the time it never rained

It crept up out of Mexico, touching first along the brackish Pecos and spreading then in all directions, a cancerous blight burning a scar upon the land.

Just another dry spell, men said at first.  Ranchers watched waterholes recede to brown puddles of mud that their livestock would not touch.  They watched the rank weeds shrivel as the west wind relentlessly sought them out and smothered them with its hot breath.  They watched the grass slowly lose its green, then curl and fire up like drying cornstalks.

Farmers watched their cotton make an early bloom in its stunted top, produce a few half-hearted bolls and then wither.

Men grumbled, but you learned to live with the dry spells if you stayed in West Texas; there were more dry spells than wet ones.  No one expected another drouth like that of ’33.  And the really big dries like 1918 came once in a lifetime.

Why worry? they said.  It would rain this fall.  It always had.

But it didn’t.  And many a boy would become a man before the land was green again.

Elmer Kelton wrote in the introduction to his novel, The Time It Never Rained:

“During the long Texas drouth of the 1950s a joke–probably already as old as the state–was told again and again about a man who bet several of his friends that it never would rain again, and collected from two of them.

“. . . I hoped the novel would give urban people a better understanding of hazards the rancher and the farmer face in trying to feed and clothe them.  The heaviest readership, however, was west of the Mississippi.  In effect, I found myself preaching to the choir.

“Many people over the years have asked me if I based Charlie Flagg on their fathers.  My mother was convinced that I wrote it about my father.  The truth is, I did, in part.  I wrote it about him and about many, many others I knew, people who still retained an old frontier heritage of fighting their own fight, testing one strategy and when it failed trying another, but above all simply enduring and enduring.

“They are not the traditional Western fictional heroes, standing up a villain for one splendid moment of glory.  They are quiet but determined men and women who stand their ground year after year in a fight they can never finally win, against an unforgiving enemy they know will return to challenge them again and again so long as they live.

“They are the true heroes.”

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