Friday, November 13, 2015

My Family's Hard Times in Drought Stricken Oklahoma 1939-1943

A story about my brother's (and my) first years
The crops were ruined. There was nothing to do about it, The shocks were beaten to the ground. The grain heads were shattered to a pulp. Everyone stood in the barnyard and looked over the fields. Dad stood with his hat in his hands. Mom stood with her arms folded tightly against her chest. The girls stood with eyes and mouths open wide. Eli and Sanford stood with their hands in their pockets and did not say a word.  

Dad pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and blew his nose. Eli knew what he was thinking--the payment. Some of the money had already been used to buy Pedro and Gray. Eli crouched up and buried his face in Bowser's fur. Torn maple leaves lay thick around his feet. Splintered elm leaves littered the yard.

The storm had shoved over the outdoor toilet and ripped part of the barn roof away. It had torn shingles from the roof of the little house, and several of the windows were broken. The wind had shaken the farm like a wild beast shaking its prey.

Dad rubbed his hands over his eyes. His face and arms were covered with nicks and cuts, but he did not seem to notice. He lifted his head. "It's going to be all right," he said, and he smiled at them all.

This is from the first of three books written by my niece Judy Yoder about her father and my next older brother Eli's childhood, a saga that begins in eastern Oklahoma and later continues in eastern Kansas and then in Augusta County, Virginia. This first of the series has just been published by Christian Light Publications as a book for children, but my wife and I found ourselves unable to put it down once we started reading it, partly because it reveals so much about my family's story.

I was three, the youngest of the eight children, and my brother Eli was six when the fierce hail storm described here devastated our farm and injured everything and everyone in its path. It also dashed my parent's hopes of being able to make their farm mortgage payment that year. Due to recurring drought in Nowata County this was one of several years when they were able to come up with only enough money to pay their annual interest on their mortgage.

Reviewing all this has made me marvel all the more about how my parents kept their faith and hope alive through the Great Depression and later years of severe drought. For the rest of his life I heard my father repeatedly say that the Nowata years were when he felt closest to God and to the struggling Amish community that stood by us and each other through hard times.

Niece Judy Yoder has written numerous books, including Vera's Journey, the life story of a rural Valley Mennonite mother and grandmother who became deaf at age 38 and who lived to be 102. This hard cover book, also published by Christian Light, offers intriguing details of local Valley history and has sold over 6000 copies.
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