Little Heathens

Little Heathens

Hard Times and High Spirits on An Iowa Farm During the Great Depression

Book - 2007
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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.
Publisher: New York : Bantam Books, c2007
ISBN: 9780553384246
Characteristics: x, 292 p. : ill. ; 22 cm


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Jun 06, 2018

My mom who is 89 grew up in Kansas during this same time period, we both read the book and it was just how she described her childhood on the farm. The resourcefulness, the "do-it-youself or do without, the whole family working together for survival year in and year out is what impressed me. It is amazing how things have changed in less than 100 years. I loved the recipes, the home cleaning methods, home remedies were all very interesting. Highly recommend.

Apr 13, 2017

This personal memoir about life in rural Iowa during the Depression is chock full of both charm and energy. Reading it is like taking a trip to a foreign country because the life described is so different from what we experience today. Although much was grim and hard work was the norm, the author remembers it all with great affection and I was filled with admiration and awe at the resourcefulness and self-sufficiency of this family. One warning, however: This book is a stream of memories and there's no real story arc or character development. It's not a novel. And sometimes the narrative bogs down in detail.

Nov 20, 2012

I loved this book. Although I many generations removed from farm life, I was surprised at how many aspects of her life were part of the total culture of the time. I went back and took notes on everything from recipes to remedies.


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