Marvin’s Story

 The 1930s in the United States were very bad for many people. Many lost their jobs and then their homes. Every day when a train went by, homeless people could be seen illegally hanging on to trains as they went from city to city seeking work. Many people feared them and thought they would steal something or kidnap their children.

 Marvin’s family farmed within sight of the magnificent Rockies, mountains so high that the tops were covered with snow even in the hot summer. The family was very poor because this beautiful land had betrayed them. It was part of what was called the “dust bowl.” For several years, almost no rain fell from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. The land dried up and the hot winds raised huge dust clouds that brought darkness at noon. Marvin still remembers following his father to the barn when the wind blew him down and his eyes and mouth began to fill with blowing sand. Henry, his father did not know he was coming but the little boy’s cries quickly brought Papa running to the rescue. 

After the dust came another threat. The dry weather had allowed millions of locust (a grasshopper-like insect) to hatch. They flew across the land in huge clouds that again blocked the sun. They ate every leaf and blade of grass. Marvin later heard his father relate how they ate holes in the clothes that the girls were drying on the clothes lines. Henry raised turkeys which ate too many insects and most died. 

Marvin was the eighth of nine children in the family and when he was almost two, his mother died while giving birth to his baby brother. Desperately poor, his older sisters and brothers took part-time jobs with neighboring farmers. Sister, Wilma, later told Marvin about how hard she struggled to lift huge sugar beets onto the farm wagons as an eleven year old. 

Enough was enough! Henry loaded his family into the old Ford and with everything they could carry in a four wheel trailer drove 600 miles east. It must have been funny to see the old jalopy pulling an overloaded trailer. But Americans were used to this scene after ten years of hard times. Henry’s goal was to reach his sister, Gertrude, whose husband owned the principle grocery store in a small Iowa village. Marvin would not remember this trip but it became part of the family’s legend. Henry stopped many times to beg enough gasoline to keep them going to the next town. Close to their destination, the tire on the overloaded trailer gave way and they arrived at Aunt Gertie’s with the tire gone and the wheel loudly clattering. 

Could Gertie help? She was very old and Henry did not have work. He had only passed the third grade and most jobs now needed a secondary education. Gertie had affection for her youngest brother but her husband, Ernest, did not share this view. Ernest, like his wife, were children of German immigrants. Their religion taught them that God rewarded hard work. To Ernest, Henry was a restless dreamer. “Why did he have kids that he couldn’t afford and why had he moved so far west in the first place?” Iowa had the best farmland in the world so why try to farm in a desert? 

However, Ernest had been Marvin’s sponsor at his baptism in the Lutheran church. He had a sacred duty to help the boy. Uncle Ernest decided that Marvin could stay but Henry would have to do his best with the others. Vera, the oldest daughter, having married her sweetheart before leaving the West convinced her young husband to take the baby. Her husband was a first class mechanic and easily found work. Other relatives agreed to give jobs on their farms to the older kids and Gertie’s daughter who lived nearby on a farm took eight-year-old Harold. 

Like thousands from the dust bowl, Henry and his eldest son left for California to find jobs. Henry wanted to make enough money to regroup his family. He could not know when he gave Marvin a tearful goodbye that all his children would be adults before he would see them again. It was very confusing to Marvin. Where did Papa and the rest go? Harold was close by and they would attend the same Lutheran School but what happened to the others? They had all been so close with a lot of joking and laughter and the girls had always looked after him. 

He did not like gruff old Uncle Ernest although he loved to go to his store with its big pot belly stove in the middle and smell all the candy in jars on the counter. Aunt Gertie was more complicated. She was frail and bent over with age but she smothered her nieces and nephews with kisses and always had fresh cookies in the kitchen. Marvin missed his family so much but he sort of liked this little old woman. 

After two years, Gertie’s health failed and Marvin moved on. The time was short but Aunt Gertie’s gift possibly saved him from a life of hard labor and poverty. That gift was the ability to read! Gertie read her Bible daily and now read it to Marvin. She soon taught him how to pronounce words. Before beginning kindergarten at St. Stephens, he was reading Bible verses. The old style English and the message were difficult but he was reading! Imagine Marvin’s excitement when he received his very first birthday present: Ergemiers Bible Stories on his 6th birthday. Its more than 500 pages were meant for older kids but the almost incomprehensible Bible began to make sense. Gertie’s pride in her nephew was unbounded. Whenever guests came, little Marvin’s talents were demonstrated. She was so proud. Marvin’s love of reading is still with him 70 years later and carried him to earning a doctorate in one of the best universities in the United States. I’m sure dear old Aunt Gertie is smiling somewhere.

Preguntas de desarrollo:

¿Cómo aprende a leer el pequeño Marvin?

¿Era la vida fácil para Marvin?

¿Qué te enseñó esta historia?

¿Si pudieras conocer a Marvin, qué te gustaría decirle?