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he Healing Place is a story based in the 1930’s and 40’s which emphasizes the power of love, sacrifice, courage and prayer. The Miller family, Amos, Molly and their three daughters live through the trials and hardships of the Dust Bowl of The Great Depression. They manage to find a place where, through their love for each other, prayer, and a sense of community, they can overcome those hardships and become a stronger family.

A Healing Place


In the 1940’s, during World War II, the family deals with the horrible sacrifices and inspiring courage of the men and women in uniform and their families. The Miller’s own son-in-law is caught in the “Bataan Death March.” Their examples of bravery in the face of the brutality of the war exist today, in the men and women who are put in “harm’s way.” It is through their sacrifices that we are able to enjoy the freedom that this country affords us. Each day we see examples of communities coming together to help one another in times of crises, just as they did during The Great Depression and World War II. We witnessed it after the Haitian earthquake and certainly the Louisiana oil spill. In the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we lost brave soldiers who left behind families in need of our support and strength. We need to find the strength within ourselves to survive the terrible tragedies that face us. It makes us a stronger country and and our communities a better place in which to live. A Healing Place is one of five Xlibris books chosen to be showcased at the World’s largest Book Fair in Frankfurt, Germany.

ISBN: 978-1-4535-2445-9

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Joyce Shaughnessy lives with her husband, Dennis, in Midland, Texas. She lived in Texon, Texas, where the Millers finally find their healing place. They have two daughters and four granddaughters


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Joyce Shaughnessy

Copyright Š 2010 by Joyce Shaughnessy. Library of Congress Control Number: ISBN: Hardcover Softcover Ebook

2010909055 978-1-4535-2446-6 978-1-4535-2445-9 978-1-4535-2447-3

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. This book was printed in the United States of America.

To order additional copies of this book, contact: Xlibris Corporation 1-888-795-4274 81680

Chapter One A

mos walked out on the front porch after eating lunch, tapping his empty pipe and then sticking it into his mouth to chew on the stem. There wasn’t any money for tobacco, but chewing on the pipe helped him think. He happened to look over to the west and thought, My god, the world is coming to an end! What is it—a huge cloud of dirt covering the sky? “Molly!” he yelled, frantically running inside and slamming the door. “Close all the windows. There’s one god-awful thick, black cloud of dirt coming right at us. It ain’t no rain cloud either! Get the girls in the corner of the room and cover yourselves with blankets, anything!” Molly frantically grabbed blankets from the bed and got the girls under the covers. That was when the bright, sunny day suddenly turned into night. The dirt was so thick that it covered the sun. The three girls started crying immediately, and all Molly could think of was tornado. She tried to reassure the girls, but they couldn’t even hear her voice because of the sound of the wind. Amos was screaming at Molly! “I’m getting some water,” but they couldn’t hear him. He frantically pumped by the kitchen sink to get just a little water in a bowl. The girls continued to scream, even Addie, who, at twelve, considered herself too old to cry. The baby wouldn’t stop, but Molly was rocking her back and forth in her arms. Molly’s hands were shaking from fear, but she knew she had to do something productive. She realized that she was wearing the only slip she owned. She started tearing it into strips to wrap around everyone’s mouth to keep the dirt from going down their throats. She had seen farm animals that had died from being choked by terrible dirt storms, and she wasn’t going to let that happen to her own children. Molly yelled at Addie, “Help Sarah get that strip around her mouth and cover your own. Don’t anyone open your mouths or eyes if you can help it.” She realized that she had been screaming in order to be heard. That scared her more than anything—the brutal force of the wind. It was two days before it was light enough for Amos and Molly to see. They had been doing everything by feel alone. They both went out on the porch, carefully carrying lanterns and still couldn’t see very far. With the insistent drought and dirt of the Great Depression bearing upon them for three years, they had become accustomed to wind storms, but Amos couldn’t help thinking, This is different. This



