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

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

by Mildred Armstrong Kalish


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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.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553384246
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/29/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 128,275
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.23(h) x 0.64(d)

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.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


My childhood came to a virtual halt when I was around five years old. That was when my grandfather banished my father from our lives forever for some transgression that was not to be disclosed to us children, though we overheard whispered references to bankruptcy, bootlegging, and jail time. His name was never again spoken in our presence; he just abruptly disappeared from our lives. The shame and disgrace that enveloped our family as a result of these events, along with the ensuing divorce, just about destroyed my mother. Is it possible today to make anyone understand the harsh judgment of such failures in the late 1920's? Throughout my entire life, whenever I was asked about my father, I always said that he was dead. When he actually died I never knew.
So it was that Grandma and Grandpa chose to make our family of five—Mama, my ten-year-old brother Jack, my eight-year-old brother John, my one-year-old sister Avis, and me—their responsibility. They decided to settle us on the smallest of Grandpa's four farms, which was located about three miles from the village of Garrison, where they had retired after a lifetime of farming. However, because the fierce blizzards and subzero temperatures of Iowa winters made it hazardous to walk to the  one-room rural school we would be attending, it had been arranged that we would live with Grandma and Grandpa in Garrison and attend school there from January until the school year ended in mid-May. At that time our family would move out to the farm. Each year from then on, we went to school in the country from September until Christmas, then moved back to Garrison and finished the school year in town.

Our new life began when we arrived at Grandma and Grandpa's on a cold winter day in February. The house we moved into that day was a large, substantial structure. It was located about seven miles from Vinton, the seat of Benton County. Grandpa was born, raised, married, and buried all within an eight-mile radius of Garrison and Yankee Grove, the wooded area where his parents had settled as pioneers.

Though the house we shared boasted eight large rooms, suggesting that we had lots of space and privacy, in fact, all seven of us spent most of our waking hours confined to the living room and the kitchen because they were the only rooms that were heated. The frigid upstairs bedrooms were rarely used except for sleeping. The conditions under which we lived were a perfect demonstration of the wisdom of Kahlil Gibran's observation: "Let there be spaces in your togetherness."

Grandpa and Grandma must have had some unspoken, perhaps even unrecognized, resentment at having toiled all their lives raising their own family, only to be confronted with the inescapable fact that now, retired at last, they had to do the whole thing all over again and raise their daughter's "spawn," as Grandma often referred to us. And all of this was happening at the worst possible time, during the Depression.

All three generations suffered. We kids were under the constant surveillance of Grandma and Grandpa, who were critical of how we spent our days, how we spoke and dressed, and how we behaved. (In a good many ways, they never quite made it into the twentieth century.) Suddenly we were subjected to a completely new set of rules, which governed every aspect of our lives. The whole family had to go to bed at a set time every night and get up at a set time every morning. We all had to be fully dressed for the day before we ate breakfast. We all had to sit down at a properly set table three times a day, and we all had to eat what was served on that table. Generally Grandpa would choose the menu for breakfast because he was the first one up. If he decided he wanted oatmeal, then everyone ate oatmeal; if he decided he wanted pancakes, then everyone ate pancakes; whether he selected sorghum, honey, or molasses as the sweetener, all were required to accept his choice. We were allowed no say in the matter.

In addition, to reinforce the principle of "Waste not, want not," we were required to eat everything on our plates. If we didn't, the food was set aside and served to us at the next meal. Generally, unless it was a Saturday and we had cousins visiting, there was no eating between meals.

Through this regimentation, the austere habits that Grandma and Grandpa had adopted and lived by for decades were imposed on us with a vengeance. And we often resented their severity. To be fair, I must note that it was those habits that made it possible for them to acquire four debt-free farms by the time we came to live with them. Now, there's an achievement not to be overlooked.

Nonetheless, Grandma and Grandpa were what the locals called "land-poor"—people who owned a lot of land but had very little money. And even what little they had they tried to save. The only things they spent money on were tea, coffee, sugar, salt, white flour, cloth, and kerosene.

Years later I came to understand that there was a good reason for them to want to save money. They needed it to pay the taxes on their farms, three of which they had rented out to the families of their daughters. Due to the deepening Depression, they could never be sure if the rent would actually be paid. If the rent did not come in, there would be no money to pay the taxes and the farms would be lost. We children sensed, but could not really understand, the awful threat of that disastrous economy. I had to grow to adulthood before I could even begin to comprehend the impact of what was happening in those days—the disappearance of money and jobs, the loss of machinery and farms, the bank failures that took people's entire savings.

