It was the time of dust.
We’d gone out West when I was three. Irene was six, and Little Joe wasn’t quite born yet.
While Mom and Pop were out plowin’, Irene told me stories about Boston. I couldn’t remember it, but she said it was a dark, dirty city, all tall buildings and noise and everybody crammed together. You couldn’t see a thing; even the horses had blinders on.
This was a better place. We could breathe and see the big blue sky, and make somethin’ of ourselves.
Once, Irene took me and Little Joe down to the train depot to watch the circus unload. The strong man hoisted the big crates onto the wagon, which was pulled by a zebra. Maybe it was just a white horse striped with shoe-black. The pretty lady who could fit inside a suitcase smiled at Little Joe and blew me a kiss. She winked at Irene and told her to “Come see about the circus in a coupla years; you’d be such a sweetheart under the lights.”
When the pretty lady walked away, a pink ribbon slipped from her hair and Irene snatched it up and hid it in her pocket. She never let me or Little Joe look at it, but once I sneaked it out and it was just like silk.
When the winds started comin’, we thought they’d stop, but the devil dust just kept blowin’. It got in our teeth, eyes, everything. It piled up in rusty red drifts against the house. We had to climb out the window to go to church.
We were all coughin’ and Irene had it worst. At night, she’d cough and cough. Mom and Pop couldn’t work the land; all the crops were dyin’. It was hard times. We were all hungry. All we had was cornmeal and hope.
The Red Cross came through with masks, but it was too late for Little Joe and too late for Irene.
I still got that pink ribbon.
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5: hoarse, grating