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Chapter 6 Mom, I Do Remember (Depression Refugee Experience)

Updated on July 18, 2015
dallas93444 profile image

Dallas W Thompson was born in Bakersfield, California to "Grapes of Wrath" descendants. First born son of three siblings of a preacher

Temporary Outhouse (Toilet)

Flies, hot, no air circulation. It got the job done...
Flies, hot, no air circulation. It got the job done...
Things are looking up. Food on the table.
Things are looking up. Food on the table.
Bakersfield High School
Bakersfield High School
My mother, myself, my sister and two brothers attended this grammar school! A farmer donated the land.
My mother, myself, my sister and two brothers attended this grammar school! A farmer donated the land. | Source

My Mother's Family as Depression Refugee's Fight for Survival

Chapter 6

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:

Chapter 6

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.

Next Chapter: 7

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    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      onegoodwoman, Your "next" reminds what I told my mom when I got a divorce...

    • onegoodwoman profile image

      onegoodwoman 7 years ago from A small southern town

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      lorlie6, I appreciate and understand. Our perspectives become more focused when we are "tempered" with life's experiences. Thanks for being my friend in FaceBook!

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 7 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      I just finished re-reading "The Grapes of Wrath," dallas, and its meaning took on a whole new dimension. Reading the classics as an adult fosters such an appreciation of Steinbeck's words and imagery.

      Your mother's story has a rich texture-thanks for sharing her life here.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      ralwus - Seems we both share a common past.... People in California met "Oakies" - depression refugees at the California border with ax handles... There was a perception "Oakies" were not the same as "regular humans." Oakies were closer to animals; they lived like animals... That is why there was a separate school district where my mother attended school. It turned out better than the Bakersfield School District. Many top educators in California worked to assist the Oakie. The school grew vegetable gardens for food. The community volunteered for whatever it took...

    • profile image

      ralwus 7 years ago

      I'm reading and always forgetting this is your mother's story, but it's part and parcel of you too. We had an outhouse just like that and it seems as no amount of bad times stops the living and the making of babies. I suppose I can understand why they burned 'The Grapes of Wrath." Bless you and keep writing. CC

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      katiem2, Thanks for sharing! I have sewed a couple of buttons on a shirt...

    • katiem2 profile image

      katiem2 7 years ago from I'm outta here

      Wonderful, I don't like to sew either, tried it and never ever got the hang of it, I opt not to sew a stitch these days. I enjoyed I do remember the depression, and it seems so different than the current recession which is now over. Peace:)

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Nellieanna,Your mother sounds "precious." Their being "frugal" became their "way-of-life."

      My mother is always the "best dressed" lady on the dance floor. She dances 8 - 10 times per week... I enjoy your comments!

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 7 years ago from TEXAS

      Dallas - on rare occasions when Mother did "eat out" - or even just stop for coffee - though she preferred coffee with only milk or cream in it, she'd add sugar to her coffee just to "get her money's worth"! LOL Her favorite menu entrée was always fish which she preferred to any other delicacy - plus it was usually priced modestly.

      Talking long distance, she was quick to finish and say goodbye, hoping to stay within the minute. LOL She'd sign a greeting card on the bottom 1/8th of an inch so the recipient could just snip it off and reuse it. She was the original recycler and green person. LOL

      On and on are the funny instances of her frugality and she never overcame the habits which included the use of water, since it was also scarse in the dry semi-desert of west Texas. She caught rainwater in a barrel to use for personal shampooing since it was naturally softer, she used dishwater to water her outdoor plants (and was conservative with the soap so it didn't upset the plants) She'd say "ANYone can wash dishes with SOAP!" lol

      Like your Mom - Mother was more up-beat than anyone and when she went to her Art Club (where she served several terms as its President) or her Missionary Society or Eastern Star, she looked like a million bucks. Quality shows!! Plus she was a very talented designer who could have made Coco Chanel take up another profession. Except for one thing - fit. She never really got the "hang" of the human form, which caused me to start designing & making my own clothes when my form began to matter to me. I say she invented the sack dress before anyone ever thought of it! But hers were made exquisitely like haute couture!! LOL

      She also designed a pattern for a bib apron made from only 1/2 a yard of fabric - that's 18" x 36". It had NO scraps left over!

