Vera Keller: Remembering Dust Bowl days
Vera Keller was born at home on a dry-land bean farm near Kim, Colo., in 1932 during the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression.
“I was the youngest of six children,” she recalled. “My life was pretty good, as I recall, good parents, our bachelor uncle who shared our farm. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbor families, brought their children when the farmers traded work, it was and event. We kids helped, as we grew, so did the responsibilities. I remember looking forward to Sunday School, and Daily Vacation Bible School both held at White School, on the corner of my grandfather's homestead.”
Keller said she didn't know till much later how hard life really was on that farm after the market crash of 1929, and the drought that followed.
Her father’s passion was the love of quarter horses. From 1916 until 1937, he developed a nice herd of horses, before the Depression, selling prized horses and good harvests of pinto beans and winter wheat, the farm was quite profitable.
“The spring of 1937 after five years of failed crops and barely getting by, the wind blew the seeds out of the ground, replanted fields sprouted only to be eaten by clouds of grasshoppers,” she said. It’s funny what a little kid remembers, the crunching of the grasshoppers made under foot as they went from the house to the barn at milking time.
In June of 1937 the horses were driven to the mountains where they could find forage and the Counsil family was packed onto a 1934 Chevy truck fitted with sideboards and oxbows and a white tarpaulin for shelter, left for the irrigated farmlands in the Pacific Northwest.
“We were joined by the Watsons another Kim family, we followed the harvest that summer and fall, picking, and packing, doing whatever work that could found,” she said. “Our entourage included four adults, and 10 children from 5 to 25. There was always someone who could find work.”
Crops were harvested in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, back to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. They picked peas, cherries, peaches, apples, green beans, hops, prunes, pears , potatoes, lettuce and sugar beets.
“Those not engaged in earning money helped our mothers fill the fruit jars we brought along,” she said. “My brother told me a total of 400 jars of produce was canned.”
They ended the harvest season at Nyssa, Ore. taking advantage of the warmer winter there. That is where we stayed.
“When I think of 'home', this is it, where I grew up, attending Nyssa Schools through eighth grade and graduated from high school at Adrian (a rural village) 12 miles up stream along the Snake River.
She married Clarence (Clancy) in 1951. They raised four children together.
“While our children were growing up we followed Clancy’s career in retail management,” she said. “Each time he got transferred, we started over, new place, new job, new church, new school. Sometimes I worked away from home, other times it was fun to do the PTA, and performing arts booster stuff. Always something new. Here in Barstow I helped open the TG&Y at 1305 East Main St., Kmart in the Barstow Mall. I spent nine good years at the Desert Dispatch in 'Display Advertising Sales.
In 1988 they bought the Pet Castle at 708 East Main St. Keller was widowed in 1989, and managed the pet shop as a 'single female proprietor for seven years.
“Outside the pet shop I was active in Barstow Rotary Club,” she said. “I was honored by two firsts, first female member and later, first female president.”
Q: Why did you move to Barstow?
A: In June of 1974 Clancy was promoted by the TG&Y Stores Co. to be the opening manager of their new Family Center at 1305 East Main St.
Q: What is your
A: My children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and the children who have chosen me to be their 'Resident Grandma.'
Q: Any hobbies?
A: I enjoy fashion and sewing. My post high-school education is two semesters at Pasadena City College, Fine Arts Department. I leaned pattern making, drafting and draping. I really enjoy the mechanics of the process.
Q: Tell us one thing that most people don’t know about you.
A: Not too surprising: I own six working sewing machines, pride and joy is a 1909 Davis, long shuttle, treadle [for the un-initiated foot powered] machine that the presser foot is the feed. The machine I use most is a Pfaff, manufactured for the German market. I purchased it at Foster's Pawn 20 years ago.
Q: Describe a special memory of Barstow.
A: Late, I mean really late, one winter night, the first year we lived here, our door bell rang. It was two boys, new classmates of my daughter Sandi. It was snowing in Barstow and they didn't want us to miss it!
Another great memory is the American bicentennial 1776-1976 Fourth Of July Celebration at Langworthy Field. It was packed. Over-flow crowd sat in the grass on the field. Admission was a quarter, like 25 cents! Before dark we were entertained by speakers, choirs and bands. At dark a show on the field with animated displays depicting the Revolutionary war, and The Wild, Wild, West. Then, finally the fireworks on 'B' Hill. AWESOME!
Q: What person, living or from history, would you most like to have dinner with and why? What would you ask them?
A: I'm reminded of the day our school principal asked a room full of seventh graders this question: "If President Roosevelt were to come to your house for a meal, could you prepare the food and serve him? I was the only one to volunteer, my response was, 'I would prepare what we are going to have anyway and share it with him.' I think I would like to do that with any sitting president.
Q: Tell us about your faith.
A: Everyone needs to have faith, outside oneself, I believe in God, Jesus Christ, the promise of everlasting life. I know I am not alone. I pray, let go and let God.
Q: Where do you get your values from?
A: From my parents, their daily lives, how they lived, choices they made, how they treated we siblings and each other. I am truly blessed to have had quality parents. I often clip the "Something to Think About" column on page 2 every day in the Desert Dispatch. A recent clipping was something that I learned early on: "The only way to have a friend is to be one." Ralph Waldo Emerson. [1803-1882] I heard it so many times I didn't know it was from Emerson and the companion line of scripture, my fathers' favorite: "Now abide, faith, hope and love, these three, love being the greatest of these." I Corinthians 13:13.
Q: What’s your favorite movie and why?
A: So many good movies were made in the last century. "Best Years of Our Lives" I think it was the first Academy Award winning movie I got to see right away after it was made, probably the only time in my life I waited in line to buy a theater ticket. I remember the story line, I was 13. The movies I see, I enjoy the entertainment, few are memorable.
Q: Tell us about your favorite thing about Barstow.
A: The Calico Mountains from my front porch.
Q: What is the ultimate issue facing the United States, and what’s your take on it?
A: We need to stop trying to give democracy to every miserable little country on the planet: They have to want it. Some of them have religion beliefs that forbid freedom. We just have to 'get over it' and leave them to settle their own. Pray for our leaders and rethink the USA’s support of the United Nations.
Q: What is the best thing about your job?
A: I'm no longer employed. I found something to love about every job I ever has. My last job was at the Desert Dispatch, only two days a week. I worked in Single Copy Sales from Hinkley to Newberry Springs, collected for the newspapers sold, counted and returned the unsold copies. I got to know the people, many from other countries. Most of the business I called on are convenience stores and gas stations, Mom and Pop. The reward: friendship and five-day week ends!
Q: What is your secret to living a happy, satisfying life?
A: Keeping a sense of humor, not taking myself too seriously
Q: What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?
A: Going to Joann Fabric Store, buying a few yards of fabric just because it is my color, with no idea in this world what I will make of it.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: The Good Lord willing, I will be right here, doing what I'm doing, enjoying family and each new day; a gift from God.