Transcript Staff Writer

Not every Oklahoma tenant-farm family hit U.S. 66 west in the Dust Bowl and Great Depression nightmare as the Joads did.

Bill Grant held on to a dream of some day being able to own his own little Oklahoma farm. He didn't give up on it until the Dirty Thirties blew past and the Depression ended with World War II.

Along the way the hungry mouths in the Grant family grew to 11: Daddy Bill, Mama Elsie, six girls and three boys. The first daughter, Betty, was almost 15 when the Grants left Claremore for southern California.

Now Betty has written a wonderful book about how an extraordinary family survived in Oklahoma and then California when most cards in the deck were stacked against it.

"Children of the Dust, an Okie Family Story" by Betty Grant Henshaw is published by the Texas Tech University Press.

The family never lived in Oklahoma farther west than Hominy in Osage County, so it was not really in the Dust Bowl. But eastern Oklahoma tenant farmers were just as hard hit as many panhandle farmers, who tended to own their land, in that terrible time.

Bill was a hard worker who knew how to farm, so he could always find a tenant farm for at least a year. Mama Elsie was a genius at the sewing machine who was able to keep all six daughters in good dresses.

Bill's three sisters were already in California and always urging the Grants to come on out. Elsie and Betty were in favor of that. Bill was not but agreed to move if he could ever get two or three good crop years to buy transportation for the trip.

But there was always a flood or boll weevil attack or low market prices. Once Bill did get a Model A Ford truck, the first step, but the oldest boy stalled it on the tracks and a train totaled it. A load of children barely escaped. That was a setback, but Bill and Elsie were just glad no children were killed or injured.

"A pickup can be replaced," Bill said. "The life of one of my kids is too precious to be given up."

Finally Bill borrowed enough money to buy some dairy cows and saved up enough to repay the loan. He sold the herd and wound up with $2,000 and a 1938 Ford pickup that made it to the Golden State with only one breakdown.

All the Grants missed their Oklahoma friends. They were near many relatives, though, and that helped a lot.

Almost all the Grants picked cotton, a back-breaking job in temperatures as high as 116 when thirst was a cruel torture. A baby boy was exempt, and someone had to stay with him and keep house. Bill soon got better jobs, driving farming equipment.

But Betty worked in the fields until she was 22. When she got her first real job her pay was twice what her father made.

At last the Grants were able to buy their own home, and Bill had to admit that, in spite of the hardships, they were better off than in Oklahoma.

Yes, the Grants were an extraordinary family, but many other poor Oklahoma families found ways to exist in those hard times, and, like the Grants, became valuable citizens in California or Oklahoma.

This book tells how one proud family managed it.

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