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Dust Bowl Diary
April 21st, 1937 Today my older brother Cas and I played jacks in the family room of our house. I picked up eight jacks on the first round, Cas picked up five. It used to be that I couldn’t pick up any of the jacks, but a girl tends to pick up new talents when she’s stuck inside all day. I heard my mama sob from inside the kitchen. I sighed. Mama was always crying nowadays. This whole dust bowl business was really taking a toll on my parents. Ma was mainly worried about the baby in her stomach, though. She was scared for it. Cas patted my hand comfortingly before walking into the kitchen, where I saw him hug mama and whisper softly to her. He was the only one who could calm us down. Cas just has this special ability where no matter what pain he’s feeling, he always puts everyone else first and he knows just how to make them smile. I’m sure glad he’s here.
April 23rd, 1937 I’m so excited! My birthday is in a few days, where I’ll be turning 15. May 3rd marks that date! Now here I am, eating cornbread and beans, writing in my journal to no one but myself about this. I know I won’t get a birthday present this year, but that’s alright. All I want is for the storms to stop for one single day so mama will be happy. Cas is laughing at me right now, he thinks it’s pretty silly to be writing to no one. He says that writing is s’posed to have a purpose, it has to be for someone. I’m hoping that someone will find this journal and read it after the dust bowl ends, so they can know what happened. Maybe it’ll be on a moving picture screen! Dad calls it t.v., but I call it moving picture screen. It’s all the same.
April 24th, 1937 Cas went outside with Pa today to look at the storm. They thought it has slowed down enough as to where they could watch the clouds, but they were wrong. Pa came in, carrying Cas in his arms. Mama and I are worried something awful, even though Pa says he’ll be okay. Cas must’ve swallowed a rock or something, he was coughing out blood and dust. He passed out a minute ago, too. We all noticed that he’s lost some color, turning almost snow-like white. I sure hope he gets better. That’s my new birthday wish, is for Cas to be healthy.
April 25th, 1937 Hannah Lou Carter came today. She’s Cas’s girlfriend, she is. Even though they’re only 17, they’re planning a wedding in June. They’re sure in love. I watched as she leaned down, her blonde curls bouncing against her dark blue dress. Cas coughed weakly and smiled at her, holding her hand. I thought that was just the sweetest thing. I wish I could love someone like that. The only person I ever took a liking to was Danny Marshall, and he only comes on Fridays to see me. Hannah comes at least three times a week, or whenever she can. Sometimes the dust gets so bad, that neither of them can come. I just sure hope that this will all blow over soon, I miss having a life.
April 27th, 1937 The wind was wild today. Mama, Pa, Cas and I all had to hide under the bed just so we wouldn’t get pelted by all of the dust and dirt. A window broke, but Pa was sure to fix it once the wind had died down a bit. We were all coughing. Luckily, Ma saved the day by giving us these little white cloths to put up to our mouths so we wouldn’t inhale too much dust. Cas is getting better, though, I can tell. Even after today, he’s not coughing so bad and he’s regaining his color. Ma made rabbit stew for supper. All that was in the stew was water and rabbit, though, so I don’t know why we call it a stew. I thought stew had vegetables in it. Oh well, it was a good meal. The whole family was happy, considering that Cas was getting better.
April 29, 1937 Cas and Ma both cried all day today. Hannah’s Pa came over and gave us the news. I let a few tears slip out of my eyes, as well. Cas didn’t only cry, he screamed. He ripped the poems he wrote for her off of the wall and sat on the floor with his head in his knees. He stayed like that all day. Pa didn’t find out until he came back from the rabbit drive, where he kept two rabbits for himself. He tried everything he could to comfort Cassy, but nothing seemed to work. I decided that in times like this, we can’t afford to love. Love makes us vulnerable, and we have to be strong.
