Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Then the Dust Began to Blow

In a March 13, 1936 letter to her friend, Eva, Caroline A. Henderson wrote:

"It has been a terrible week, with one day of almost complete obscurity, and others when only a part of the sun's rays struggled throught the gloom with a strange bluish luminance. On such days each little wave of the troubled water in the stock tank glitters with a blue phosphorescent light. When I dip out a pail of water to carry to the henhouse, it looks almost as if it were covered with a film of oil. On days like this, when William Vaughn Moody's expression 'dust to eat' suggests a literal danger, we can't help questioning whether the traits we would rather think of as courage and perseverance are not actually recklessness and inertia. Who shall say?"

In this excerpt from a letter, one of several published by The Atlantic Monthly in an article entitled, “Letters from the Dust Bowl”, May 1936, pp. 540-551, Henderson does not merely offer a glimpse into life during the dust bowl years; her detailed depictions bring the era to life. A reader can almost touch the viscosity of the water as it sloshes in the pail. Her reference to Moody is a device she uses often when she cites other authors and their works and uses their words to enrich her own. She completes her portraits of life in the Oklahoma dust bowl with her humanly honest accounts of storms, financial calamities and ebbing emotional reserves.
I start my discussion on the dust bowl with an entry by Caroline A. Henderson for two reasons. First, I’ve always admired her mastery of language and her ability to describe her surroundings in such a way that it allows a reader entry into her world. Second, award winning author, Michael L. Cooper uses many excerpts from Henderson’s writings in his book, Dust to Eat : Drought and Depression in the 1930’s. I will review Cooper’s book as part of this exploration of depression era dust storms and the resulting disastrous effects during the Great Depression.

Henderson, Caroline. Letters from the Dust Bowl. Norman, OK : University of Oklahoma Press, 2001. ISBN: 978-0-8061-3350-8, ISBN(10): 0-8061-3350-3

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