Chapter 6 Mom, I Do Remember (Depression Refugee Experience)
Temporary Outhouse (Toilet)
My Mother's Family as Depression Refugee's Fight for Survival
The "Weedpatch Camp" holds a unique place in history, not because of demographics or economics, but because of the highly unlikely and never to be repeated fact of three men reaching beyond themselves to the absolute peak of their humanity in Weedpatch, California, during one five-year period.
Tom Collins not only originated the tenant run, democratic self-government within the camps, but he recorded it in camp reports that are absolute treasures to history and sociology researchers (and, at least one instance, to novelists).
John Steinbeck 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" in those days. The Arvin Federal Emergency School, 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.
This is my Mother's Story:
Yes Mom, I Do Remember
My Mother's Family as Depression Refugee's Fight for Survival
Boys have now become an interesting item and sometimes we like them and sometimes we don't. I am in the eighth grade and chosen to be the Valedictorian and a boy that is much shorter than I am is chosen to be Salutatorian, I can't stand him because he calls me Red all the time and eventually I get him down and hold him down. He becomes my friend.
I love sports, especially baseball, and have been voted as Captain of the team and chosen to be the Pitcher, my favorite position. I have been earning my lunches by working in the school cafeteria. At this point of my life everything looks rosy and I don't have a worry in the world, I have shoes on my feet, clothes on my back, clean underwear (that was important) food in my tummy and friends all around me. I loved school and only missed days when I had the mumps and measles in the fourth grade.
I persuaded Mom to let me go back to school too early and the teacher sent me home and it broke my heart. The sewing class was the only class I didn't like, I would not bring any material to class, it was such a hassle to get Mom to buy material, with our limited amount of resources. The sewing teacher finally gave up, and let me do extra math instead, to my great relief.
The summer of 1941 was a great summer. I had just graduated from the eighth grade with honors and ready to go on to greater adventures. The adventures were slowed down a little with all the chores we had to do. Mom was working at Di Georgio Farms, so we had to take care of the white leghorns (they were the craziest chickens in the world). That is one thing my Dad and I had in common, we hated those old white leghorns We had to feed them, gather about six dozen eggs and wash, clean, weigh and take them to the grocery store to help pay the grocery bill. We had to keep their wings clipped to keep them from what we called climb flying over the fence. We had to hoe and water the garden keep up with the yard work, do the washing, ironing, cooking, and the other house cleaning chores and taking care of the twins, and then we could go do some wild adventures we were thinking about and getting a whipping for.
My Cousin, Norma Jeffers, lived about two blocks away and had a bicycle. Norma, Evalee and I would all get on the bicycle and away we went to the "Swimming hole, It was a well-known place that was just below a weir and become known as "The Combs Weir Swimming Hole." It was the swimming hole we had gone to when first coming to Weedpatch. People were doing better now all the tents were gone that used to camp along the canals. For some unknown reason I always did the pedaling, Norma on the handlebars and Evalee on the back. We pedaled down country roads, across vacant lots and fields that must have had a foot of sand; by the time we got there, I was ready for a swim and a nice big watermelon from the watermelon patch by the canal. We made many new friends that summer, the fellows called me Blue, because I had on a blue bathing suit and wouldn’t tell them my name. I sure liked Blue better than Red. (I wouldn't even wear red).
Everyone is getting excited about school starting September of 1941.
I have become a teen-ager plus going to start ninth grade, my first year of high school. During the summer we had told the foreman of the Lamont grape packing shed I was fourteen years old and somehow it worked and we got to pack grapes for a couple of weeks before I was found out and fired. I did make enough money for Mom to get material to make some dresses for school and was very proud of the fact. Mom would always give us twenty-five cents on the weekend from the money we made. We could go to Lamont (about five miles away to a small rural community with stores) and spend it if we got all the chores done. We picked cotton every weekend after starting school until it was all picked sometimes in January or February to pay for our school lunches and supplies.
We had a completely new world to face in high school; there were about four thousand kids in high school and junior college on the same campus compared to around four hundred in grammar school. There always forty to fifty and a few times sixty people in our grammar school classes and our school was among the top three with the best grade average in the county.
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