Archive for Monday, October 27, 2008

Topeka woman dusts off memories for History Channel

October 27, 2008

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Marge Heeney is seen in her Topeka home. Heeney was interviewed by a crew from the History Channel for its documentary "Black Blizzard," about the Dust Bowl days.

Marge Heeney is seen in her Topeka home. Heeney was interviewed by a crew from the History Channel for its documentary "Black Blizzard," about the Dust Bowl days.

— Marge Heeney points to an XM radio in her downtown Topeka apartment and says with a broad grin, "I love this."

While the 82-year-old Heeney, known around town for the wide array of hats she seemingly always wears, keeps up with current events, she does so largely by means of radio and some television - not so much the printed media.

"I'm a listener, not a reader," she said.

So it took something really special to command Heeney's attention enough to read an entire book. That was the case when Timothy Egan's book "The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl" "literally fell into my hands," she said.

Heeney grew up in southwest Oklahoma in Roger Mills County. She has distinct memories of the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s.

She said Egan's book captivated her and led her to write to him, thanking him for his fine work.

She also told her story about her days in Oklahoma's Dust Bowl as a young girl.

To her surprise, Egan wrote her back. That was the last she had heard or thought of it until she got a call from a company doing interviews and taping for a History Channel documentary titled "Black Blizzard."

The company had heard about Heeney from Egan and wanted to interview her.

In June, the crew of four brought their lights and cameras to the apartment she shares with her husband, Barney, and interviewed her for more than two hours.

"They were on top of it," Heeney said. "Just intense interest - a question for every statement I made."

Heeney's portion was condensed to less than a minute in the final version of "Black Blizzard," which premiered this month.

She told her interviewers that many people found solace in the hard times through their church, which beyond offering spiritual encouragement also gave folks a place to go.

During the interview, she said, the interviewers asked whether she had any songs from the Depression and Dust Bowl days. So Heeney sang a couple of hymns.

"They started to cry - all four of them," she said. "I said, 'If you don't quit, I'm going to have to have an altar call."'

Heeney said she wasn't on the show for very long and that her songs ended up on the cutting-room floor.

Despite that, she said, the program does an "excellent" job of capturing life in the Dust Bowl days, as well as life in the Depression.

For Heeney, as with others who endured those hard times, the memories remain strong.

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