mom Peggy.  I think they would have been upset to lose me over a simple lip disaster!  🙂  

There were many that were targeted for destruction during that period of history.  The most tragic of the tragic were the Jews who were destroyed simply because they were Jews.  My friend was four years old when they came to her little town in Poland.  Nazi “punks” killed her mother and grandparents before they even left town because they were old or infirm.  “Why waste time getting them well if they were targeted for extermination anyway?” my friend tells students.  Two of her uncles were caught trying to smuggle valuables in a loaf of bread.  They were shot when the loaf of bread broke on the cobblestones revealing trinkets of jewelry.  The rest of her family:  father, aunt, 2 brothers, and a sister, went to the camps, different ones, of course.  Her sister died in Auschwitz, and the rest survived, and came to America.  Now in her late seventies, my friend tells her story in schools to let children today know that there is hope, a silver lining in any situation.

Students see that my friend survived the worst horror they can imagine.  Life has a silver lining.
Students see that my friend survived a horror worse than any they can imagine. Life has a silver lining.

Children don’t have the background experiences to know that they can live through tough times.  We don’t always know what internal and external disasters they harbor and endure.

My friend's intensity speaks to students, and helps them believe in a silver lining.
My friend’s intensity speaks to students, and helps them believe in a silver lining.

Some students don’t know that if a kid teases them or brutalizes them, it will pass, or they can find ways to deal with it besides shooting up a school.  Children whose parents beat them, or do drugs or alcohol may not realize they can survive even if they are taken to a foster home and are raped their first night there.  My friend gives them hope.  Through her life, they see the silver lining.

We don't know who might be the next Oklahoma City bomber.  We need to teach them ALL that there is a silver lining beyond their personal tragedy.
We don’t know who might be the next Oklahoma City bomber. We need to teach them ALL that there is a silver lining beyond their personal tragedy.

Silver linings don’t make everything all right.  There are still consequences that follow any disaster.  My friend does not know what her mother looks like.  She has never even seen a picture.  They were all destroyed.  It still makes her sad.  She goes into an emotional tailspin every time a disaster hits anywhere and flashes back to her times in the camps.  Nonetheless, she lives another day and shows others that they, too, can survive.  She was married and raised two successful children.  She worked in the entertainment industry until she retired. She took a 90 minute yoga class with her friend and me the day after she spoke in this class.  She impacts thousands of young lives yearly.  She impacted my life permanently.  She lives in the silver lining of her life.

Any of life's tragedies has a silver lining.
Any of life’s tragedies has a silver lining.

Do you need to know there is a silver lining behind your cloud?  Do you have a silver lining experience to tell?