Occasionally, a story occurs in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles that becomes a national story.
Such was the case about eight decades ago when the dust blew … and blew … and blew. It was the Dust Bowl. Livelihoods were lost. Indeed, so were lives. One man, a native of the Pacific Northwest — a region with no shortage of rain — has chronicled those very hard times in a book, which was published six years ago.
Timothy Egan is the prize-winning author of “The Worst Hard Time.” Tonight his interview with host Ellen Robertson Green — to be broadcast on KACV-TV at 8 p.m. — tells the story of that frightening era. And Egan hopes to answer a question that has been on the minds of generations of Panhandle residents ever since the dust blew in the mid-1930s: “Why did they stay?”
“They” are the Panhandle residents who survived the ghastly experience of watching black clouds of dust roll in across the vast horizon. It destroyed homes and, yes, the lives of the young and the old, those whose lungs couldn’t withstand the terrible onslaught of dust.
Egan tells Green of a meeting he had in the southeast Colorado town of Springfield with residents of a community that resembles many small towns throughout the High Plains. “Why not tell the story before these people disappear?” Egan tells Green he asked of himself. And so he set out “foraging” for information from those who lived through those times.
Egan says many of the Dust Bowl survivors are much like those who returned from World War II. They didn’t talk much about their experiences, he said. “Their stories were too far removed from our comfortable life,” he said, indicating that the Dust Bowl horror somehow was difficult to believe.
Not everyone powered through the Dust Bowl and stayed. Some fled the region. But those who remained have shared their tragedy with the nation and the world.
Timothy Egan tells their story in a one-hour interview airing tonight. If you want to see and hear more of Egan’s interview, you can see an additional 15 minutes of the televised conversation on the website kacv.org.
“The Worst Hard Time” tells a horrifying story. Those who stayed have proven that even these great horrors can produce happy endings.