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

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: 9780553804959
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/29/2007
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.72(w) x 8.58(h) x 0.83(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

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.

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Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 44 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!
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.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WONDERFUL BOOK!!!! I'm still reading it but I cannot put it down!!!!
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cherisen More than 1 year ago
I had borrowed it from the library. After reading a few chapters, I knew that I had to own the book. I ordered an extra one for a gift. I want my children to read it when they are older.
McGuffyAnn More than 1 year ago
This book honours a time, place and way of life that unfortunately is lost to most of us today. This book is a joy to read, allowing one to live vicariously the happy childhood that Ms. Kalish so joyously shares. Family is the central focal point. It is, in fact the importance of family ties that drive the entire book. Each story stresses the bonds that hold family together through the thick and inevitable thin of farm life and the Great Depression. It was the love and commitment of family that made each experience, each memory so ingrained and important to Mildred, as a child and sustained her throughout her life. It is both a pleasure and a privilege to read this book. While not an easy life given the hardship of the times, it was a beautiful life. That Ms. Kalish immortalizes this time and life makes it all the more special. The way of life, the innocence and true simple pleasures may be gone. But thanks to Mildred Armstrong Kalish they will remain in hearts and minds. The spirit remains in this beautiful memoir.
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Warain81 More than 1 year ago
I started thhis book the day after I came back from my grandma's funeral . She was 102 and had been a Minnesota farm girl and farm wiife . She was salt of the earth type ......just like the grandprentxs in this wonderful book. I have read probably thousands of books and i sincerely say this was one of the very best !!!!! July 2011.
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