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Angry Raisins

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    John Steinbeck wrote his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath, in 1939. The story centers around a family who left their farm in Oklahoma during the dust bowl days and headed for a land of false promises in California.

    Urban legend has it that when the book was translated into Japanese, the title was altered to The Wrath of Grapes, and then further mistranslated. Several versions of this legend exist, the oldest of which claims that Steinbeck’s widow, Elaine, traveled to Japan in 1989 and, not understanding Japanese writing, asked a bookstore owner if he had any books by “her favorite author.” The bookstore owner replied that he had one, The Angry Raisins.

    The Grapes of Wrath describes the plight of many Oklahoman farm families who were unable to grow crops during the dust bowl days, and lost their farms to the banks. Meanwhile, handbills describing the abundance of job opportunities in sunny California were being circulated throughout the hardest hit areas of the dust bowl. This caused a mass exodus of migrant farmers to California who arrive only to learn that there are 20,000 migrants, rudely nicknamed “Okies” or “Arkies,” living in migrant camps with no jobs.

    With the advent of gasoline powered tractors and the increased demand for wheat, farmers began stripping acres of grassy land that were actually unfit for farmland, and left them bare when not growing crops. 1931 became a record year for wheat production and profits. But with a lack of experience in soil conservation and irrigation, the region soon became a candidate for natural and man-made disaster. And along with the shortage of rainfall in the thirties came that disaster.

    The dust bowl lasted for approximately eight years, 1933 to 1940, although some date its beginning back to 1931. It was marked by drought, excessively hot summers, and dust storms. In 1934 the heavy dust storms began.

    Wednesday, May 9, 1934. A huge cloud of thick dust described as 1,500 miles long, 900 miles wide and two miles high spread across the region. The dust storm lasted for an estimated 36 hours before subsiding. More severe dust storms were to follow that year.

    Even with windows sealed, dust would blow through the cracks and thick layers of dust would cover the floors and the furniture. Sand dunes covered houses and farm equipment. Grit damaged automobile engines while the fierce wind-blown sand blasted the paint off their exteriors. Photographs of the region show haunting pictures of barns, fences and tractors partially buried in the middle of miles of desert sand. Where millions of yellow fields of wheat once covered the landscape, there was nothing but dry, lifeless sand and dust for miles, as far as the eye could see.

    Sunday morning, April 14, 1935 started out like any other spring day. The temperature was mild, the sky was clear and sunny. In the afternoon a black cloud of dust swept over the dust bowl at a speed of 60 miles per hour, turning the region into total darkness for 40 minutes, and near darkness for hours to follow. Witnesses reported that they could not see more that five feet away from them because of the thick dust.
    In addition to the oppressive heat waves, shortage of rain, loss of seed and erosion of soil from the dust storms, another problem arose: plagues of grasshoppers arrived in 1935, devastating most of the wheat grain and corn the farmers were able to grow. Trees were stripped of their foliage.

    Eventually one fourth of the farmers in the dust bowl region packed up whatever they could into their trucks and took their families out west, abandoning their farmlands. Some lost their farms due to foreclosures or tax sales. Others simply walked away from their farms. 2.5 million people had left their farms. There were promises of a better life out west. Cotton fields in Arizona. Vineyards in California.

    They arrived in California, only to find that jobs were scarce, and the pay was low. They were forced to live in migrant worker camps, in shacks made from scraps of building materials, with dirt floors and no plumbing. These camps were often alongside contaminated irrigation ditches. Diseases were rampant. Gangs of vigilantes often invaded the camps, assaulting the migrants and setting shacks on fire.

    The rains returned in the fall of 1939, and with them came better agricultural and soil conservation practices, such as irrigation, crop rotation, cover crops and contour farming. Those farmers who remained were taught to diversify between agriculture and pastures upon which livestock could graze. They learned that overproduction of wheat, instead of raising their income, actually lowered the price of their crops, causing the farmers to lose money.

    By 1941 the dust storms had ceased. Rainfall was back to normal.

    Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16, NASB)
    Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23-24, NASB)
    Last edited by Faber; 10-27-2020, 01:47 PM.
    When I Survey....

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