The book might
be called: What To Do Until the Drought Comes. It's an unvarnished, unsentimental
look at the real Texas Frontier and as a subject, it's about as serious as it
gets. Using interviews, diaries and published sources, Mr. Fairchild, a psychology
professor at Texas A & M University, Canyon,
Texas, explores a rarely discussed subject - the suffocating and omnipresent
loneliness of the Panhandle frontier.
The frontier was a place of spiritual as well as material deprivation, despite
the awe-inspiring sky and landscape.
Since contemporary West
Texas and Panhandle life
offers many* distractions and diversions, the book
deals with the late 19th century and early 20th century - the times of the pioneer
and hopeful immigrant. Despite the seriousness of the subject there is something
uplifting or memorable on nearly every page.
Diet, infant mortality,
burial procedures and etiquette, mourning, and the importance of friendship and
neighborliness are all covered by these sobering and sometimes heartrending personal
accounts. Also discussed is the way men dealt with these problems and benefits,
which predictably, was quite different from women.
The subjects of the
book are shown without any romantic embellishment - as people living, coping and
struggling in a harsh and unforgiving landscape. Using the actual writings as
source material allows for an easy and personal connection with the reader.
The scarcity of settlers in the Panhandle
(.06 per square mile in 1880) allowed people to actually know every individual
in nine counties. One woman said that she truly felt that her nearest neighbor
was God, while another grew to appreciate her only companions - three chickens
that a cowboy had given her. Another practiced playing the piano on her husband's
desk - probably a laughable scene under other circumstances.
rode miles to attend dances or just to see a woman from a distance. Although this
is familiar cowboy behavior that you'd expect to see in the movies, what writer
could invent a story of cowboys riding miles just to see or hold a baby that they
had only heard about - a baby belonging to complete strangers?
the second part of the book is a little lighter and covers the camp or brush arbor
meetings / revivals and comes close to explaining why West
Texas has so many churches. Here the reader is relieved to find that there
was some fun to be had when families would bring their children, dogs and even
most of their furniture to these semi-annual events. Getting a year or six months
worth of friendship and/ or religion crowded into a few short days is something
few societies experience.
Rather than a cover photograph there's a bleak
and dismal landscape painting by Harry Carnohan during The Great Depression. This
might limit the book's appeal as a gift, but it remains a great reference for
writers, sociologists and anyone who takes seriously the study of Texas and Texans.
The details of everyday pioneer life are valuable and passages and quotes taken
from the letters and diaries are well- chosen. It's a contribution to any West
Texas library - personal or public.
You might have to find yourself
in the right mood to start reading, but it's not an easy book to forget. It reads
like a novel without the drone of academia and Mr. Fairchild's profession is never
apparent - although it explains the depth and coverage of the subject.
It's a sober and unromantic homage to settlers of the Panhandle
and is highly recommended.