April 30, 1937 Cas seemed to be doing better today. Ma and him talked this morning, and he seemed to feel better after that. There was still a look in his eyes, a distant look. I worried about him. Danny came over this afternoon, though. The wind wasn’t too bad. He hugged me and we played jacks for a few hours, just talking. He told me all about how he wants to take me away from this dusty ol’ place. He even wants to marry me! Now, maybe I am only 14 years old, but I still can’t help but feel excited. The only bad thing was that I remember what I said yesterday, and then I felt bad for getting so happy about marriage. I can’t get married, that’ll just make everything harder. What if Danny were to die? I couldn’t handle such a thing. I decided that I’ll think it through, we still have several years before we’re even old enough to marry. He brought me a new book, Danny did. It’s called Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. It was just published this year, I’m surprised that he got his hands on it. Danny always found new reads for me. He said that this was my birthday present. I gratefully took it.
May 2nd, 1937 Danny came over again today. The first thing he did when he walked through the door was kiss my lips and tell me happy birthday. My ma thumped him on the arm with her thimble, calling him a dolt and saying “It’s not Anna’s birthday today, you old silly! That’s tomorrow!” to which he replied “I know that. I just needed an excuse to kiss her.” Ma laughed at that and went back to her sewing. Cas kept a close eye on us all day, clearing his throat whenever Danny got too close to me. Eventually he softened, playing jacks with us. He asked Danny what he thought of me, and Danny responded with big words like beautiful and marvelous and several words that I had never heard before. He called me pulchritudinous, recherche, and fidus achates. Pulchritudinous, I found, means beautiful. Recherche means rare or exotic (I think in a good way). My favorite was fidus achates, though. It means a best friend. I was about to lean over and kiss Danny, but Cas “fell” in between us, coughing loudly. I smiled and leaned back against the wall, watching Danny pick up jacks. Maybe love is worth it, after all.
May 3rd, 1937 Pa laughed at me today when I told him that I loved Danny Marshall. He said that ain’t no 14 year old know nothing ‘bout love. Cas understood me, though. He smiled at me.
Since it’s my birthday, Ma baked me a vanilla cake. It took a lot of effort, though, considering that she didn’t have many ingredients. The cake still tasted pretty heavenly, though it was dusty. Everything was dusty. Dust was dusty. I’d grown used to it. The whole family sang happy birthday to me and we all danced, laughing and joking like the good ol’ days. I’m too tired to describe how my whole day went, so I’ll just tell you that it was nice. Real nice. The only bad part was when Cas tripped and fell, hitting his head on the table. He threw up several times after that. Ma said he probably had a concursion. Concursion? Calursion? Collusion? Concussion? Something like that. He laid up in his bed, a wide cut across his forehead. I stayed with him and held his hand until everyone fell asleep. I made sure he was okay before walking out of the room. I heard him talk in his sleep, though, and he repeatedly said things about Hannah. He sure does miss her. I wish I could bring her back. All in all, it was a pretty happy day. Cas is gonna be alright, it’ll just take a week or two for the scrape to heal up and his brain to stop acting so fuzzy. Well, I better get some shut eye. Pa’s going out on a rabbit drive tomorrow and I wanna say goodbye. You never know when you’re speaking to someone for the last time.
May 6th, 1937 For the last few days, Ma hasn’t let me talk to Cas. She said his cut is infected, and he needs to rest. Today, though, I heard a scream from the other room. I ran in, making sure that Ma and Pa were okay. Ma was holding a pale, skinny body in her arms. I didn’t think that could be Cas because you could see his ribs, and Cas was never that thin. His hair, though, gave him away. He was always so stressed out. He had a small streak of grey on the side of his head, running through his brown hair like a wave. I stared in horror and fell to my knees. My face felt wet and feverish. Cas couldn’t be dead, he always told me that we’d make it through the dust bowl alive and well. The boy in mama’s arms wasn’t alive and well, he was dead and cold. Cas couldn’t be dead and cold. It just wasn’t him. It couldn’t be. I heard a scream, but didn’t realize that it was mine until I felt Pa pulling me up by the arms. He tried to hold me close but I resisted. I yelled and cried and screamed like no spoiled two year old ever could. It wasn’t fair. Cas couldn’t die. He didn’t deserve to die! He was a good kid. He was a good, smart kid. Strong, too! I pushed my Pa away from me and fell again, right in front of my brother’s lifeless body. Hot tears slipped out of my eyes and whimpering escaped past my lips. “Oh, my boy! My beautiful boy!” Mama had been crying out repeatedly. She wouldn’t let him go, either. Who will play jacks with me now? Who will hold Ma when she’s crying? Who will tell me stories of princes and princesses when I’m having a nightmare? Who will keep this family together when it starts crumbling again? I can’t lose my fidus achates...
