Yes Mom, I Do Remember
My mother was seven when she arrived at Weedpatch, California. It was immortalized by John Steinbeck in his 1939 novel “Grapes of Wrath.” Like many other Dust Bowlers who have revived the once-derogatory word “Okie” as a term of endearment and source of pride, she can vividly summon the chapters of her own life. A life of no food, money and desperate for shelter of hot summer nights cooled only by bed sheets soaked with a hose and then draped over the tent.
John wrote what some critics still call the best American novel ever researched at our camp, and focusing the attention of the world on the plight of the migrants. He was awarded both the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prizes for his effort.
Then, in 1939, Leo B. Hart conceived and developed the “Arvin Federal Emergency School,” better known as the “Weedpatch School.” The Arvin Federal an innovative school for Okie children known locally as the Weedpatch School, was created because of public resistance to educating migrants’ children. Built primarily with donations of both labor and materials. A great deal of it from the children of the camp and their parents. This was a unique achievement in educational history, never to be repeated anywhere.
Discrimination was rampant. Although “Grapes of Wrath” is now required reading in California schools, in 1939 it was burned in downtown Bakersfield.
Thus the “Weedpatch Camp,” and the area around it, became the focus of the greatest internal migration ever known in this country. Not unlike Plymouth Rock or Williamsburg, it deserves to be preserved and honored as: a symbol of man’s search for a better life, as it remains to this day.
I am writing this as if my mother is the author. This is my mother’s voice. It is in her own words. Her mother is my grandmother. My name is Dallas Thompson, her first-born son. My mother’s name is Glenda. She is 86 years young as of 2014.
My mother’s, (Glenda’s) voice
We are living in tents in Midland Texas in 1928 where I was born December 21, 1928. Esther is six years old and can’t go to school in Texas or Arkansas until she is seven and is not very happy about it.
We leave Texas in an old truck with our belongings packed in tubs. The road is gravel all the way to Mulberry Arkansas. We are going there to live with Grandpa Rucks and Aunt Jane. Mom and Pop have been going back and forth from Grandpa’s to Texas almost all of their married life. It takes us three days to get there. I am told that 25 miles per hour was top speed.
My sister Esther and brother Edward go to school at Pleasant Hill in Mulberry, Arkansas.
Mom decides it is time to move out of Grandpa’s house and we move to Bowlegs, Arkansas. This is where I leave my sister’s Esther Mae Rucks Rose’s story and begin my journey from Bowlegs, Arkansas to Arroyo Grande, California.
My Mom says I can’t remember carrying shingles up a hill behind my sisters, Esther and Evalee thinking, I’m as big as everybody else. I’m going to help my Dad and all these other people build this house. I felt very important and grown up.
The house was to have a real wooden floor with split wooden logs for walls. I am helping carry shingles so that we will have a roof over us to keep the weather out.
The neighbors have come out of the hills from everywhere to help raise the wall and have dinner on the ground. And me? I’m thinking, “wow, what a feast, manna from heaven.” The men have sawed tree stumps to be used as chairs. Most of the people back in the hills made their tables, benches and chairs. My Dad and Mom had even made Edward a wagon, wheels and all.
When you have been living (surviving) on what we called watered down gravy and whipper-will peas, having a pig sty (pig pen) for a shelter, it makes an impression on a three year old.
I think back and I thank God it is now just a memory. “Yes, Mom I do remember.”
After living in Bowlegs for a while, Mom and Pop have decided to move up to Three Rocks in the Ozarks where there is better farm land. We put all our possessions in a wagon and started out over this rocky road to Three Rock. I was told it was twenty-three miles, but it took all of a long day.
Pop, Ed and Esther had the chore of planting corn, strawberries, and peanuts. My Dad would get a bucket lid and punch holes in it to grate the corn so that we could have cornmeal for cornbread. Esther would set the table and give my Dad the only plate we had, the rest of us would use bucket lids or pie pans. She and Ed would have to take turns shooing the flies out before we could eat and they seem to have several disagreements whose turn it was. I don’t think I knew there was such a thing as a screen door.
Esther remembers this house very well. We were all asleep one night and she wakes us all up and says, “Something is on my bed.” My Dad thinks she is just imagining things and tries to make her go back to bed, but she convinces him something was on her bed, so he gets up to investigate and sees a snake going out through the door. It had fallen from the attic on to her bed. I think, well at least it is not like the rat we found in the molasses and when the rats built a nest in your guitar, Mom…
See pictures and ‘The Rest of the Story’ in eBook!
A story of not only surviving, but thriving, building on each experience in my mother’s process of living each day in survival mode to becoming one of the happiest person dancing at the resort Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo, California. She has made two hole-in-ones playing golf and dances at least 4 times a week when she is not singing karaoke.
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My Mom and Lester White Prior to Madonna Inn (San Luis Obispo, Ca) Halloween Party!
1946 Downtown Bakersfield
Mom is wearing her sister’s coat and dad has no socks…
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