Amy Barlow Liberatore… stories of lost years, wild times, mental variety, faith, and lots of jazz

Tag Archives: Signs


In the stifling summer of ‘34
when drought hit Iowa hard
like brick on bone

my grandma Blanche packed up the family
for another Midnight Shhhhh! Move
(before the landlord came for the rent)

This time they hitched a ride
out of Council Bluffs to Lake Manawah
and settled in a summer cottage

They squatted there year-round
as did other families, who had
their own stories of landlords

Blanche fed every man who rode the rails
They put up signs for the next hobos:
A cat (“kind lady”) and two shovels (“work here”)

She felt that every person deserved food, medicine, and
shelter (today, this is called Socialism) and that
giving the men a task helped build their egos

So Dorney swept the steps and Gibb fed the chickens
(“borrowed” by Blanche on their way out of town)
while another collected eggs and so on. They never

stayed long. Blanche later insisted the term “Hobo”
was not slander but, as in H.L. Mencken’s writings,
it meant “homeward bound.” Indeed, some went “home”

right in their back room, too sick, too weary to go on.
Blanche knew the doctor, got them morphine, helped them
sip broth. She also washed them, like family, before burial.

When I asked my mom about those days, it began a years-long,
booze-fed, continuing conversation about poverty, the
Dust Bowl, generosity, and the human spirit. Blanche, before her

in those days, was Ma Joad incarnate, with a touch of
Woody Guthrie. “But Mom,” I said, “you got to live in a
cottage by a lake. Where did Grandpa get that kind of money?”

My mother Charlotte, Blanche’s only daughter,
gazed out the back window and smiled ruefully: “Child, it
may have been a lake, but there was no water in it back then.”

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For Sunday Scribblings, the prompt is apropos: Drought. The Great Depression coincided with one of the worst droughts in American history. Bad agricultural practices were largely to blame, and it seems all we’ve learned is how to bio-engineer Frankenseeds to forestall the inevitable. Indigenous Americans knew how to plant and harvest; how to move south in the colder months, giving the land a chance to renew; and how to treat the earth with respect.

NOTE: Ma Joad is one of the main characters in John Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes Of Wrath. The movie starred Henry Fonda as Tom, the eldest son, and Jane Darwell as Ma. Her embodiment of that character, Ma’s feistiness and compassion, won her an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress of 1940.

I like to think of Blanche in those days as part Ma Joad, part Steinbeck. Although she never wrote a book, Blanche was a voracious reader and self-taught scholar. That’s how she knew about Mencken, Upton Sinclair, and the like. She went to her grave despising Ayn Rand’s opinion that “altruism is evil” and her novel, The Fountainhead, which espoused that every person should look after themselves: “If we hadn’t lived near the tracks, who would have fed them? All the other houses had hobo signs like rectangles with a dot in the middle, ‘Dangerous.’ People thought I was nuts to try to feed these men. I guess that’s why I got committed eventually – Bill thought so too. But what’s crazy about taking care of each other in hard times?”

I’m proud to be Blanche Laughlin’s granddaughter. This is also at my poetic lake with water IN IT, Poets United.

For Imaginary Garden With Real Toads, we were asked to choose one of many quotes and write a poem to it. The moment I saw Marley in the mix, I was SO THERE. First the Bob Marley quote; then, the poem. (Also at my poetic hitching post, Poets United!) Peace, Amy

“Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don’t complicate your mind. Don’t bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake Up And Live!” –  Bob Marley


You learned it all to get your license.
The colors are:
Red, Gold, and Green.

You’re behind the wheel
all by yourself now, babe.
Take good care.
Mind the signs.

But signs don’t tell it all.
There are potholes:
Anything from a bad grade
to a ruined romance
can throw you for a moment,
head you into a ditch.

Get back on the road,
open all the windows,
crank the radio,
and sing a song.
Cuz around the bend,
something sweet is waiting.
It never fails, never.

Careful on the back roads,
off the beaten path.
You’ll find temptation
is tantalizing.
You may succumb,
but not for long.
You’re not dumb.

And when you’re lost,
no signs to guide you,
that’s the moment of truth.
That’s when you’ll divine
which exit to take.
That’s when you’ll define
who you are, what you’re made of.

Let’s review the lesson:
Stop when you need to.
Yield to NO ONE when you
know your cause is right.
Red. Gold. Green.
Marley’s colors can be
your colors, too.

Your turn at the wheel, darlin.
Make it a sweet ride.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
Thank you, Bob Marley, for your legacy of love in music and in spirit, promoting peace.