Read Out of the Dust Online

Authors: Karen Hesse

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Historical, #United States, #20th Century, #Social Issues, #Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, #Stories in Verse, #19th Century

Out of the Dust

BOOK: Out of the Dust
4.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

To Brenda Bowen,
who is so much more
than an editor

I extend heartfelt thanks to Eileen Christelow,
Kate, Rachel, and Randy Hesse,
Liza Ketchum, Jeffrey and Bernice Millman,
Maryann Sparks,
and the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Table of Contents


Title Page


Winter 1934

Beginning: August 1920

Rabbit Battles

Losing Livie

Me and Mad Dog

Permission to Play

On Stage

Birthday for F.D.R.

Not Too Much To Ask

Mr. Hardly’s Money Handling

Fifty Miles South of Home

Rules of Dining

Breaking Drought



Foul as Maggoty Stew

State Tests

Fields of Flashing Light

Spring 1934

Tested by Dust


Beat Wheat

Give Up on Wheat

What I Don’t Know

Apple Blossoms

World War


Dust and Rain


On the Road with Arley

Summer 1934

Hope in a Drizzle

Dionne Quintuplets

Wild Boy of the Road

The Accident



A Tent of Pain






The Empty Spaces

The Hole



Night Bloomer

The Path of Our Sorrow

Autumn 1934

Hired Work

Almost Rain

Those Hands

Real Snow

Dance Revue

Mad Dog’s Tale

Art Exhibit

Winter 1935

State Tests Again

Christmas Dinner Without the Cranberry Sauce

Driving the Cows

First Rain

Haydon P. Nye

Scrubbing Up Dust

Outlined by Dust

The President’s Ball



Family School


Time to Go

Something Sweet from Moonshine


The Competition

The Piano Player

No Good


Night School

Dust Pneumonia

Dust Storm

Broken Promise


Following in His Steps

Spring 1935




Fire on the Rails

The Mail Train


Blankets of Black

The Visit

Freak Show

Help from Uncle Sam

Let Down


The Rain’s Gift

Hope Smothered

Sunday Afternoon at the Amarillo Hotel


Old Bones

Summer 1935

The Dream

Midnight Truth

Out of the Dust

Gone West

Something Lost, Something Gained

Homeward Bound


Autumn 1935

Cut It Deep

The Other Woman

Not Everywhere

My Life, or What I Told Louise After the Tenth Time She Came to Dinner

November Dust

Thanksgiving List



Finding a Way

About the Author

Also Available


Beginning: August 1920

As summer wheat came ripe,

so did I,

born at home, on the kitchen floor.

Ma crouched,

barefoot, bare bottomed

over the swept boards,

because that’s where Daddy said it’d be best.

I came too fast for the doctor,

bawling as soon as Daddy wiped his hand around

inside my mouth.

To hear Ma tell it,

I hollered myself red the day I was born.

Red’s the color I’ve stayed ever since.

Daddy named me Billie Jo.

He wanted a boy.


he got a long-legged girl

with a wide mouth

and cheekbones like bicycle handles.

He got a redheaded, freckle-faced, narrow-hipped girl

with a fondness for apples

and a hunger for playing fierce piano.

From the earliest I can remember

I’ve been restless in this

little Panhandle shack we call home,

always getting in Ma’s way with my

pointy elbows, my fidgety legs.

By the summer I turned nine Daddy had

given up about having a boy.

He tried making me do.

I look just like him,

I can handle myself most everywhere he puts me,

even on the tractor,

though I don’t like that much.

Ma tried having other babies.

It never seemed to go right, except with me.

But this morning

Ma let on as how she’s expecting again.

Other than the three of us

there’s not much family to speak of.

Daddy, the only boy Kelby left

since Grandpa died

from a cancer

that ate up the most of his skin,

and Aunt Ellis,

almost fourteen years older than Daddy

and living in Lubbock,

a ways south of here,

and a whole world apart

to hear Daddy tell it.

And Ma, with only Great-uncle Floyd,

old as ancient Indian bones,

and mean as a rattler,

rotting away in that room down in Dallas.

I’ll be nearly fourteen

just like Aunt Ellis was when Daddy was born
by the time this baby comes.

Wonder if Daddy’ll get his boy this time?

January 1934

Rabbit Battles

Mr. Noble and

Mr. Romney have a bet going

as to who can kill the most rabbits.

It all started at the rabbit drive last Monday

over to Sturgis

when Mr. Noble got himself worked up

about the damage done to his crop by jacks.

