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Little Heathens: Hard times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm during the Great Depressionby Mildred Armstrong Kalish
Synopses & Reviews
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.”
An evocative memoir of growing up in the heart of the Midwest during the Great Depression describes life on her grandparents' Iowa farm, a time of endless work, resourcefulness, no tolerance for idleness or waste, family, and kinship, in a volume that includes recipes and how-to's for everything from no-fail wart-removal spells to skinning a rabbit. 40,000 first printing.
A memoir from a schoolteacher of growing up in the heart of the Midwest during the Great Depression describes life on an Iowa farm during a time of endless work, resourcefulness, no tolerance for idleness or waste, family, and kinship.
About the Author
Mildred Kalish is a retired professor of English who grew up in Garrison, Iowa, and taught at several colleges, including the University of Iowa, Adelphi University, and Suffolk Community College. She now lives with her husband in northern California.
Table of Contents
1: The family — Foreground — Great-Grandpa Jonathan — Aunt Belle — Thanksgiving — 2: Building character — Oral influences — Literary influences — Religious influences — Thrift — Medicine — Chores — Farm food — An especially pleasant chore — Water windmill — Milking and other nightly chores — Wash day — Outhouses — 3: Fall/Winter — Country school: Monroe Number 6 — Box social — Gathering nuts — Gathering wood — Winter is Icumen in, Lhude sing Goddamm! — Town school: Garrison — 4: Spring/Summer — Leisure time — Gardening — Spring in Yankee Grove — May baskets — Birds — Animal tales — Raccoons and other critters.
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