As with many of the Oklahomans, some of the Rileys headed out for California when the Dust Bowl hit. A few more followed as the Dust Bowl turned into the Great Depression. While there, the Rileys lived in camps as they worked the farms, picking fruits and vegetables or whatever other kind of work they could find. They were looked down on, called “Okies,” “prune pickers” and other names. This didn’t bother them too much. They were working, earning enough money to support themselves in California and send a little something back home to the family they left behind.
Winston and Amelia Riley were among the Rileys that packed up what they could and headed out to California. Armed with a work ethic and five hungry mouths to feed, they did the best they could in California – finding any work they could do. They traveled from farm to farm, picking plums, peaches, oranges and all sorts of different berries. They lived in the work camps with other Okies and all the others from around the country who were also doing what had to be done to survive.
“Granny A told me about one time they were between camps,” Ken Riley said in an interview. “There were a bunch of folks traveling together, looking for work.”
The story went on that Winston and Amelia stopped one night with a group of other workers. They didn’t have any food to eat and no money to buy any – not that there was any place to buy food on the side of the road where everyone had set up camp.
“She said she got a big pot out of the truck and started a fire,” Ken continued. “She filled the pot with water from a stream and watched it begin to boil.”
Amelia knew that her children were hungry, but she and Winston didn’t have anything to feed them. Many of the others on the road with them were hungry and without food. Despite not having any food, Amelia had a plan. She had heard an old story of someone else who had been hungry and had made “Stone Soup.” Amelia wasn’t sure if it would work or not, but she was going to give it a try.
She found a couple of rocks on the side of the road and carefully washed them. Amelia then dropped them in the pot for everyone to see. The rocks banged against the side of the pot as she stirred them.
“Granny A said a woman walked over to her and asked what she was doing,” Ken said. “It was explained she was making soup, but the soup would be a bit better if there were some carrots to go in it.”
The woman walked away, shaking her head. A few moments later, she came back with a couple of potatoes. She didn’t have any carrots, but she was willing to add her family’s potatoes to the soup. Amelia cut up the potatoes and added them to the rocks in the soup.
“Before long, several other people had made contributions,” Ken explained. “They even had some salt pork and onions in the soup. There were all sorts of ingredients in the soup once everyone gave a little of what they had.”
Chances are those people didn’t have enough to feed their own families supper that night. However, when they put everything they had together, there was something for everyone. It wasn’t a lot and many were probably still hungry when they went to bed, but it was better than nothing.
This story has been told several different ways. One version is of a hungry Revolutionary War soldier. Another is of a Confederate soldier making his way back home from the north after the war ended. There is even a version that says this what the Indians ate as they marched to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. Is it real or is it just folklore or an old family story someone made up? No one knows for sure. Not that matters.
The message, not the truth to the story, is what matters. That message is loud and clear: We should all do what we can with what we have been blessed with; by doing that, we will bless others which, in turn, will bless us even more. We need to work together with what we have to make things better for as many others as possible.