The overbearing afternoon sun glared down at the workers, the dust in the air like a blanket trapping the workers with the heat, one drained soul next to another, hands in search for cotton. There were many families because the land owners were greedy and because they needed to keep up with farms using machines owned by the bank. Crowded workers. Less pay. More profit.
Every now and then heads lifted; young men, growing children, fathers and brothers and uncles, travelers, natives here from the beginning and the smiling land owner, but they did not stop working. The cry of warn out engines with quarter full tanks in rusted metal and well worn seats, piled high with families who haven't worked in months could be heard by the farmers. Buick, Dodge, Plymouth, desperate faces from the most desperate of times. Chandler, Ford, Pontiac, a wave crashing into an already flooded pool warrants disaster. Sprouting on the faces was fear, anger. The men knew what was coming; they had heard it before in camps.
The family who had always had a job feared they would lose their job for the Okies were assailing. Words passed between the families and the leading men, the thinking men. We can’t let these Okies take our jobs.
And for less pay.
Yes, much less pay.
We have this family to feed here and those Okies barge in. What'll we do? They would think to themselves and sometimes aloud. They would think; Okies have family too ya know. But this is no way for us to live- everyone knew. The locals had nice homes and a nice porch facing the setting sun. A radio against the wall and a tub in the next room for clothes and children after kneeling in dust chocked fields. They feared they will not have those things after weeks with only twelve cents a bag.
When no more cotton could be found, the men came out of the fields with bags of cotton slung over aching shoulders, children following, leaving a layer of dust to settle on the still crops behind them, they knew it wasn't enough. The wind gently returned to its post and the crops returned to their gentle swaying and the dust returned to the air. Under the darkening sky with the sun retreating behind the road and the thick clouds creeping above, promising rain, the long lines of workers, turning in their cotton, carved the earth like rivers. Seven cents they heard from the land owner. Seven cents for this? Seven cents for the local people who worked when the crops were barely above the soil. Take it or leave it. Plenty’ll take it- they're desperate. It’s happening- the Okies are gonna run us out. None thought for the people who had this job first, led straight here by the yellow brick road they were.
Pa nodded to the eldest son who gathered the three children fiddling with their dusty overalls. Granpa stood up from his thought and nudged Uncle, staring at the total of two dollars and ten cents cents in his palm. Together they spoke of the hunger the Okies had and of the fear and anger they felt towards them. The family got in their car, kids in the back with their brother driving and Pa and Granpa in the front, Uncle in the back to watch the fidgety kids.
To the dooryard, the car slowed to a stop. Dust kicking up being them like horses running on a dirt track now mixing with the breathable air. Small rodents fled from the bush, the stray cat sat heavily on the ground after losing a meal. The gentle breeze turned to less gentle wind and the wind turned to rough gusts of air. Dust rose from the ground as if it were water being evaporated and the air felt more humid as the clouds darkened, widened, swelled. Doors opened and closed with the owners stepping out, clods straining under the shoes. The children ran to the open door not from excitement- to escape the dust’s grasp. Women preparing the food looked to see the men’s faces. Then they knew there might be trouble. Dinner was eaten in a hurry, dishes cleaned dried and returned to their spot next to the sink. Next to the window a layer of dust settled on the cloth stuffed between the glass and wood.
They knew of the talk that night. The one the president would give about current conditions and offer reassurances. The kitchen was left vacant while they made their way to the sitting room empty except for the radio against the wall and the dirt crusted window. They listened as the familiar voice fill the room with understanding about jobs and pay. Understanding about farms and dust, of migrants and depression. They listened because of the fear they needed to stifle, because of the panic and worry and stress, because they searched for hope that the country wasn't doomed and this was a matter deserving a solution.
Outside the rain was not gentle but hammered the ground and tore away what little grass was left with the mud into a ditch. There the water multiplied until the small ditch was not large enough for the growing pool, overflowing until the water is forced to move. It moved in unity towards the back of the house, following the path the water ahead makes because there is strength in numbers. It traveled like a small river and headed for the trees. Small animals have made their homes here but now their tunnels in the earth are flooded and the ground is spoiled with rain. The gophers and the ants and other insects fear the rushing water and are forced to either move away or to push back against the river.