Burns' "The Dust Bowl" Brings Back Family Stories
November 20, 2012
If your grandparents or great-grandparents farmed the southern Great Plains during the Great Depression, your family has Dust Bowl stories.
While my grandparents farmed east of the epicenter of the Dust Bowl, my grandmother told stories about the dust. Stories of driving through it, wading through it, farming through it, and constantly fighting it. The ones I remember best are those my grandma told about hanging wet gunny sacks over the windows of their Kansas farmhouse to keep out the blowing dust, huddling in the house with two small children to wait out the storms, and pulling out wet dish towels she'd shove into the cracks under the doors and windows and finding them infused with mud.
Those were lean times. Grandma didn't dwell on that much, but she did talk about the dust. I figured that was why there was never a speck of it in her house when I was growing up.
Ken Burns' new documentary, The Dust Bowl, brought back memories of my grandma's stories. Burns' tells the story of the Dust Bowl through photographs, writings, and memoirs of those who survived it, as well as through present day interviews. Many of the interviewees were just children in the 1930s, which makes their memories and perspective on the Dust Bowl even more compelling.
If you want to read about the Dust Bowl, try Tim Egan's The Worst Hard Time. Egan is featured in Burns' documentary, and his book tells the story of the Dust Bowl in unflinching detail. There's also Albert Marrin's Years of Dust. For a more visual glimpse of those times, try The Dust Bowl Through the Lens by Martin W. Sandler.
Looking back on those times puts our times into perspective. We might think our times are hard, but I'm convinced those Dust Bowl days really were the worst hard times.