Monday, January 12, 2009

Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression

Growing up in Iowa seems to be the stuff of good literature. Man Killed by Pheasant is not the only recent memoir set in the Hawkeye State. In Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression, Mildred Armstrong Kalish also takes readers back to an Iowa childhood, though a bit farther in time than John T. Price in the other book. There she describes the daily life in a small town and on a small farm at a time when money was scarce but hope for a better time was in abundance.

Kalish and her family would have been in deep trouble if not for the support of grandparents and an extended family. When Mildred was very young, her father ran away. She never explains why. Maybe everyone was just as glad to have him gone, as everyone regroups and carries on without him. Money hardly mattered. The family had land, chickens, pigs, corn, and fresh vegetables. They made their own soap, clothes, fuel, medecines, etc. When they did get something "store brought," they made the most of it. I was particularly impressed with reusing the wax paper from boxes of cereal to wrap sandwiches. That was early green thinking.

You never feel sorry for Kalish as an orphan. She was always getting to eat honey-hickory nut cinnamon rolls, flaky crusted cherry pies, and morel mushrooms from the family's own woodlot. It almost makes me want to travel to that time, but then I recall how the farmhouse had heat only in the kitchen during the long winters, and I think better of my wish.

"How we lived in the past" books can sometimes be boring, but Kalish's memoir, as you can probably tell from the title, is enlivened by many episodes of mischief. She also tells you all the swear words they knew at the time. I recommend Little Heathens to readers who like to learn about other times.

Kalish, Mildred Armstrong. Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression. Bantam Books, 2007. ISBN 9780553804959

2 comments:

____Maggie said...

I love it, Rick! We are doing this title for our book club in February and I'm leading! :D

____Maggie said...

Everyone was abuzz over this read, Rick! They were talking over each other and it was pure chaos! Yea!