Though we didn't understand them, we children were seldom protected from the harsh realities of the period, and we certainly sensed that something terrible was happening. Indelibly stamped in my memory is the scene in my Aunt Hazel and Uncle Ernest's farm kitchen one wintry March morning when I was perhaps six years old. There I entered to find all the stalwart adults of my world—Grandma, Grandpa, Mama, my aunt and uncle—still and wordless as statues. It was clear that they had been crying. I had never seen adults cry. I didn't know they could cry. I was struck mute with a fear that grabbed me right in the guts. Though I was given no explanation at the time, in the days that followed I overheard enough to realize that Grandpa's brother and sister had each lost their farm, all of their machinery and all of their livestock, for reasons that were unfathomable to me. What can a child know of vast economic forces operating on a global level? I was stunned and afraid.

Grandma and Grandpa's lives were changed forever by the plunging economy. It has taken me a lifetime to realize that the Depression and its consequent tragedies were nearly as incomprehensible to the adults as they were to us children. Since they could not understand what was happening in the world, how could they explain the situation to us? Suddenly, unexpectedly, a family of five was now the responsibility of two old people who had thought they were heading into a comfortable, if frugal, retirement. They must have been scared to death.

In Garrison, then, we children were required to adhere to the rigid routines set down for us by Grandma and Grandpa. But our lives changed radically when the school year ended around mid-May, for that was when we left Garrison for the country. The move to the country provided our little family with a welcome separation from our grandparents, and them with a no doubt equally welcome respite from us.

The farm we lived on was directly across the road from the farm where Mama's sister, Aunt Hazel, her husband, Uncle Ernest, and their three sons lived. Unusual in Iowa, this proximity meant that there was much sharing and interaction between the two families. Feeling equally at home at both places, we cousins shared pets, leisure time, food, and chores. Indeed, the two properties were treated as one cooperative, if complicated, venture, though we maintained strictly separate households for eating, sleeping, and gardening. Each farm had its advantages. Aunt Hazel and Uncle Ernest's farm was equipped with all the necessary implements, the buildings were properly maintained, and the livestock were well housed in winter and in summer; but it had insufficient pastureland. Our place was older, and the house, the sheep shed, and the chicken houses were the only buildings habitable the year round. The ancient, though picturesque, barn had been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair, and provided proper shelter for horses, calves, chickens, ducks, and geese only during the mild months of summer and fall. However, the permanent and best pastures were on our side of the road.

Grandma and Grandpa visited the farms frequently in their very noisy Buick bringing food, household necessities, and goodies. On these visits they would stay the day, lending a hand wherever help was needed, and then return to their home in the evening. They did this for all four of their daughters and their families.

It is no exaggeration to say that Grandpa and Grandma were about as compatible as two people could possibly be. They seldom argued; they went everywhere and did everything together. However, there was one event—involving a gun—that must be chronicled, an event that was revived, relived, and recounted repeatedly during the time our family lived with them. It happened when they were young parents and lived on the farm that later came to be occupied by Aunt Hazel and Uncle Ernest. In those days guns were a part of farm life. Women as well as men learned to shoot. Every family owned at least three guns: a .22 rifle, and ten- and twelve-gauge shotguns. From early childhood we were taught to respect and care for guns. "The most dangerous gun," we were cautioned, "is the one that isn't loaded." That expression was drilled into us for reasons you will soon understand. One winter day Grandpa was in the kitchen cleaning his guns and Grandma was upstairs making beds. Grandpa accidentally discharged his "unloaded" gun. Grandma started screaming. Grandpa ran from the kitchen and started running up the steep stairs just as Grandma started to run down. They slammed into each other on the landing at the right-angled turn of the stairs, connecting with such force that they knocked each other to the floor, whereupon, in their panic, they began to shout at each other. No matter how many times they told the story, they still couldn't get over the fact that they had erupted in such outbursts.

"Why did you yell?" Grandpa would ask Grandma at the conclusion of yet another retelling of the event.

"I yelled because I thought you had shot yourself. Why did you yell?"

"I yelled because I thought that I had shot you!"