Joyce Shaughnessy

is something we can’t fight, and I’m afraid that it’s the end of our fight. We can’t fight nature any longer. It was as if the skies had opened and released a great violent force of dirt upon his children. Amos was grateful that he remembered the kitchen pump earlier because that water in that bucket was all they had for two days and the only thing that had calmed Sarah’s cough. Though the Millers were well acquainted with hard times, when Molly went outside and saw their cow, Bessie, lying on her side, covered with dust, she began to cry. Molly could tell that Bessie was having a hard time breathing. She had dirt in her nostrils and down her throat, actually choking her. Molly looked up at Amos standing on the porch and said, “Don’t you dare stop me from giving Bessie some water. She’s our only cow and our only source of milk. I refuse to just let her die.” The dirt was in Molly’s eyes, making them sting, and she could taste the dirt in her mouth when she spoke. Molly ran from the well to the cow, begging Bessie to get up on her feet. She gave her sips of water as she urged her to stand. Please, God, let me save her. Please help me save her. After about two hours, Bessie was able to stand on her own, and Molly led her into the barn to eat some hay. Molly slowly walked to the house, feeling exhaustion in every step. Molly opened the door and saw that while she was taking care of Bessie, Amos had been taking care of the girls. They all had water to drink, which meant he would have had to carry some from the well, and she hadn’t even noticed him. Then she realized that he had rinsed out the girls’ clothes and all of their sheets. She had been so busy with Bessie that she hadn’t even seen Amos. What if he hadn’t been here? Who would have taken care of her children? It was her responsibility to do it. What was wrong with her? She was their mother, and she should have taken care of them before Bessie. Molly said, “I’m glad you hung the clothes and sheets in the house. I’m so sorry for yelling at you, Amos. None of this is your fault. I just felt we couldn’t lose Bessie. She’s our only source for milk.” Amos said, “I know. It’s okay.” Then he put his arm around her and kissed her on the forehead. Molly helped Amos with the clothes. They put damp clothes on the girls, the water dripping from them somehow helping the dirt to settle on the floor instead of on their bodies. Poor Sarah was coughing again. The dirt storm had made it much harder for her to even breathe. After Amos and Molly finished with the clothes, they walked outside and beat as much dirt out of the mattresses as they could. Then they fed the girls before putting them down to sleep. Sarah had her thumb in her mouth, but Molly didn’t have the heart to take it out. Molly sat on the nearest chair, and Amos brought her some water. Molly said contritely, “Thank you for taking care of the girls. I just can’t believe that those clouds

A Healing Place


were filled with dirt. I thought it was a tornado. When will it stop?” She wept, hanging on to Amos’s shirt front. Amos answered, “I don’t know, but I do know that the more we stay together, the better off we are. Come on. We beat as much dirt out of the mattresses as we could. You and I need some sleep, too. And, Molly,” Amos added, smiling while putting his hand on her shoulder, “you were right to save Bessie. I was never more proud of you than when you brought her around. We’ll be okay. We just have to stick together.” The following day, Amos fiddled with the knobs on the second-hand radio he had bought off one of their neighbors. The first thing they heard was an account of the past few days: RED SNOW BLANKETS MOST OF COUNTRY On April 14, 1935, enormous clouds of dust reaching twenty-seven thousand feet high, containing 350 million tons of dirt, and roaring at a speed of eighty miles per hour of sustained winds, blew down upon the Great Plains States and carried as far as Maine. The dirt, as fine as powder, covered everything in its path, inside and outside of structures. It turned what had been a sunny Sunday into what is now being termed as Black Sunday because day was literally turned into night in a matter of minutes. Mr. Hugh Bennett, head of the Soil Erosion Service, had called a special meeting of Congress on that Sunday afternoon when he heard that the clouds were heading toward Washington. He wanted the other congressmen to feel the enormous strength of the dirt clouds. For the first time, the government was able to see first-hand what the farmers have been fighting since 1930.

