Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression
I tell of a time, a place, and a way of life long gone. For many years I have had the urge to describe that treasure trove, lest it vanish forever. So, partly in response to the basic human instinct to share feelings and experiences, and partly for the sheer joy and excitement of it all, I report on my early life. It was quite a romp.
So begins Mildred Kalish’s story of growing up on her grandparents’ Iowa farm during the depths of the Great Depression. With her father banished from the household for mysterious transgressions, five-year-old Mildred and her family could easily have been overwhelmed by the challenge of simply trying to survive. This, however, is not a tale of suffering.
Kalish counts herself among the lucky of that era. She had caring grandparents who possessed—and valiantly tried to impose—all the pioneer virtues of their forebears, teachers who inspired and befriended her, and a barnyard full of animals ready to be tamed and loved. She and her siblings and their cousins from the farm across the way played as hard as they worked, running barefoot through the fields, as free and wild as they dared.
Filled with recipes and how-tos for everything from catching and skinning a rabbit to preparing homemade skin and hair beautifiers, apple cream pie, and the world’s best head cheese (start by scrubbing the head of the pig until it is pink and clean), Little Heathens portrays a world of hardship and hard work tempered by simple rewards. There was the unsurpassed flavor of tender new dandelion greens harvested as soon as the snow melted; the taste of crystal clear marble-sized balls of honey robbed from a bumblebee nest; the sweet smell from the body of a lamb sleeping on sun-warmed grass; and the magical quality of oat shocking under the light of a full harvest moon.
Little Heathens offers a loving but realistic portrait of a “hearty-handshake Methodist” family that gave its members a remarkable legacy of kinship, kindness, and remembered pleasures. Recounted in a luminous narrative filled with tenderness and humor, Kalish’s memoir of her childhood shows how the right stuff can make even the bleakest of times seem like “quite a romp.”
From the Hardcover edition.
This book is a winner
By Schmerguls "schmerguls" - July 8, 2007
This is an entrancing memoir of days now long gone, but vivid in the minds of those who lived them. While I lived on an Iowa farm in western Iowa rather than eastern Iowa, and was a boy, and was about six years younger than the author, this book recalled so much of what it was like that reading it was sn unmitigated delight. The author recognizes "the all-too-human tendency to gloss over the bad and glorify, or at least magnify, the good" when recalling one's childhood, but it sure makes greater reading to read of one's appreciated childhood than it does to read of one who looks back thereon in bitterness. Thus this book beats, e.g., Angela's Ashes by a mile in enjoyable reading.
By Peter Passell - June 8, 2007
Little Heathens, the memoir of an Iowa farm childhood, is a marvelously vivid encounter with an iconic way of life that has largely gone the way of the elm tree. The author Mildred Kalish, valedictorian of her high school class back in 1940, turns a sharp, remarkably objective eye on those descendents of the pioneers, "more 19th century than 20th," who raised her to live off the land through Iowa's "fierce blizzards" and some of America's worst times.
But this is not Little-House-on-the-Prairie. Yes, Kalish can rustle up the poignant details of honey gathering and head-cheese making. She can tell you how to domesticate raccoons and explain the proper use of beets to draw boils. What's unique here, though, is Kalish's portrait of an austere people whose Puritan tradition frowned on joy, prohibited affection in word or touch, "built character" with an open bible and homilies that dotted their days.
Fortunately, while Kalish grew up hearing that "whistling girls... read more
THE GOOD OLD DAYS remembered
By Anne Salazar "inveterate reader" - August 26, 2007
I loved every word of this book! The author grew up fresh and innocent and kind and loving in a very difficult, but pure, time in our history. In this too-short book she goes into all aspects of that life -- the fun, the harships, the extended family, the recipes, schooling, holidays, etc. I would really love another book or two by her, fleshing out some of these chapters. I would especially love a cookbook. I loved the short chapters on their animals and pets! I would like more on her school studies and friends. And more old photos.
After reading this book, I fervently wished I could know Mildred Armstrong Kalish. She is obviously a smart and sweet lady, appearing to be very much like my beloved grandmother who was raised in Kansas a few years prior to the time of which this author writes. It is amazing to think what changes she has been through, what changes our country has been through! I hope I don't sound too old when I say that I miss the good ole days, even... read more
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