They rehearsed this frightening event so often and vividly that I sometimes believed I was there to witness the incident. They were never able to get beyond their fright for each other's well-being, nor were they ever able to see the burlesque humor in this event, which so entertained us grandchildren. Though there was a real possibility that the shot could have penetrated the ceiling and entered the bedroom, it turned out that it had lodged itself harmlessly in the doorsill between the kitchen and the living room. Curiously, Grandpa, who was so meticulous about everything, never repaired that doorsill.

Our move to the farm when school let out meant that the rigidly ordered lives dictated by our grandparents were now governed by an entirely different set of expectations: our mother's. Even though we had many more chores and responsibilities such as taking care of the livestock, preparing meals, and planting and tending gardens, we actually felt freer on the farm than in Garrison. In important ways our lives were more our own, and Mama often addressed and treated us as if we were adults—if only because she needed us to be.

We four children were almost too much for our mother. To a surprising extent, she simply let us go our own ways. She didn't mind when we went to bed or rose in the morning, if it was not a school day. She didn't care what, when, or if we ate. She didn't object if, in my nightgown, I trotted out to the henhouse to gather a couple of eggs and then, still in my nightgown, cooked a fried egg breakfast and ate it sitting outside on the sunny cellar door with my favorite cat. She ignored the niceties of setting places at mealtimes. Instead, she simply placed the food and utensils in the middle of the table and let us serve ourselves.

Mama almost never made an attempt to serve a balanced meal. If she had just taken bread from the oven around the middle of the day, our noon meal would consist of freshly made bread, homemade butter, whole plum jam, and a huge pitcher of milk. If, in the garden, she noticed that the sweet corn was ready, we had nothing but buttered sweet corn for supper. Further, she didn't insist that we all eat at the table or that we all eat at the same time.

Of course, she did insist that we all do our assigned chores. Since it was obvious even to us children that it was necessary to meet our obligations to make the family operate, we seldom failed to do so, but we were allowed to create our own routines for our workdays—as did our mother, who had some very odd ideas about such matters. She marched to a different drummer, so to speak. Her priorities did not match those of most sensible people. One day she might iron or bake, even though the temperature had reached 95 degrees, on the grounds that she could not be made more uncomfortable than she already was. Yet the next day she might rise at dawn to start weeding in the garden because she liked the cool of the morning.

The real surprise is that Mama was an indifferent homemaker. She could make great soup and bake superb cakes and pies, but she could never cook meat nor fry potatoes to anyone's liking. She would either overcook or undercook, oversalt a dish or forget the salt altogether. At my brothers' urging I gradually began taking over the everyday cooking for the family when I was not much more than eight years old. I apparently inherited a natural affinity for cooking from Grandma and, rather than feeling burdened by the responsibility, I felt honored. Throughout my life, my culinary skills have been a significant asset.

With the wisdom of advancing age, I have lately come to believe that Mama acted as she did because she was crushed by the stigma of her broken home and overwhelmed by the never-ending burden of tending to and raising four active children. She coped the best she could, and certainly she had many gifts and talents. She loved being out-of-doors and could work for hours husking corn, shocking oats, and gardening. She had a remarkable rapport with animals, especially Grandpa's favorite, the horse. And she could play the piano and sing.

Reading Group Guide

Transporting us to an era that was by turns rich with simple pleasures and rife with bitter hardships, Little Heathens captures the unique world of Midwestern farm families during the 1930s. Unfolding in a series of personal, detailed recollections in a voice that is as frank as your best friend’s and as nostalgic as your grandmother’s, Mildred Armstrong Kalish’s memoir brims with special reminiscences of a lost way of life. From the succulent joy of savoring home-grown crops to the fearsome winters that left ice formations inside her bedroom window, Mildred pays tribute to remarkable Americans who, without electricity, indoor plumbing, or modern medicine, found much to celebrate despite severe deprivations. Mildred supplies more than just a feast of hearty stories for your book group to enjoy; whip up a few of her delicious homespun recipes to complete this marvelous journey.

The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Mildred Armstrong Kalish’s Little Heathens. We hope they will enrich your experience of this inspiring memoir.

1. Little Heathens recounts an adult woman’s memories of a childhood long past. What is the difference between a child's perspective and an adult’s? How did Kalish’s understanding of the world change as she grew older? Are there some ways in which her approach to life is still the same now as when she was a child?