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Kaie Arwen, Thanks. Life is a journey. Perhaps how we deal with "challenges" determine who/what we are... My mother is up beat, positive lady. I danced with her last night and she hooted and hollered as if it was her last day to live...

      Yet, she is always the best dressed lady at Madonna's (A Resort, Mid-Coast, San Luis Obispo, California).

    • Kaie Arwen profile image

      Kaie Arwen 7 years ago

      Fantastic.............. we've come to a point where if I met your mom by chance...... I think I'd know her! Thanks for this! Kaie

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      saddlerider1, I was the "clown." We need the "rabble rousers." When I was an Assistant Principal, one of my "challenges" was student discipline. I would tell the students after they "cooled down," "normal" people do normal things and do not make a difference. The people who dare to be different, and make "waves" are the ones who make a difference. The key is to know when to "be different..." To do the same thing (talk in class) the same results happen, sent to office (high school). The key is to do something different and expect different results...

    • saddlerider1 profile image

      saddlerider1 7 years ago

      Dallas this has been an amazing journey through your penmanship and your mother's eyes. I have enjoyed it and always look forward to the next chapter. I was born in 48 and had some similar memories of flats we lived in and out houses at my aunt's cottage.

      The smell was not divine for sure and your right about the pranks us kids would do trying to turn them over.

      Grammar to High School I remember it well, but in my case I was not a great student. I was a rabble rouser in the class room and not a favorite of most teachers. However I made it through without regrets.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      MartieCoetser, Halloween was a time for the local teenagers to turn the outhouses over. It was always fun to bang on the side of the outhouse when someone was inside. Inside it sounded like an explosion. Ours did not have a "lid." "Rich people" had a toilet seat...

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 7 years ago from South Africa

      Thank you, Dallas, for this chapter of Okie-history. That outdoor house – we had one on our mini-farm, and I will NEVER-EVER forget the smell of it and my fear of falling in. My parents sold the farm when I was 10 and that was the end of my dreaded visits to such a shack. For many years now modern systems are installed on farms and mini-farms, though outdoor houses (we called them small-houses) is still the lot of the very poor living in informal settlements in houses such as the one in your picture.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Nellieanna, You are a "kindred spirit!" I hope the process of writing through your mother's eyes will be as enjoyable as my experience. I feel I know myself better having looked through my mother's eyes and shared her struggle to survive and thrive in the process. My grandmother too was "frugal." At first, it was a necessity. Then it became a habit. I would take my grandmother out to eat and tell her, "get anything you want, I am paying for it." She would still say, "Oh my goodness, that is a lot of money, look how much that is, or, I cannot get that, it is too expensive."

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 7 years ago from TEXAS

      I'd agree with World-Traveler, Dallas. Your heritage, personal and vicarious experience and extraordinary ability to spin a great tale (and if your Mom could accompany you, that would be all the better! - Her own personal story is so wonderful!!)

      You're inspiring me to get started really writing my parents' extraordinary story too. Mother was writing hers and I think I have some of her notes in my keepsakes. She was so conditioned by the Depression, though, she wouldn't write on "new" paper. She jotted the notes into expired complimentary journals such as utility companies give at Christmas to clients, or on insides of opened up envelopes and clear areas from old ads and other publications. So it's a mish-mash challenge. But I'm sure it's worth the effort. Dad wrote well and was well-organized but he really didn't venture into writing per se.

      Anyway - I loved this segment - could really relate to it. I was 9 in 1941 when she was 13. I rated this UP, awesome & beautiful!! Give her a hug from a distant kindred spirit in Dallas, Texas!

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      It is a possibility. As you probably know I was an educator. The students changed my life - for the better! Tell me more about the process...

    • World-Traveler profile image

      World-Traveler 7 years ago from USA

      I would hope that you would consider lecturing online about your extensive experiences. Your presentations could be made available to colleges and universities throughout the United States and other countries. The information you have to provide would be of special interest to students majoring in social issues and American history. That is something to think about.


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