This week’s narrative is the first of three parts, the second of which will appear here next Tuesday. The conclusion to “Memorial Day Weekend 1933” will be a guest post on Christi Craig’s blog on May 25. Flash Narratives are a way to share my current work in progress, a book based on the Great Plains diaries of my great-aunt Hattie, which she kept from 1920-1957. For more background information on the project, go here.
Hattie sits up in bed on the morning of Monday, May 29, 1933 and looks out her window. Although the sun has not yet fully made its way over the horizon and their large red barn with its white block letters, HIDDEN TIMBER RANCH, is still grey in the veiled pre-dawn, she can already see that it will be a cloudless day. She makes a mental note–“nice, bright”—then adds, as her feet hit the cold wood floor and the morning air rushes under her nightgown, “but not so warm.” June is only two days away, but it still feels like March. This is good news. She is hoping to finish putting up pork from a hog butchered the previous week, and the cool temperatures mean she can work more efficiently, with a fire in the cook-stove to can meat while using the oil-stove to fry meat at same time. The heat from the two stoves will feel good in the kitchen of their large, two-story, white farmhouse. She is reminded more days than not of her fifty-one years. Her joints often ache in the morning, especially when the weather is damp and cold, as it has been recently.
She buttons up her everyday dress, pleased with how the black dye has salvaged the faded and stained blue muslin for another year’s wear. As she tucks unruly strands of thick, graying hair back into her plaited bun and uses her fine comb to smooth down the top, she thinks back to the previous week. Oh, my! What a difference a week can make! Last Monday at this time she was awakened by a strong south wind, which later in the day turned into a real dust storm. This storm wasn’t as dark as the one on January 6th, when an awful dust-storm from the northwest covered the sun at mid-day, or on January 18th, when a real strong southwest wind and dust-storm was so thick, it got hazy, and she couldn’t see far. In those storms she could not even do her washing because the clothes would be dirtier after they were hung up to dry than before they were washed.
What last week’s dust storm lacked in darkness, however, it made up for in damage. The wind wrecked the shed and the west foundation of the coop, tore shingles off the house, and broke a storm-window. In spite of it all, she managed to collect and sack some corn cobs to use for heating and to gather lambs-quarters for supper. When the wind was too strong for her to go outside, she worked in the kitchen and mended stockings, so no days were lost in terms of work. Will had business to tend to in Valentine, Nebraska, so he had set out in a rain storm—“oh! the wind blew all day, cloudy, cold” she wrote—only to crack on axle on their 1930 Ford Model A, which broke down with surprising frequency. He walked back to the house and returned with a team and wagon to pull the car to a nearby neighbor’s place. Will then caught a ride into Valentine with the mailman and stayed in town overnight.
Harriet gets lonely whenever Will is gone, but looking forward to the Memorial Day celebration helps to make her day go by quickly. As she will write in 1957, the year before her death, “This a holiday for the departed who gave their lives for our country, and now we respect all the dead.”
That day, however, is far in the future, and on this nice, bright morning in 1933, she works and remembers and waits.