Molly said, “Maybe now someone will listen and help us. God knows we need all the help we can get. I feel so useless against what is happening to us. We probably won’t have to worry about it much longer. We’ll probably be evicted anyway.” With that, Molly sat on her rocking chair out of pure exhaustion and prayed for help from anyone. Something had to change or they would all starve to death, covered in a blanket of dirt.

Chapter Two A

mos worried himself sick because there had been almost no rain. After Black Sunday, he took up the habit of looking to the western skies when he stepped out on his porch in the morning. It was usually just sunny with flecks of dust mixed in. Everyone he had seen in their area was wearing a cloth around his mouth because the dust storms blew in so hard. He was constantly worrying about the livestock, what there was left of it. Amos had walked out earlier that morning because he hadn’t heard the rooster and had found it dead in the dirt, choked to death by dust down its throat. When would it stop? Dear God, when would it ever stop? Amos saw something the next day he had never witnessed before. It was a mud storm. There were a few promising clouds in the morning, enough to give them hope for a little rain, but there was so much dust in the air that it literally rained gobs of thick mud. That night, as Molly and Amos usually did, they prayed that some rain would come, but to no avail. Molly went out on the porch with Amos, holding a cloth around her mouth and walked down the lines of seeds they had planted. All she saw were dead cornstalks lying on the ground beaten down by dust, too heavy to stand upright. She had heard at church that many families were sending their children to live with relatives back east or up north so they wouldn’t have to choke on the dust that had become such a big part of their lives, but she couldn’t send their three daughters away, not yet anyway. Molly worried where she was going to get food to put on the table. They couldn’t get credit at the grocery store any longer, and they couldn’t depend on their crops to feed their family. They ate meals consisting of cornbread and gravy made with water. She occasionally set out a jar of molasses, but she did so with worry that she would run out of it soon. Then what would she do? Charlotte told her at church two weeks earlier that she had actually fried tumbleweeds for Sunday dinner. She had told Molly with shame on her face and tears in her eyes. It hadn’t always been this bad. Molly smiled when she remembered the small wedding they had in her mother’s house in New Orleans on December 23, 1921. They had met there where Molly was teaching first grade. It was 1922 when she and Amos bought their fifty acres. They were able to bring in a good cotton crop. The next year, they brought in enough corn to feed their little family and pay the bills. Molly smiled when she remembered giving birth to Addie in 1923 and Sarah in 1927. The Great


A Healing Place


Depression started in 1930, but she and Amos had always been able to hang on when others didn’t. Molly didn’t know why. They worked from sunup to sundown, and they were careful with their money. They had even paid for their farm in full when they moved to Oklahoma, although many of their neighbors were tenant farmers. But things started going wrong for them when Molly was trying to deliver Hannah in 1932. They had always called on the local midwife, Louise, and she had always been kind and able to do the job. This time was different, however. Molly started having labor difficulties when she had Hannah. The midwife, Louise, was in the house with her. Before Hannah was even born, Molly started bleeding heavily. Louise ran out of Molly’s bedroom and yelled at Amos, who was sitting on the porch chewing on his pipe, “You have to get the pickup ready now! Molly’s bleeding really bad, and the baby ain’t even been born yet. I can’t stop the bleeding. You’re gonna have to take her to the hospital in Enid. She’ll die if you don’t. I’ll stay here with the girls.” Amos drove Molly to the hospital at breakneck speed, terrified that she would bleed to death before they even got there. He could barely keep his eyes on the road. He never even slowed down once he reached the city. He just stopped long enough to ask someone to show him where the hospital was. Amos ran in the emergency room, breathless and white, carrying Molly in his arms and wrapped in a sheet. “My wife’s having a baby, but she can’t stop bleedin’. I’m afraid she’s gonna die.” The hospital aide took one look at the worn, dirty overalls that Amos was wearing and insisted that the hospital needed money up front before taking care of Molly, but fortunately for Amos and Molly, the doctor was within earshot. “My god, woman! Are you crazy or just plain mean?” He motioned toward one of the rooms and told Amos to carry Molly in there and put her on the bed. The doctor came out in a few minutes and told Amos that he was going to perform an emergency Caesarean and that Amos could wait in the chair in the lobby. He tried to be reassuring, but Amos thought he looked worried. After about an hour, the same doctor walked down the hall toward Amos. As Amos was rising from the chair, filled with dread, the doctor put his hand on his shoulder and said, “Your wife must be awfully strong. She and the baby are going to be fine. Come on. I’ll take you up there.” Amos walked in the room and saw Molly with her arm around a bundle. She was very pale but smiling. She looked up and said, “Well, are you going to say hello to your new daughter?” Amos smiled and picked her up. He and Molly had already discussed names, so he said, “Welcome to the world, Hannah.” Then he leaned over, his eyes full of tears, whispering “thank you” and tenderly kissed Molly.


