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Just the Place for Me

Without doubt the most famous song of the Dust Bowl is Woody Guthrie’s ballad, “Dust Bowl Disaster.” Writing from the vantage of Pampa, Texas, he sings, “On the 14th day of April in 1935 / There struck the worst of dust storms that ever filled the sky.”

Guthrie’s song (an adaptation of older cyclone ballads from Texas) is a true and telling depiction of a natural and social disaster. Psychologists and historians agree, however, that adults and children experience the same situations differently. This is why it is so fascinating to find a Dust Bowl ballad written by a 13-year-old girl in western Kansas.

In late April of 1937, the Fairview Enterprise published the lengthy poem, “Just the Place for Me,” by Gretchen Gildehous. Although Fairview is in northeast Kansas, the epistle came from Dodge City, in the southwest. Notes the editor,

The following is a poem written by Gretchen Gildehous, 13, to her grandmother, Mrs. George Gildehous. The poem was written while Gretchen was watching a dust storm during a visit with her aunt at Dodge City.

These circumstances add additional perspective to the stanzas. Gretchen was the daughter of Earl and Maude Gildehous, who lived in several different places in the northeast, where Earl practiced his trade as a garage man. Summers they sent Gretchen to Dodge to stay with her aunt (her mother’s sister, I believe).

We might think that coming from green Fairview to dusty Dodge, Gretchen might be repulsed, but not so at all. She found the western country and its citizens fascinating. Of her western sojourn she writes,

I’m going to the bright and the Sunny West
Back to the place I love the best
Where the sage brush and the cactus grows
How I love it no one knows.
I’m going to go back to the place
Where there’s very few trees and plenty of space.
That’s just the place for me.

And so every stanza ends: “That’s just the place for me.”

It’s sort of obligatory for a girl’s ballad to comment on the habits of the male gender. Gretchen observes,

Most all the men wear those wide brimmed hats
And they don’t clean their feet on wool door mats,
But they wash their feet in a big cow tank
Where all the cattle and the horses drank

Her life in Dodge, it seems, is full of wonders, and she is undaunted by the dust storms, however they may alarm the “tourists.” After many false promises of rain,

There comes a little cloud, it rains without trying
And it makes the folks all feel like flying.
That’s just the place for me.

I suspect that young Gretchen’s annual visit was like a nice summer rain for her kin out west.

So next week I’ll give you another 13-year-old voice from the dusty 1930s, that of a boy from Burleigh County, North Dakota.

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