When the Wind Blows

The wind blew today, hot and dusty with lots of fuzzies from Mesquite trees and Desert Broom.  For some reason, it made me think of a memorable day in my childhood although today's wind and dust did not compare to that awesome day.

 Dad and I were at Granddad Pepperd's farm on the plains of Kansas. The year was 1939 or there about.  It was a hot summer morning, but not so hot that a playful child would stay inside.

The morning went well with the usual bustle of adult chores.  After milking the cows, breakfast was prepared, eaten and cleared away.  The women began weeding the garden, and the men went off to the barn or somewhere.

I played with my cat, Boots.  He played with a mouse that he dropped into a bushel sized pail.  I tried to reason with Boots, but he would not give up the mouse.  When I overturned the pail, Boots pounced on the mouse and killed it.  He carried it away in his mouth.  That outcome had not occurred to me.  I considered Boots’ behavior very bad and felt sorry for the velvety little mouse.  It was not a fair fight.

Mid-morning, the adults began to behave strangely.  The men had reappeared, and the women left the garden.  They were watching the western sky.  I looked, but I didn’t see anything in particular.  On a hot day, the horizon appears to run in waves from left to right.  The waves never run right to left.  Is that not curious?

Even more curious was adult behavior, and they did not want to talk about it.  I was told to stay indoors.  Grandmother and my aunt and uncle were ripping up sheets into long narrow strips.  They set up a team.  While one tore strips of tough material, two of them were stuffing the strips around all the doors and windows of the dining room with table knives.  The wads of material looked very tight.  They were in a terrible hurry and very impatient with me.

Grandmother got the leaves out for the harvest table.  She used them all.  Then she began to drape tablecloth after tablecloth and even sheets over the table.  The drapes hung clear to the floor.  I wandered outside to play.

It was strange outside too.  It was nearly dark like after sundown but before it is night.  The sun was in the sky, but you could not see it very well.  I could hear the cattle bawling in the big barn.  Usually the cows and the horse were in the pasture, but I did not see any when I looked.  Even the chickens had gone to coup, and Dad was locking them in.  He scolded me for being outside. That was puzzling.  I usually stayed outside most of the day.

Grandmother was looking for me.  She told me to get under the dining table so I did.  It was like a tent, but there wasn’t much to do, and it was getting pretty dark under there.  Someone handed in Boots.  I was still mad at Boots over his bad behavior. He did not want to be there so I had to hold him while everybody else got under the table.  We had never done this before that I could remember.  At first, it seemed like fun.

Someone had the wash pan with water in it.  Grandmother wet a washcloth and told me to hold it over my nose and mouth.  When it got brown spots on it, she would rinse it out in the pan and give it back to me.  I thought we would be under that table forever.  There was not even room to lie down with the whole family under there, and they looked like bandits with handkerchiefs tied around their faces.  I complained.  They told me to be patient.

There has never been a lonelier sound for me than to hear the moans and screams of the prairie wind.  All afternoon the wind howled and railed at the big old farmhouse while we huddled under the harvest table.  The water in the wash pan was getting pretty dirty toward late afternoon.  I was tired of having to put the wet cloth on my face, but all the adults insisted that I had to use it.  They threatened me with dust pneumonia, whatever that was.  It was something evil.  It killed little girls by filling their lungs with dirt.  I was suspicious.  I knew adults had lungs too, but there was no reasoning with them even though I tried.

Just when I thought we would never get out from under the table, one of the men came back to say the storm had passed.  He had gone out and back a number of times before he gave us that welcome message.  He said the sky to the East was still brown, but he could see the sun in West.  He said it was bad, and later I saw what he meant.  There were inches of dust in the house.  Outside the fence posts were half buried.

The world outside the tent of the harvest table was deep with silky dirt.  The adults called it silt.  It had sifted around the carefully sealed doors and windows.  No one could walk without kicking up clouds of dust.  The men got out the wheat scoops and began to shovel out the house.  The women began to uncover things and wash them down.  I sneezed a lot.

It was a long time before the farm looked like it had before the dust storm; and whenever the adults started watching the western sky, with dread in my heart, I watched right along with them.  None of us wanted to see that brown cloud bank billowing up from the far horizon.  I knew what it meant as well as anyone.  When the wind blows like that there is little we creatures on the Earth’s crust can do but wait it out and try to survive.