I love to write about the Old West, about cowboys and ranchers and the exciting lives they led. Researching my stories gives me pleasure. Reading the historical romances of my friends brings me relaxation and satisfaction. They are a mental vacation from today’s stress.
But what was it really like to live in the Old West?
My work in progress features three adults and three children in an 1888 Texas dust storm. Any of you who have ever lived in the Southwest know how dreadful a dust storm can be. Not sand, but fine dust that seeps in through the tightest windows and doors.
Except for six years in California as a child, I grew up in West Texas. We had some doozy sand storms that would sting your skin if you happened to be outside. And this was in prehistoric times when girls could not wear jeans to school and we had to walk home with sand stinging our bare legs. Ugh, those were NOT the good old days. We also occasionally had a bad dust storm.
|Dust storm at Midland TX|
The first one I remember was when I had just turned eight. We had just moved back to Texas from Bakersfield and the dust started blowing in the afternoon. Because I was asthmatic, my mom wet sheets and hung them at the windows of my room. She didn’t bother to do the same in her and Daddy’s bedroom. The next morning when they woke, my mom started laughing at my dad. Fine gray dust covered his face, like grayish-brown talcum. When he raised his head, she could see the outline of where he’d lain. He asked her why she was laughing and she told him he looked as if he had on some kind of stage make up. He told her to go look in the mirror. She was shocked to see she looked the same and her brown hair was beige. I still remember the surprise of seeing their outline on the pillows before I was banished back to my room.
About ten years ago, my husband and I were visiting his mom in
Lubbock, where she lived in a beautiful, new assisted living complex. The sky
grew dark and we thought we were in for a thunderstorm. No, it was roiling clouds of black dust
from who knows where? The dirt around Lubbock is reddish-brown and further west
the soil is tan. This was black and fine, like tons of obsidian talcum powder smothering
us. Her apartment had double-paned windows in metal frames. That storm must have sucked all the oxygen from the air, because I started choking up. I don’t have many asthma attacks now that I’m an
adult and know what to avoid, but I had a severe attack then.
We had to cut our visit short and hurry out of town or go to the emergency room. We left.
|Dugout in Indian Territory|
Oklahoma Historical Society
In my current story, THE MOST UNSUITABLE COURTSHIP (to be released in October), the adults are as uncomfortable as you would expect of anyone caught in a dust storm on the prairie. But two of the children have asthma, one severely. This made me wonder about pioneers like those above from my step-grandmother's family. My husband and I have taken turns sitting up nights with our asthmatic children (or sitting with one child when they were both ill at the same time), we learned to give respiratory therapy to them, and we monitored their diets, shots, and medicines. With all that, we still felt helpless when they were sick.
How horrible it must have been to have a child gasping for breath with no help in sight. No emergency room, steroids, or modern medicines. No wonder so many children died in infancy.
I love to write and read about the Old West. I'm glad I missed out on the real Dust Bowl. I give thanks that I live in the New West.