May 10th, 1937 I’ve done nothing but weep for the last 4 days. Everyone says a big storm is coming, the biggest one yet, but I don’t care. I don’t care about anything anymore but Danny. Even Ma and Pa are starting to bother me. They don’t talk, they just walk around the house like ghosts. I’ve had to cook for myself. They’ve both lost weight, you can easily tell. Danny came over today and held me while I sobbed into his light red shirt, making it look dark red. He brushed his fingers through my hair and told me that everything was gonna be okay. I nodded. That was Cas’s line. He was the one who always said we would be okay. I’ve come to realize, though, maybe nothing’s okay.
May 15, 1937 I’m awful scared. I’ve been hiding beneath this bed for hours with Danny! He came over this morning, just past four a.m., and said that his parents had passed. We were sorry, of course, and we welcomed him into our home. Pa went out on another jackrabbit dive, but he never came back. Mama started fretting something bad, especially when the winds picked up. She told me she’d be right back, but she never came back. Now I’m here, under this bed, hiding with Danny. We have cloths tied over our faces so we can breathe without getting so much dust in our lungs, but our eyes are still filled with fear. This is the biggest storm yet. We start to feel the wind go down so we get out from under the bed, both sobbing uncontrollably. I made him cornbread and beans for supper, but I didn’t eat a lick. I was miserable. For hours I swept inches of dust out of the house and off the porch, then I polished up my books. Even though I waited by the door for hours, Ma and Pa never came back. Danny and I stayed the night at our neighbor’s house. Lilli Sue was her name, and she was the sweetest little lady anyone could come to know.
June 21st, 1947 Well, looky here! I found my old journal! I was just going through some of my old stuff in Lilli Sue’s attic when I found this leather-bound book. I never thought I’d write in this thing again. I guess I should update it since it’s been a good ten-some years. Danny and I got married on the first day of June this year, which was Cas’s birthday. He would’ve been 27. I bet he would’ve made a fine man, too. The dust bowl has ended, leaving nothing behind but some broken hearts and broken houses. Oh, and lots of dirt. Ma, Pa, and Cas are all in a better place, I know that now. I know of Heaven and Hell and everything inbetween. The Lord’s been my guide for the last ten years have mercy on me if I forget it. Danny and I are expecting a little one soon. I was thinking of naming it Henry. Henry is the name that Mama wanted to name her baby before she passed away. Everything seems to be looking up for me and Dan. We’ve moved on from all the death and heartbreak that the dust brought. We somehow made it through and found a way to be happy again. We’ll be happy with Henry Cas Marshall. We’ll have our own little family, and we won’t ever let Henry hear of the dust bowl. He’ll grow up happy and strong, just like his Pa. Maybe he’ll find himself a little lady in a blue dress and fall in love with her.
I think of the future a lot, but I also think of the past. I can’t deny that I have many bitter memories. Today, I walked down to Cas’s grave and kissed it gently, tears slipping down my face. I still remember that day. It was mighty terrible. I’ll never forget it, no matter how hard I try. As I walked away from his grave, I turned around and smiled. Deciding that this was the last time I would visit him, I waved as if he could see me. Coming back to this grave only brought me pain and tears. I knew he was with the Lord. Jesus was walking with my big brother behind those pearly gates of Heaven. Those pearly, clear, dust-less gates. I walked away, feeling like a weight was lifted off of my chest. Goodbye, my fidus achates.