Beyond the Grapes of Wrath

I never really made the connection as a kid hearing my family joke about Rose A'Sharon and putting your grandmother in her rocking chair on top of the car when loading up to go on a camping trip. Okies from Muskogee, Hank Williams Sr, "The Grapes of Wrath," biscuits and gravy, ham hocks and lima beans, and my favorite... pinto beans and corn bread.

Only until I grew up and moved away did it all fall into place. My maternal grandmother told me stories of picking cotton at age 5, being told there was no reason to go to high school as she was "just a migrant". These types of stories came from both sides of my family, some wanted to talk more than others. 

Watching Ken Burn's "The Dust Bowl" documentary a few years ago I found myself severely disappointed by most of it... I recognized the same photos of the migrant mother, the man and his child fleeing a storm toward their shack patched with tar paper, video clips from the Prelinger Archives. Same old stuff used and recycled. 

The only part that caught my attention was the interviews with the now elderly survivors of that time who had been young children, their manners and accents sounded like my family. I couldn't get enough, I wanted to hear more.

The photo is of my grandmother Mildred and her sister Polly in 1929. My father has the original photo, it scared me as a kid. I couldn't connect that photo with the sweet Grandma Garrison who cared for everyone and bought me my first cowboy boots when I was little. I asked her about those times a few years before she passed away and it was not something she wanted to talk about.

I was rewatching "The Grapes of Wrath" when I was still in school, I noticed a shift in the scene where the Joad family rolls into the migrant camp a few miles outside the city limits. In a medium shot, you see them pull into the camp... car sputtering and clanking, it's a regular '40s movies. At 00:14 as they drive through the camp - it changes to their point of view, it looks like documentary shot by Dorothea Lange. I had never noticed it until then; it is startling and brief.