rugged road signs

by Elouise

David and John in Kansas

Dad on the right with his older brother, farming in the Midwest, 1920s or 30s.

they journeyed
by rugged road signs
each with its distinct
look and character
numbered and lettered
pointing the way
luring them on
from here to there
over miles of unexplored
wilderness and wasteland

like old friends they
populate out-of-the-way
byroads and fields
desert routes and mountain trails
faded by the passage
of time and stormy weather
all but forgotten
aging memories
of migrations and desolations
gold-fevers and dust-bowls
boom and bust days

worn pillar-memorials
to lifetimes
of love and betrayal
high hopes and aching bones
one season at a time
one birth or death at a time
an unscripted cacophony
of generations seeking
survival and glory in wastelands
flood zones and dirt farms
now abandoned


The old photo at the top captures the harshness of life on Midwest farms in the 1920s and early 1930s. Dad is on the right; his older brother is on the left. Note the bare feet. Shoes were a luxury.

Below is a harvest photo. The same older brother is on the farm tractor; one of my four aunts is standing on the combine. She was the oldest of 11 siblings, one of whom died before her first birthday.

Farm Tractor harvesting

I never visited this old family farm, though my father did just that on his last solo trip across the USA from East to West and back again. Mom had died, and Dad was well into his 80s. He was gone for months.

Dad drove his car with overnight gear and survival tools in the trunk. Stopped when he wanted to; slept in the car frequently; and visited remaining family members along the way and up the West Coast. It was his fond farewell to a way of life full of romance from a distance, but, as he put it, not a place he would go visit again.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 March 2016
Photographer unknown; both photos taken the late 1920s or early 1930s