When asked about living in the Dust Bowl, most were thrilled to cooperate. Time is of the essence. As with our World War II vets, these aging sources of firsthand accounts from this fascinating era are rapidly disappearing from our world.
“He had the looks of a scruffy middle aged Sidney Poitier but his swag was all Fred Sanford, with just the right mixture of Falstaffian character qualities: robust, bawdy and brazen. He was working the night shift as the front desk clerk of a rundown motel on the seedy side of Biloxi, Mississippi. Even before releasing my right hand after the obligatory first meeting handshake, he had informed me, “The name is Marvin M. Harris. The M is for Marvelous.”
I have worked in a school district where the most-vile of racial slurs when referring to students of color was used regularly in private conversations amongst both school board members and school administrators. I have worked in a district where the right to wear a confederate flag ball cap in the school building was considered a more valued entitlement than being taught to read. I have as a professional educator been exposed to discriminatory ignorance by those entrusted with running public schools that would warm the wretched heart of the Grand Cyclops of the KKK. However, beyond any shadow cast by a Klansman’s robe, the most racist educational entity I ever worked for was a group that considered themselves a bastion of liberal political correctness and racial inclusion, Fontbonne University in St. Louis, MO.
The gutters droop, the paint peels; the windows were long ago broken out, and the playgrounds as empty as the dreams of the citizens of European ancestry- German, Irish, Italian, Czech and Pole- who abandoned years ago these once thriving and teeming ethnical neighborhoods. The life of the buildings (along with the valuable copper pipe) have been ripped out by forces and agents of change who do not understand what these neighborhoods had once bound together: the sense of community that had fostered a special and safe place to raise a family, grow old and die. A drive through the St. Louis city streets leaves me feeling as outdated as the crumbling buildings; my memories as dead as the August lawns along the empty streets, now overrun by the summer weeds of neglect.
Several people I spoke with expressed that they felt a duty, as one elderly lady in the no man’s land of the Oklahoma Panhandle told me, before she departed this earth to pass down her firsthand accounts of this horrid time. She told me she was a small girl but she would never forget the walls of dust that blew in at all times of the day and night. She said it was as if the ground had turned upside down.
Anne Pantle is as authentic as they come, a western rancher in the truest sense of the area’s 100 plus years of bedrock cowboy tradition. She is introspective and well spoken, possessing a vocabulary that reflects both a formal college education and an informal life long quest for knowledge. That she happens to be a handsomely featured female does nothing to diminish her commitment, efficiency and effectiveness in squeezing out a living in this most resistant and desolate of lands.
Pantle spends up to 8 months a year snowed in alone on her 1000 acre ranch. Here in the San Juan Mountains “get it done,” is more than a slick slogan, it is a catch phrase for survival in an inhospitable land that cares nothing of Pantle’s gender, only of her grit. A hopeless romantic with callused hands and Rocky Mountain dirt packed tight under her finger nails, Pantle is a vivid and passionate spokeswoman for her unique chosen path in life.
The 2014 conservative white male: loudly proclaiming to be neither racist nor afraid of blacks, but still, always with a solid stash of second amendment rights; just in case.
The Frontier League is a classic American backroad cross between penurious efficiency and timeless charm. The league’s structure within its mission – “it’s not about winning, it is about entertainment,” – and the somewhat slightly off-kilter characters who man the leading roles give the circuit the quaint glow that so entices those who appreciate what baseball means to the American soul.
Baseball is about the summer of our youth - Peter Pan befuddling Captain Hook and boys who never grow old. That is why the Frontier League exists. Long live the dreamers, these Boys of Perpetual Summer.
It was six long and hot days a week of chopping Mississippi cotton and one Saturday night ride to town on the back of an open flatbed truck, the men dressed in their best night on the town Tom Walker suit. It was the one time a week, Bell recalled, that a man felt like a man – his soul momentarily lightened, drawn by the allure of the local dance clubs and their dark segregated pleasures.
The city leaders of the Panhandle town of Dalhart, TX formed a “Last Man Club,” members vowing to never abandon their homesteads and businesses. Instead of cowering before or capitulating to the raging winds that had so ravaged the area, a 1934 Dalhart newspaper editorial suggested that area residents should take the initiative and “grab on to a root and growl.”
I am, I will confess, pugnacious by nature. I love to argue but I am not prone to take personal affront to the differencing political views of others, preferring at the point of personal rancor, disengagement to distemper. However, it would be a very boring world and our democratic form of government weakened, if we all thought alike. But, I found constant frustration in the conservative political bent of the majority of rural Americans.
“Although handsome in a rakish sort of way, his appearance still belied a man huddled around a camp fire over a mile and half up in the Rockies with the first blizzard of the season bearing down. He looked 40; but in reality, I was to learn, he was past 60 years of age. His dress was akin to a man just released from a gulag. Disheveled hair hung to below his shoulders, held in place by a wool stocking cap. A bushy beard framed a weathered face. His mismatched clothes were tattered and worn in layers to protect him from the cold while his mittens had the fingers cut out. His attire smelled of many camp fires while his eyes were crystal clear blue and danced as he spoke. I immediately sensed gentleness only men of immense strength possess.”
An athlete will die twice, the second being the most definitive; but the first often the most painful.
They are everywhere in this mountain town, these elite endurance athletes. Cycling and running; gaunt in frame with hollow deep set eyes, adorn in high tech and skin tight workout gear, drawn to Boulder, CO like moths to a candle flame.
This is Mecca for those who push themselves to the brink of human endurance performance. The light air at 6500 feet of elevation, by limiting oxygen intake, spawns a training advantage by squeezing every last fiber of fitness possible for the maximum exertion and exhaustion of the human body.
Excerpts from Take The High Road
Copyright © Dave Almany
“We are a nation of sad stories; we bleed historical tears soaked in cultural pathos. Most I met on the open road had a tale of personal woe they almost always were quick to share with a stranger. There are a million ways to break a heart, to kill a dream. The more street savvy and life toughened the teller, I learned, the more poignant their life’s tale of double cross. “Better to have loved and lost, my ass,” a chain smoking grave yard shift waitress at an all- night diner in Kentucky told me. “Anyone spouting that bullshit obviously never lost anyone worth squat.” I grew to respect, but also to expect that type of down to the earth truthful wisdom straight from the mouth of common folk; a refreshing tell it like it is no spin zone of reality.”
Dave Almany Books