Saturday, February 13, 2010

Little Heathens (memoir)

Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish

I don't think I've ever actually used the word "delightful" to describe anything, but that's the word I would use to describe this book. Just as its subtitle states, this is the story of "Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm during the Great Depression." In it, the author tells of growing up with her siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents on an Iowa farm during the 1930s. Reading the book feels like a balm; like having a sweet old grandmother tell you stories from her youth, from a time and lifestyle long gone. She tells the story as if speaking directly to you, the reader, which I found charming.

Not only does Ms. Kalish tell of events, but she throws in plenty of homespun recipes that she grew up with (for such things as homemade marshmallows, succotash, authentic shortcake, and even soap) as well as describing such things as how to catch and skin a rabbit and how to behead a goose to be eaten for Thanksgiving dinner. There are also lots of old photos from the author's youth sprinkled throughout the book.

Reading this took me to a time and place I can hardly imagine - a time and place where people were at one with the land they lived on, who didn't eat a single thing that wasn't cultivated and raised with their own hands, where nothing was ever wasted or taken for granted, and everything was recycled until it dwindled down to nothing, and where ingenuity was relied on for work and for play. It made me feel guilty and ashamed of all the waste and excess we indulge in today. It also made me wonder what - if any - work ethic our kids are being instilled with. On that farm way back when, by the time children were preschool age (not that they had preschool), they were expected to help - it was just a way of life. Everyone's survival depended on everyone cooperating and contributing.

In the end, the author admits that distance from events tends, for some people, to make the heart grow fonder of them. Apparently, her sister did not retain such fond memories of their youth on the farm. Still, the author seems like such an amazing and down-to-earth person (and she's still living, well into her 80s, the sole survivor of her immediate family), and tells her stories with such enthusiasm and charm. I really loved this book and would recommend it.

Mine's up for grabs if anyone wants it!


  1. Oh wow, sounds extremely interesting. I love that you vary your readings and reviews so much.

  2. Stephanie, it's yours if you want it! Let me know.