Joyce Shaughnessy

They received a bill about two weeks after Hannah was born. It was for $110, which they didn’t have, but they felt certain at the time that they could pay it down. Amos was forced to borrow the money from the bank by using the farm as security, but at the time, Amos felt good about borrowing from the bank. Amos told Molly that he would have done the same thing again if he had to because he was so grateful to the doctor for saving her and Hannah’s lives. They both knew that the loan put them, like most of their neighbors, at the mercy of the bank. The Millers and the rest of the farmers were terrified of the bank and its owners. Their money wasn’t insured, and if something happened to the bank, they were left penniless. Many of them started putting it under mattresses and in jars in the cupboards. But they had another reason for being scared. Because of the Great Depression that had hit the stock markets in large cities like New York, bankers started foreclosing on small farms, ones who owed them money that they knew they couldn’t pay back. That was the first time that Amos was scared about the loan at the bank. He didn’t know what he would do if the bank asked for their money because he barely had enough to feed his family. The grocery stores had stopped allowing credit, and the crops were dying on the vine because they had no water. After Black Sunday, it was clear to the Millers and their neighbors that their farm was not going to make a profit any time soon. The havoc wreaked upon their land just that morning had caused more damage than they could afford to repair. Their corn crop had looked bad before, but after Black Sunday, it was nonexistent. In November 1934, Molly and Amos received an advertisement asking for fruit pickers in California. The handbill was covered with colorful pictures of grapefruits, strawberries, grapes, and oranges, all ripe and ready to pick from the vines. Amos brought it in the house and showed it to Molly. “I wish I knew how many farmers are getting handbills like this. Seems to me that they wouldn’t just pick us out of the whole area and send just one handbill. I’m going to start asking around and see how many other farmers got the same thing.” Amos did ask around and found out, to his distress, that many of their neighbors received the same advertisement and had already left for California after being evicted. Molly asked him when he walked through the door, “What did you find out?” “First, I found out that a lot of our neighbors have already been kicked out of their homes, and the ones who are still here got the very same handbill we did. Even worse, I heard that a lot of the farmers who left were heading to California just because of this stupid handbill.” He threw it on the dirty floor in disgust. Molly asked, “Are the ones left planning on going out to California if they get thrown off their land too?” Amos said, “Yep. I think so, and that means that there must be a lot of pickers headed out there. California couldn’t possibly need that many pickers, plus it’s only seasonal work.”

