“Use it up, wear it out.. Make it do, or do without”.
(Proverb from the Great Depression)
Two events in my life propelled the writing of the historical fiction novel, Dust Between the Stitches. At times, it seems as though my whole life had prepared me to create the plight of the people of the Dust Bowl of the 130’s.
When my mother died in 1988, she left very little earthly goods behind. In a hall closet, we found a bag of fabric from feed bags and flour sacks that were cut into 12 inch squares and firmly ironed. On many of these muslin pieces, a transfer of a bird and flower inked blue lines. All 48 states were represented. I started to embroider the state flower/birds to complete the quilt. Significantly, I developed a curiosity about the quilting practices of the Great Depression and began an obsessive collection of quilts from that era. Several years ago, my granddaughter helped to finish this abbreviated version of the State Bird and Flower Quilt of the 1930’s.
The Bird and Flower Quilt created from feed sacks.
In an old trunk, a stash of diaries from my mother’s marriage lay under white linens with deep tatting on the edges. Married in June of 1930, my father and mother began their wedded bliss just as the drought hit the West and Great Plains. My father owned a dragline, and was able to find work as he dug irrigation ditches and spud cellars in Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas. Twenty-three different addresses in five years, then they settled in Greeley, Colorado, with my kindergarten aged brother. Reading these diaries, letters from folks back in Iowa, and some newspaper articles brought the heart ache, insecurities and fear of the Dust Bowl into reality.
From the quilt and my mother’s writings, more research from Ken Burn’s series on the Dust Bowl and stacks of books on the Great Depression opened my mind and heart to a time when the world appeared to hold no hope. For the past seven years, I have given presentations at libraries and senior groups about the Dust Bowl, bringing in artifacts from the period.
As a retired teacher, the children who lived in Colorado during the time of Black Blizzards and deprivation intrigued me. Using stories from personal accounts of the time, I created Addy Meyers as the first year teacher in a one room school house near Greeley, Colorado. She faces the Board of Education as they assess her teaching skills. The eighth grade boys challenge her authority. The dust storms bring her to the reality of dust pneumonia and poverty. The teacher in this book becomes a student of a unique period of time.
Foreclosure of grandpa’s homestead threatens the security of Addy, grandpa and the two orphan children that Addy’s grandparents adopted. Jess Dettmann is a single man who helps them keep their wits and possibly the homestead. The homeless people who occupy the Hooverville nearby are introduced to Addy by Jess. Her compassionate heart reaches out to these resourceful families who have lost everything.
Creating a quilt from her Grandmother’s stash pile serves as a way for Addy to cope. Despair, dust and drought weave through the Great Depression and Dust Bowl producing a fabric on which vivid threads of hope will appear. Will Addy save the farm, her job and her heart on the Colorado ranch?
This novel presents the proverb: “Use it up, wear it out. Make it do, or do without.” Throughout the book, the characters learn how to utilize all of the resources around them to survive. Nothing is wasted. All is appreciated. Recycling is at a maximum. The message to the present day reader is a challenge to be creative in living frugally while surrounded by an abundance of resources. The lessons from the Dust Bowl are still relevant today.
While teaching behavior disordered/emotionally disturbed students in a Chicago suburb, I discovered that historical fiction is an excellent way to learn about the issues and people of a time period. To help students write a book report on Dust Between the Stitches, an aid has been created. The insights help junior high and high school readers to understand the dust bowl’s uniqueness in the Great Depression, and to write an organized and thoughtful book report.
To connect with Cleo, go to www.cleolampos.com. She can also be found on FB: Author Cleo Lampos or Quilters: Mind, Heart and Soul.
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