Voices of the young

Watching the PBS documentary “The Dust Bowl,” which premiered over the weekend on KACV-TV, one must be struck by many thoughts, even some emotions.

My prevailing thought has been this: The people telling the story of the horror they endured while living along the High Plains in the 1930s are old now, but they were young when they lived through it. They are telling this story through a young person’s eyes.

They told of the loss of friends and siblings to something called “dust pneumonia,” a disease driven by the choking dust that filled the lungs of Texas Panhandle inhabitants. They told stories of what they saw, how they felt and the sense of loss they feel to this very day.

The Dust Bowl — with its unofficial epicenter in Boise City, Okla. — has been called the greatest manmade ecological disaster in U.S. history, and likely in the top five such disasters in all of human history.

The documentary, assembled by famed filmmaker Ken Burns, tells a story many of our older friends and kinfolk can remember. Even as they grow older, their memories of that era remain indelible.

Were these not the toughest individuals on Earth? When it lasted six months, they thought, “It’ll be over in a year.” Then a year passed. “We’ll get through to the next year and after that, we’ll be all right,” they said. Five years went by. They stayed true to their faith that a better day was just around the corner.

The Dust Bowl lasted nearly a decade, decimating the land and battering the spirits of the people who worked it.

And some of those once-young folks are telling a gripping story now.

The “Dust Bowl” series will air Sunday and Monday at 7 p.m. and will be featured online at kacv.org. Take a look if you haven’t seen it already. And think of what it must have been like to come of age in that dark, desolate time.


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