2. How did Kalish’s memoir enhance your understanding of the Great Depression? What differences existed between farmers and city dwellers who lived through it? What legacies of this time period exist in your family?

3. Which of Kalish’s relatives was most memorable to you? Was there an Aunt Belle in your childhood? Who plays that role for the next generation?

4. How would you characterize the dynamics within Kalish’s large family? How was peace kept? What accounted for the contrasts between her relatives who were indulgent and those who were frugal?

5. What comparisons can you make between men’s and women’s roles during this period in American history? What did Kalish’s mother teach her about what a woman could expect of life?

6. Discuss the economic realities that defined this era. What determined who would manage to get by and who, like the families she describes, would lose their farms altogether? What attitudes toward money was Kalish taught to develop?

7. Kalish describes the longevity of many of her ancestors, who relied on home remedies rather than emergency rooms for treatment. She also describes the presence of cream in most of her family’s meals, and the availability of glorious fresh-baked desserts that would be strictly forbidden on a contemporary weight-loss plan. What keys to health and wellness does her memoir provide?

8. What did it take to fit in within this Iowa community? Which children and adults were accepted, and which ones might be subject to pranks or gossip? How did Kalish’s experience at school compare to that of a student at one of the large public schools that now replace her classroom?

9. How did you react to the discussions of food preparation featured in the book–from regulating the stove temperature to slaughtering–and cleaning–the main course? What were the benefits and shortcomings of such a labor-intensive use of fresh ingredients, and of life without supermarkets? Did any aspects of Kalish’s Depression-era cuisine surprise you?

10. In the end, Kalish tells us how she was able to journey far from the farm and build a life in urban areas. What distinguishes those who remained on the farm from those who left it?

11. Had you realized that the rural electrification bill was not passed until Roosevelt’s presidency? How did it shape a community to live at the mercy of the seasons, without electricity or indoor plumbing? What was Kalish’s relationship with the natural world like?

12. Discuss the role of religion in this community. What did the hierarchy of religions described by Kalish indicate about the populations who lived in her area? What were the foundations of faith within her family?

13. Early on, Kalish tells us that her mother was a single parent, and that the story of her absent father was rarely mentioned. How did her family compensate for her absent parent? How did her mother’s experience of single motherhood compare to that of parents in similar situations today?

14. Could your family endure the way of life described in the book?

15. What is gained and lost in a world that favors technology over manual labor?

16. Discuss the title of Kalish’s memoir. Which of her extended family’s antics made you laugh the most? How have the standards for naughty “little heathens” changed since she was a child?