A Healing Place


Molly said, “Let’s just hold on for a little longer, and then we’ll make the decision about what to do, okay?” Amos answered, “Just a little longer, but not too long. We’re going to run out of food and gas money if we wait too long. I guess we can wait just a little longer to see if we get a visit from the neighborly banker too. What I want to do, Molly, is to be able to hold on to our land and find work somewhere until this drought is over. Then we could come back. You know as well as I do that we can’t continue eating so little.” Molly asked him, “Well, what do you plan to do about it, go to California to earn wages, or go somewhere else? I know there probably isn’t anywhere around here that you could get work. We’re better off than some of these people.” “I’m going to try to find out what’s going on. For instance, what’s happening to all those people who head out to California. I know that’s where you think we should go, and this is a decision we have to make together. If it were up to me, I’d head for the oil fields in Texas. Give me just a little time to figure out what we need to do, and we’ll make some kind of decision. Maybe the bank will let our loan carry for a while. It isn’t a big one, but the problem lies in the fact that our land is standing between Elaine Maxwell’s farm and another one that the bank took.” Amos looked at Molly and saw the shock in her face. “I’m sorry I forgot to tell you that I found out that Elaine got evicted. The bank will want our land, too, so it’ll have a bigger spread.” Molly said, “Poor Elaine.” She sat down, close to tears. “First her husband passed just a year ago, and with six children, she hasn’t stood a chance. I know that it’s impossible to hate a thing, but I do. I guess I hate the greedy men who run the bank.” “Just give me a little time to find out what’s going on. I’m going to have to drive into town soon to buy gas anyway. Maybe I can find out something there. I did find out that most of the farmers who got these handbills went out to California by way of Route 66. They went west through Enid, then to Amarillo, Texas, and then New Mexico. I heard some of them got stuck there, couldn’t go any farther, but 66 takes you to California if you have enough gas and water to make it. Whatever we do, we do it together. I just don’t want to go too far on 66 toward California when it’s too late for us to turn back to Texas.” “Like you said, Amos, we’ll make the decision together, but not until we find out what the bank is going to do.”

Chapter Three M

olly woke up early in the morning and moved over closer to Amos. She loved putting her head on his shoulder. It made her feel more secure, knowing that they were going through these horrible times together. Molly said, “I’m going out to the road this morning to see if Elaine is leaving. How long did the banker give her?” Amos said, “Nobody said, but he usually says about three days. I hate for you to go out there when you don’t even know if she’ll be coming by this morning.” “If she doesn’t show up by dawn, I’ll start walking over in her direction. She’ll either pass me by or is still getting ready. Either way, I can help her out a little. Maybe the bank gave her a couple of extra days, considering she’s a widow with six kids. They probably don’t care. Just knowing we care is something, isn’t it?” Amos answered, “Sure, it is. That’s why you were making the cornbread last night, wasn’t it?” “Yes. I don’t know how she’s feeding that bunch of hers. Did I tell you that Cindy Harris told me at church last week that she had to feed her family fried tumbleweeds because it was all they had? It may be all that Elaine has too. I’m going to take them a jar of molasses to go with it.” “Just be sure you hang onto the side of the barbed wire while you walk out there. If you don’t, you’ll get turned around in all this dirt and wind.” Molly said, “I know. I’ll be careful.” By the time Molly made it out to the road, her hands were bloody from walking along the barbed wire fence; she could barely see five feet in front of her. She needed something to guide her. She stood beside the road in a pale green shift that had been clean when she put it on that morning, but was dirty by the time she reached the road, covered in red dust. She felt sad because she remembered the grin on Amos’s face when he had given her the piece of green material for the dress four years earlier. He said it matched her eyes. It didn’t match anything any longer but the dirt in the air. How could they possibly find money for clothing when they barely had enough for food? And the girls were growing out of every bit of clothing they had, so badly that Addie would be wearing Molly’s clothes pretty soon. Molly was embarrassed that she wasn’t wearing shoes. She felt it more important to put shoes on her daughters than on herself. She put a cloth over her nose and face,


A Healing Place - by Joyce Shaughnessy  

A Healing Place starts in the Dustbowl of the Great American Depression. It describes in crucial detail the dust and the insect infestation...

A Healing Place - by Joyce Shaughnessy  

A Healing Place starts in the Dustbowl of the Great American Depression. It describes in crucial detail the dust and the insect infestation...