I am uncertain if The Time it Never Rained by Elmer Kelton is great on its own or because of how much it reminded me of my grandfathers. While reading it , I felt as if I was spending time with them – gaining insight into their values and inner dialogue. One of my grandfather’s was a farmer the other a police officer (who grew up on a farm and worked on one well into adulthood). This bred in them both a no nonsense quality that would rub some people the wrong way, but you were always clear on where you stood.
The main character is Charlie Flagg, a rancher with an absolute commitment to independence. Taking place in the early 1950’s, ranching was transitioning from tough old cowboys who earn every dollar by the sweat of their brow to slick operations that use government subsidies, loans and programs to create income that is not really earned. Charlie is opposed to all forms of charity. He will help a friend in need, and will accept the same, but refuses to be dependent or beholden to anyone.
During a time of drought, as one neighbor after another gives up and turns to the government, Charlie refuses, to his detriment financially. Yet, while he loses money and land just trying to keep his ranch – he learns the truth about his children and wife. His marriage becomes stronger than ever as they unite in an effort to preserve their life’s work. His son emerges as a spoiled and undisciplined fool, unable or unwilling to get dirty. This is a sad realization for Charlie – the result of his son having the benefits of his (Charlie’s) hard work, yet no experience with hardship himself.
The story, ultimately, is one about digging in when our principles and values are being challenged. It challenges the reader to ask difficult questions of themselves: “What really matters to me? What am I willing to sacrifice to preserve my integrity? Would I surrender my ethics to preserve material comforts? What is gained and lost from these decisions?”
Part of me thought Charlie was a fool for struggling when “help” was readily available. On the other hand, he knew that the “help” was only an “in,” by the government and banks, that would eventually assume real ownership of his land. Loans and subsidies create dependence and vulnerability. If there is a lien on your property, you do not own it. The temporary comfort of assistance could not, for Charlie, replace the pride of owning his ranch.
In Charlie I saw the grit and determination of may grandfather’s (as well as my father and SO MANY men – and women – I knew growing up in a small farm town). Their daily fight to survive and provide. Their unwillingness to take a day off or complain. I wonder if men such as this still exist. . They must, but where? We would all be better off, I believe, if they came forward and showed us all a better way to live – principled, proud, determined, with faith and a vision of a better tomorrow for our heirs.
Be Strong. Stay Hungry. Walk Tall.