17. What stories would you include in your memoir? What aspects of history does your life capture?

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Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 58 reviews.
BookClubReader More than 1 year ago
I was excited to read this because I saw it was on the NYT's Top Ten Books of the Year list. But the book didn't live up to the hype! I would use the words "quaint" or "dear" to describe it. I felt like I was listening to my grandmother tell a story that seemed interesting at first, but then repeated itself and ran on a little too long. It was a book club read, so I did a little research. It turns out this was exactly what I described-- stories she had written down for her grandchildren, just to preserve the memories. Turns out a friend of a friend was a publisher and offered to publish the book and ended up being a much bigger deal than she ever intended. Finally, I have to say that this was billed as such a good exploration of life in the Depression. The story, to me, did not have as much of the hard times that I would have expected from a farm in the middle of the Great Depression. The author's family seemed to do pretty well, eat pretty well, and not face as many of the challenges that I expected. Made the book a little less enlightening to me.
dogloverkt More than 1 year ago
Mildred Kalish is a wonderful storyteller. She includes just the right details, snippets of conversation and description to make the characters come alive. Even though she writes about her family, she makes reader feel part of her Iowa clan. I would rank it right up there with Ralph Moody's Little Britches, or even Laura Ingalls Wilder's reminiscences.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was so good and brought back so many memories that I sent copies to each of my sisters,
DaytonReader More than 1 year ago
I'm sure this book has received many favorable comments and I agree that it is a very good book. For me it was a "lunch-time" book, read in 10 to 12 page doses over lunch at my desk. My older relatives would have easily related with many of the stories. The only things new I would add are 1) that there might have been a few too many recipies; still they show the amazing recall of detail that makes the book a standout; and 2) there were a few places such as the discussions about profanity that might have not really been necessary. But all in all it was a delightful book and those lunches were enjoyable breaks during busy and stressful days.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. It made me feel like I could write the story of my own growing-up years and someone would actually want to read it. I've already tried the recipe for 'porcupines' and bought a copy for my mother!
sharlene_w on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Ruth Ann Phimister read the audio version of this book. It was like listening to the author herself regale me with tales of her childhood. Little Heathens discloses everything you wanted to know about life in the 30s but your grandmother (or mother) didn't get around to telling you herself. I finally learned exactly how they managed to use the pages of the Sears catalog in the outhouse and the facts of life as gleaned from observance and eavesdropping, as no one spoke of such delicate matters back then. I also enjoyed reading about farm food and how they readied a chicken (and countless other items) for the dinner table. Mildred Kalish's gift for writing is like a time machine--it takes you back to rural Iowa in the 1930s with all its sights and sounds. A humorous and lively read.
emitnick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Life on a farm and in a tiny town in Iowa in the 30's. Kalish is funny, straight-forward, and down-to-earth, the perfect person to tell us about her childhood, which was absolutely packed with work, from farmwork to housework. Somehow, the kids managed to have a huge amount of fun regardless - they were the "little heathens" of the title. My grandpa grew up on what might have been a similar farm - I think I understand him a little better now. Hugely entertaining read.
NotSunkYet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When reading this book I felt that the author was right there reading it to me.
juglicerr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was really expecting this to be interesting. As it is, I would have given it two stars, except that I feel it has value as a social history. This is the sort of thing that would be a treasure for a family, and belongs in Iowan history collections. I don't really understand why it was published, let alone so well received. My opinion of of the New York Times's literary taste was not enhanced.This is occasionally interesting, but at times fragments into a mishmash of scattered reminisces, and was at times so boring that only the fact that I was reading it for a book club kept me going. I also found the author's smug self-satisfaction off-putting. Does the frugal upbringing of which she so frequently boasts explain why she drove a basic, economical car like a Cadillac? Armstrong never does deal with the disconnect between her happy memories of the past, and the fact that she ran from that life as fast as she could. I often wondered as I read this if she is very disappointed in her children and grandchildren, as she tells us about her uplifting childhood that is so different from "kids today". Perhaps that explains a nostalgia for a life she didn't care to live as an adult. Otherwise, I guess she is just a nostalgia bore, like so many people, wanting to see a golden age in the past that apparently wasn't all that pleasant at the time.
kreativiT on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book a lot. While the setting is the Great Depression, I think any one who grew up on a farm will find some familiar things. I love that the book includes favorite recipes as well as remembrances and plan on trying a few. I will pass this along to other family members and I'm sure they will enjoy it as well.
brsquilt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
About the growing up on a farm in Iowa during the Depression (1930's). Very nostalgic and fun to read.
mamashepp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It was hard for me to believe this was written by a retired English professor. There was a lot of great Depression-era information in the book as well as some great anecdotes but I found that it dragged and was not very well arranged.
