Friday 5 August 2011

The Dust Bowl Trip

Dressed in short pants, a dress shirt and a cap, a little boy climbed into his father's shiny new 1936 Chrysler along with his mother and his grandmother.  Born and raised in Toronto, he was excited about leaving the metropolis and heading out west to visit his relatives.  It would be interesting to sit in a car that was actually moving, rather than pretending to move, like when he "drove" the old Model T that sat abandoned on his uncle's farm in Kirkton each summer.  The heat had peaked that summer in North America and Canada was no exception.  Meteorologists were announcing record temperatures everywhere.  The trip through Ontario seemed uneventful, but that would not last long.

The maroon-coloured Chrysler crossed the American border at Port Huron and stopped in Grand Rapids where the little boy got out, stretched his legs, and said hello to his American cousins for the first time.  After a pleasant stay, he and his family headed to the ferry to cross Lake Michigan.  A worker took the boy's father's keys to the Chrysler and headed up the ferry ramp to park it.  To the little boy's horror, the worker failed to manoeuvre the sleek automobile around a post below deck and smashed the bumper.  Forced to postpone their trip while they waited for the car to be repaired, the family was stuck in Grand Rapids. 

Within a week, with the Chrysler as good as new, the little boy watched his father guide the family automobile back on to the highway.  The family crossed the Canadian border a second time and then headed due west.  Once they reached the Prairies, the little boy could not believe the heat.  Water was hard to come by so his mother tried to get him to eat oranges but he hated oranges.  Finally, she convinced her son to drink some skim milk instead. 

Progress was slow:  the vehicle only went 40 miles per hour at top speed.  There were nothing but plains as far as the eye could see.  Furthermore, every so many miles, the father had to pull over at a garage and have the car serviced:  hundreds of grasshoppers from the fields kept getting trapped in the automobile's radiator and had to be removed.  The little boy's mother, city-bred and not used to roughing it, was growing quite upset by the plagues of locusts.  His grandmother, however, remained calm and unfazed, having grown up on a farm herself.  The grasshoppers were so powerful that they stopped not only cars, but also trains when they covered the railroad tracks.  And worst of all, they ate the farmers' crops.  At one point, the lad noticed a strong stench which grew stronger the further they progressed.  Sure enough, after about 25 miles, the Tufts' reached a small lake that had dried up and the dead fish were rotting in its bottom.  The little boy from Toronto thought that they would never make it to their destination. 

Their dust-covered automobile was like the little engine that could as it headed into the foothills of Alberta.  Finally, they reached their relatives' house, their journey complete.  Handshakes were exchanged and introductions were made.  Then the father carried the trunk and the little boy lugged his suitcase through the dirt to the front door.  Relieved to be out from under the relentless summer sun, the families prayed and shared a meal together.  For the three-year-old boy, it was a trip he would not soon forget.

(Dedicated to my Dad, Norman Ross Tufts.)

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