By Catherine Hedge
I have several dear friends who are June brides or were many years ago. It’s a lovely time to get married in Kansas. The garden in front of my house is an explosion of blooms; gladiolas, petunias, Rose O’Sharon, Kansas cone flowers…all soothing to the eye and heart. Although it is one-hundred degrees outside right now, I sit in air-conditioned comfort and watch the morning glory vines climb over my balcony railing. I listen to beautiful music on the Classic Arts Showcase and sip drinks cooled by my automatic ice-maker. I lead a blissful existence!
I wonder, though, how it must have been eighty years ago, when my parents were young and Nature unleashed her fury upon the Midwest. I hear the old folks talk about The Dust Bowl. You covered the dinner plates as soon as they were dished up and then threw a tablecloth over everything. Children had to come the instant you called them in. You whisked off the cloth. Everyone ate as fast as they could before the food turned to mud. You blocked all the windows, doors, and any cracks with wet towels for fear the new baby might die of suffocation.
What a difficult life it must have been for a new bride and her husband. I imagined a slice of their life in the poem below. I wrote it in honor of those resilient men and women of Kansas who wouldn’t give in to despair. They left me this beautiful land I love today.
by Catherine Hedge
I brung the enameled basin in
A weddin’ gift
Milk white, perfect
Speckled with hay from the packin’ crate
Out of the wash bucket
Slick with lye soap
It jumps from my hands and sings
A bell-toned wobble across the wooden floor
A black eye peeks out through the dent on the rim
I wipe the basin dry and gleamin’
And prop it on the sideboard
Turning it round
‘till the chip don’t show
Sunlight traps my face on the bowl’s surface.
Unforgiving harsh in its reflection,
I sweep lank curls under my bride’s cap
And pinch my cheeks back to color
Strange how livin’ changes once the courtin’ stops
Jakob’s on the back forty
‘stead of swingin’ on the porch.
The drought sears him like a brand
And smiles ain’t easy on his weary face
Until now, I never seen
The fly specks on the brocade wallpaper
Or the veneer on Mother’s bureau
Curlin’ like potato peels
Source: Kansas State Historical Society “Liberal, Kansas, 14 April 1935. (Kansas State Historical Society)“
We always heard about the drought and saw pictures of the parched earth in school, but they never taught us what daily life looked like. Thanks for sharing those memories and your poem – so many images in there. Great job, Cathy.
Thank you, Char. It makes me gasp for air just thinking about it! Fondly, Cathy