MystiqueWillow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Little Heathens : Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm during the Great DepressionFor months, I passed the shelf at the book store on which this book sat. I mean, I picked it up occasionally, I read the blurb on the back, and then I would stare at the front as if waiting for a sign to buy it. Finally, I would set it back on the shelf from whence it came. It might look like a deliciously interesting piece of literature, but it had the distinct smell of a history book in disguise. Everyone knows the books of which I speak, the ones that lure you in with the promises of a rich and colorful glimpse at history and then turn out to be nothing more than a glorified textbook. Yeah those books. Well, I was determined not to have another one of ¿those books¿ polluting my bookshelf. So, I took a stand and refused to buy it, until the day I gave in and bought it. What can I say? I have an addiction.Once the book was purchased reading it became my number one priority. After all, I wanted to prove to myself that no matter how seductive the book seemed to be, it was really a textbook knock off. I read the whole book front to back, and from it I drew two conclusions. Number one: I was absolutely right the book was a deliciously interesting piece of nonfiction literature. Number two: a little bit of simple goes a long, long way.Mildred Armstrong Kalish, a retired English professor, is the person responsible for this well-written, vividly colorful account of the Great Depression. She writes from her own experience of being a child and growing up on a farm, an Iowa farm nonetheless, during the Great Depression. Talk about interesting, this book is a mind blower. Anyone who has ever wished that life was a little bit simpler, a little bit friendlier, or little bit more carefree needs to buy this book and read it. Chapter by chapter, this book sucks you in and takes you back to times long passed and forgotten. This book will teach you how to catch a raccoon and turn it into a pet, tell you about customs that have long since died out, like the gifting and receiving of ¿May Baskets,¿ and even let you in on why there were two toilet seats in the outhouse instead of one. You¿ll get directions on how to build a ¿Never-Fail¿ fire, how to get the most out of an egg, and how to get rid of a boil using a beet. The book provides a small wealth of recipes for the home cook. I¿ve made several of them and they have all been delicious. My favorite is the recipe for ¿Cabbage Salad,¿ although it is more like a coleslaw; I made it for New Years and everybody loved it. A couple examples of other recipes offered are Corn Oysters and Applesauce Cake.The book provides more than a glimpse at what it was like to do laundry back then, the amount of work that went into keeping a farm, and how leisure time was spent by everyone from the children to the men. The book also provides a variety of common home remedies, from curing a cough to curing blood poisoning. Each chapter of the book provides a window to a specific aspect of life during the Great Depression. Separated, the chapters are amazing, astounding, and delightful; together, they join seamlessly to provide an uplifting account of life during a difficult and trying time. The book is rich and colorful in its detail and story-telling yet still maintains its historical integrity. It is the perfect novel. If you could only read one novel this year, I would highly advise reading this one. This book will remain at the very top of my bookshelf forever. Happy Reading!!
mrtall on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Memoirs have been hot in the past decade or two, so you might look at Mildred Kalish's Little Heathens and think, meh, just another long-winded whine about the horrible childhood someone can't shut up about.This would be unfortunate. For although Kalish has fodder aplenty for a typical contemporary memoir -- a no-good/absent dad; raised by strict Christian grandparents and a sometimes vague mom in the abject poverty and rural isolation of Depression-era Iowa -- she instead writes what I think is more properly termed a 'reminiscence'. Kalish systematically loots and lays out her extremely detailed memories of the era, in straightforward, sometimes elegant prose, with a minimum of complaint and an overarching generosity of spirit. The result is remarkably refreshing. Kalish loved her childhood, values it, and wants the best of it to be known to others. Little Heathens is therefore the opposite of a self-indulgence; it's a gift. And as an Iowan myself, I will close by putting in a good word for my homeland: Kalish's loving attention to the landscape, flora and fauna of an oft-overlooked state is an added bonus.Highly recommended.
Beth350 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A semi-interesting account of a childhood on an Iowa farm during the late 1920's and 1930's. Filled with details, but not terribly well written.
mojomomma on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love local history and I really enjoyed this book. The author describes her childhood when she spent winters and springs in town with her grandparents to attend school and summers on the family farm. She goes into great detail about everyday life on the farm. As I read this, I was transported to my grandparents farm in rural Iowa and I certainly recognized their philosophy and mindset in Kalish's writing. Reading this book was like a glimpse into my own family.
Daniel.Estes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Little Heathens is a charming, salt-of-the-earth memoir by retired English professor Mildred Armstrong Kalish that is kindly generous with more tales of high spirits than of hard times. Still, growing up on an Iowa farm during the Great Depression was no comfort by most measures.Listening to this audiobook reminded me of my own grandmother, the seventeenth of seventeen siblings, who also grew up during 1930's in the nearby state of Missouri. And according to her, modest as ever, stories from her childhood are of little interest to anyone. After learning about Kalish's blessed life, I respectfully disagree.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A unique perspective of growing up during the great depression in the heartland. Wonderful imagery and storytelling style with a positive voice. I loved the occasional recipe thrown in! I could see her life and story in the history of my family home in rural Iowa.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting reading and best descriptive writing i have read in a while.
8EE01 More than 1 year ago
A sweet little book of rememberings.  Nothing worthy of the Pulitzer, but a fun read with some interesting tidbits of information from the Depression era.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic memoir. Highly recommended .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We used this book for family homeschool read-a-loud time. I love to read stories of the good ol days, this is one of them. I will say, I had to skip a couple parts that were inappropriate for children, but overall the book was very good and did an excellend job of portraying a wonderful time when life was simpler, less complicated, and more pleasant. The writer transports you to the IA countryside and reminds you that we don't need all the electronics and bells and whistles to have a good life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WONDERFUL BOOK!!!! I'm still reading it but I cannot put it down!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago