Golden Rollin' Okies

by Calendar Hacksaw

Last month, one of the Fence Post's other hacks attempted to sully ol' Calendar's reputation by making it known that I'm not really from Oklahoma; implying that I'm nothin' more than a phony and an imposter trying to climb the Walker Basin social ladder. Nothing could be closer to the truth.

But as true as this might be, I feel an obligation to state in my own defense that I do indeed come from some of the Sooner state's finest brood stock, and take greater pride in my heritage than I do in my truck.

Toward that end, and in an effort to dispel any illusion of "straying from my roots," I have just finished reading, cover-to-cover, John Steinbeck's dust bowl epic, 'The Grapes Of Wrath' (Copyright 1939, Viking Press, 10-cents at Joe and Marge's garage sale). And in an effort to spare any others from spending the time and effort to duplicate my feat, ol' Calendar has dutifully condensed this 30-chapter novel into just 30 sentences; one sentence per chapter.

Now, compared to Dostoevsky or Karl Marx, this was a pretty difficult writer to read. Like Wayne Moody, Steinbeck tried to use his entire vocabulary two or three times in the course of just one writing. Rather than just make a good point and move on, he drove each one into the ground like a stake on a circus tent. Steinbeck did the same.

After reading the first chapter, I felt like getting drunk. At the end of chapter two, I was drunk. One chapter later and I had to be talked out of my double-wide by Bo Gritz and a SWAT Team Negotiator.

So, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, let's race through these 30 chapters together.

1. It was hot in Oklahoma; dry, windy and dusty, too, which made the women and children worry that their men might break, but that wasn't likely.

2. Fresh from serving four years in prison for homicide, Tom Joad bummed a ride from a truck driver and headed back to his dad's 40-acre farm.

3. A turtle nearly died trying to cross the highway.

4. Tom walked down the dusty road toward home and came across the ex-reverend Jim Casy, who confessed to taking liberties with ladies following baptisms, and the two of them moseyed on toward the Joad farm, but it didn't look like no one was home.

5. The era of sharecropping had reached its end; banks foreclosed on small tenant farms and efficient machines plowed under the farmers and their families.

6.The old Joad place lay abandoned and wasted--a victim of giant agri-business--forcing Tom and the ex-reverend to ponder the family's fate until along came Muley Graves, a former neighbor and displaced farmer now living off the land, who said the Joads had moved temporarily to Uncle John's place, eight miles distant, and Tom and Casy vowed to walk there the next morning after first hiding in the cotton patch to avoid being spotted by the resident deputy and eating a jackrabbit Muley had snared earlier, but not necessarily in that order, while pondering Casy's revelation that he would follow and minister to all who were likewise forced from their land.

7. Folks needed jalopies, lots of 'em and fast, if they were gonna head for California, a demand that was met by the most unscrupulous of used car dealers, anxious to take full advantage of the beginning of what became an American Exodus, proving that the "used car" business hasn't changed a bit in the 60+ years since.

8. Tom was reunited with his family and they prepared to move west.

9. You have to sell almost all your worldly possessions in order to move to California, and after everything is gone, you discover that you also sold yourself.

10. They loaded up, all night long, and then they left.

11. A tractor ain't nothin' but a machine, and a "house" isn't a "home."

12. Route 66 can whup ya if ya let her, cuz yer at the mercy of yer wheels.

13. Crowded ol' truck, hot sun, worryin' about breakin' down, dog-tired and thirsty, lousy service stations, makin' new alliances and buryin' gramps in the cornfield.

14. There's strength in numbers, and if misery doesn't love company, it sure as hell takes comfort in it.

15. There was no shortage of cafes and eats on ol' 66, just a shortage of money.

16. The family found the road west paved with freaks, broken car parts, opportunists, horror stories, and a grandma gone mad by the loss of her man.

17. The nighttime camps provided an opportunity for the Okies to establish governance and a strict moral code for all to follow (I sure wish we had a campground like that in Twin Oaks).

18. Sittin' and soakin' in the Colorado River at Needles is a danged good break, especially if grandma's gonna die before Daggett and the day's gonna end with what's left of the family standin' by the side of the road up around Edison and overlooking the "holy" land: Bakersfield!

19. Too many "Hoovervilles," too many children dyin' of malnutrition, too many Okies; what to do?

20. There's no difference between a crooked cop and a crook; when a lawman takes the law into his own hands, he deserves and gets the same as you and me.

21. A hungry man, indebted to no one, is a force to be reckoned with, and to punish such a man is sheer folly.

22. The Joads find their way to Government Camp at Weedpatch, where they not only learn that civilization comes at a cost measured not only in dollars, but also that government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" doesn't necessarily mean "all the people."

23. There's a fine line between sinnin' and being saved, and either way you end up physically exhausted, thank goodness.

24. It's Saturday night in Government Camp, and the weekly dance draws revelers from near and far, including a trio of troublemakers intent on starting a riot.

25. "In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage," and you can read into that threat anything you damn well please.

26. Picking peaches east of Pixley, the Joads learn all they need to know about "supply-side economics" and the "trickle-down theory," while Tom's reunion with the ex-reverend Casy ends in a pair of deaths.

27. Sometimes "standin' in tall cotton" means $3 for twelve hours labor and biscuits with side meat for dinner.

28. Young Tom's on the lam, hidin' out in the bushes, and pondering a career as a labor organizer, as his brother Al becomes engaged, his sister nears childbirth, the cotton harvest ends, and mom explains the difference between women and men (that "Venus/Mars" thing, again).

29. There came an el Nino winter, with all its misery; a misery that turned man against man, defied all laws of decency and humanity, forced the Okies to own up and speak as one, as only such misery can do when death and suffering are all around.

30. The shortest piece of any rope is the very end, and the fastest ember to burn out is the last one, as a stillborn floats downstream carrying its message of despair and anger, while we learn once again that a man will do what he can, and then some, but in the end we owe our strength to the indomitable spirit of our women, God bless 'em, for they alone provide the mother's milk of determination and survival.

The End. Roll the credits. Beat that.

Calendar Hacksaw can be reached via e-mail at <> or <>, and he'd love to hear from you, especially if you have the recipe for those delicious "Huevos de Cerdo" hors d'oeuvres Wayne Moody was secretly passin' around behind Zanutto's back at the Fence Post Columnists' Picnic. They tasted a lot like pork.

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