I am blessed to have my maternal grandmother living in the same town as me, and I try to drop in and visit with her every other week or so. She celebrated her 84th birthday just last month, and she’s still as sharp and spry as ever. I don’t think she understood my keen obsession with genealogy when it first took hold of me three years ago, but since then, as I’ve uncovered more and more of her family, I’ve intrigued and surprised her with what I’ve found. She’s come to enjoy chatting with me on a regular basis about the discoveries I’ve made, and I enjoy getting the chance to ask her questions about the people I research, whom she actually knew. It puts flesh on the skeleton of my GEDCOM.
One of today’s stories from her youth concerned the Dust Bowl. I’ve always been stunned by the conditions of the era and it’s a subject I’ve taught in my U.S. History class several times, but her stories always help bring it more to life for me. As a young girl she was living in Neosho County, Kansas, with her family, and though she saw none of the famous black blizzards, she does remember the horrible heat and oppression of the weather. In the summer of 1935 or 1936, she recalls, she and her family finally decided to pack it in and head West. Her cousin, Louie Thornton, had visited the family the winter before and convinced her father, my great-grandfather, Frank Martin Audiss, that he needed to bring his family to California. Though he had no place to stay, Louie made arrangements for them and the decision was made to go.
The day before they left Kansas, my grandmother told me, they had to sell everything. There was a large sale and people turned out to purchase all their worldly goods. There’s a story about her brother, Don, being ill and finding they had sold his favorite colt while he was recuperating and being very upset. There’s also a story about her sister, Maxine, being ill the night before they left, and my great-grandmother, Lela Hague Audiss, being forced to open a can of pears so that Maxine could use the pear juice to wash down the medicine pills. There was no water; the well had gone dry. Frank, my great-grandfather, meanwhile took the money they had gotten from the sale of their goods and bought a new car so they could make the journey to California. They left the next day with nothing but the leftover money and the clothes on their backs. It was 114 degrees.
While my grandma told me this story, we were relaxing in her apartment almost 80 years later, kept quite cool by A/C and the glasses of water chilled with handy ice cubes from the freezer. And I suddenly had one more reason to feel very fortunate, both that she survived that terrible time and that we live in such convenience and comfort now.
Did someone in your family live through this event? Leave me a comment – I’d love to add your story to my U.S. History class.
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