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Narratives of Our Lives

Family Stories from the rural community north of Liberal, Kansas from the early 20th century to 2020
Interviews and writings compiled by Donita Priefert Payne

This interview project resulted from questions stirred by my reading of The Worst Hard Time written by Timothy Egan (copyright 2006). The stories in Egan’s book center on areas around Dalhart, Texas; Baca County, Colorado; Boise City, Oklahoma. Stories about the Liberal, Kansas area are included as are
stories from many other places.

I tried to recall stories my parents and grandparents told of these Dust Bowl years. I did not remember any of their stories to include pneumonia death caused by the dust, the killing of cattle because there was no feed for them, and some of the other extreme kinds of stories in this book. Times were tough for sure, but were the extremes as described in the book also part of the experience in this, my home community?

Thus, the idea – interview the old-timers, or at least people who lived those times, gather their stories and remembrances, but limit these interviews to people in my immediate rural community – people who lived north, a little west or east of Highway 83.

There are a couple of exceptions to the location of the interviewees. Joe and Dorothy Brown lived in Liberal, although Joe grew up in Oklahoma. The Allen Klingman family lived in Nebraska. Those interviews explain why they are included in this project.

The responses to these interview requests were very gracious. I had not lived in this community for many years, although my connections were strong as my parents lived here always and the farm is still owned by family. I visited here often and had known these wonderful people all my life.

The interviews revolved around three topics: (1) What do you remember about the dust bowl years? (2) Why and When did your ancestors come to this community? (3) Talk about the character, the personality of your parents, grandparents.

As you read these interviews, you will find these topics present as well as broader remembrances and facts and stories. My hope is that you feel “the heart” in these stories.

I want to express the emotion I felt as I transcribed word-for-word from the interview recordings. I had to listen so very closely to every word. I don’t know how to describe this other than to say it was a “holy moment” for me, many “holy moments”. My hope is that you will have some of the same sacred feelings as you read these stories of people you knew and loved. It isn’t often that we really listen, really listen.

There are moments in some of the interviews that reveal some pain. We need to read these with compassion and not judgement.

The interviews are transcribed almost word for word with no corrections for grammar or colloquial expressions. There is little editing except for length in just a couple of interviews.

Please accept my apology for taking such a long period of time to complete this project and place the finished project in your hands. Several of the interviewees have died. I am now 83 years old and intent on completing unfinished tasks. And this was quite a task!