Mr. Romney swore he’d had more rabbit trouble

than anyone in Cimarron County.

They pledged revenge on the rabbit population;

wagering who could kill more.

They ought to just shut up.

Betting on how many rabbits they can kill.


Grown men clubbing bunnies to death.

Makes me sick to my stomach.

I know rabbits eat what they shouldn’t,

especially this time of year when they could hop

halfway to Liberal

and still not find food,

but Miss Freeland says

if we keep

plowing under the stuff they ought to be eating,

what are they supposed to do?

Mr. Noble and

Mr. Romney came home from Sturgis Monday

with twenty rabbits apiece. A tie.

It should’ve stopped there. But

Mr. Romney wasn’t satisfied.

He said,

“Noble cheated.

He brought in rabbits somebody else killed.”

And so the contest goes on.

Those men,

they used to be best friends.

Now they can’t be civil with each other.

They scowl as they pass on the street.

I’m scowling too,

but scowling won’t bring the rabbits back.

They’re all skinned and cooked and eaten by now.

At least they didn’t end up in

Romney and Noble’s cook pots.

They went to families

that needed the meat.

January 1934

Losing Livie

Livie Killian moved away.

I didn’t want her to go.

We’d been friends since first grade.

The farewell party was

Thursday night

at the Old Rock Schoolhouse.


had something to tease each of us about,

like Ray

sleeping through reading class,

and Hillary,

who on her speed-writing test put

an “even ton” of children

instead of an “even ten.”

Livie said good-bye to each of us,


She gave me a picture she’d made of me sitting

in front of a piano,

wearing my straw hat,

an apple halfway to my mouth.

I handed Livie the memory book we’d all

filled with our different slants.

I couldn’t get the muscles in my throat relaxed enough

to tell her how much I’d miss her.


helped clean up her own party,

wiping spilled lemonade,

gathering sandwich crusts,

sweeping cookie crumbs from the floor,

while the rest of us went home

to study for semester reviews.

Now Livie’s gone west,

out of the dust,

on her way to California,

where the wind takes a rest sometimes.

And I’m wondering what kind of friend I am,

wanting my feet on that road to another place,

instead of Livie’s.

January 1934

Me and Mad Dog

Arley Wanderdale,

who teaches music once a week at our school,

though Ma says he’s no teacher at all,

just a local song plugger,

Arley Wanderdale asked

if I’d like to play a piano solo

at the Palace Theatre on Wednesday night.

I grinned,

pleased to be asked, and said,

“That’d be all right.”

I didn’t know if Ma would let me.

She’s an old mule on the subject of my schooling.

She says,

“You stay home on weeknights, Billie Jo.”

And mostly that’s what I do.

But Arley Wanderdale said,

“The management asked me to

bring them talent, Billie Jo,

and I thought of you.”

Even before Mad Dog Craddock? I wondered.

“You and Mad Dog,” Arley Wanderdale said.

Darn that blue-eyed boy

with his fine face and his

smooth voice,

twice as good

as a plowboy has any right to be.

I suspected Mad Dog had come first

to Arley Wanderdale’s mind,

but I didn’t get too riled.

Not so riled I couldn’t say yes.

January 1934

Permission to Play


when Ma is busy in the kitchen,

or scrubbing,

or doing wash,

I can ask her something in such a way

I annoy her just enough to get an answer,

but not so much I get a no.

That’s a way I’ve found of gaining what I want,

by catching Ma off guard,

especially when I’m after permission to play piano.

Right out asking her is no good.

She always gets testy about me playing,

even though she’s the one who truly taught me.

Anyway, this time I caught her in the

slow stirring of biscuits,

her mind on other things,

maybe the baby growing inside her, I don’t know,

but anyhow,

she was distracted enough,

I was determined enough,

this time I got just what I wanted.
Permission to play at the Palace.

January 1934

On Stage

When I point my fingers at the keys,

the music

springs straight out of me.

Right hand

playing notes sharp as


telling stories while the


buttery rhythms back me up

on the left.

Folks sway in the

Palace aisles

grinning and stomping and

out of breath,

and the rest, eyes shining,

fingers snapping,

feet tapping. It’s the best

I’ve ever felt,

playing hot piano,

sizzling with

Mad Dog,

swinging with the Black Mesa Boys,

or on my own,


pestering the keys.

That is


How supremely


playing piano

can be.

January 1934

BOOK: Out of the Dust
4.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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