Sunday, March 7, 2010

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

The March selection for the Flower Library Book Club, Little Mildred Kalish was just a delightful book to read. I was a bit skeptical at first when I ordered the book. Was this going to just be another down and out book about the gloom of living through the Great Depression? I can't imagine what it was like to live during the time that so shaped the spirit of my grandparents, parents, and, really, our country. But what a surprise to read a book with such an upbeat point of view.

Kalish recounts her life in this NY Times top book of 2007 as one of the Little Kids growing up on a farm in Iowa. The book is more than a memoir; it is a prescription on how to live independently and with pity and suffering. The book begins "My childhood came to a virtual halt when I was around five years old. That was when by grandfather banished my father from our lives forever for some transgression that was not to be disclosed to us children...His name was never spoken again in our presence; he just abruptly disappeared from our lives." That beginning would be enough to whet any reader's appetite. But we never read another word about her father. And that is the way life would be for a family brought up with spirit of Independence.

Children were expected to do chores, pitch in with the planting and harvesting and play on their own. If they got a cut or bruise, they didn't immediately run for the attention of their parents, but dealt the best they could. They lived with out electricity, indoor plumbing, cars and mobile phones, and SURVIVED. When you bought something it was meant to last for a while. The phrase, "waste not, want not" really had meaning and it wasn't doom and gloom.

Little Heathens is also a compendium of home remedies and recipes. Kalish was born the same year that my mother was and for this reason I felt as I was reading the book that there was so much that was familiar. I had heard a lot about these remedies, household solutions, and have eaten the meals that were part of the family's repertoire. The beginning of Chapter 11, Farm Food resonates today - after breakfast the first question that was asked is what to have for dinner? My mother did this and I do today. If I haven't made out the week's menu, that is the order of business on my agenda.

I truly enjoyed this book and really wanted more after each chapter. I know I will go back and reread parts of this book. I can actually see it being used as a curriculum related read. It would give great insight into an era that did produce a great generation. It brings us back to the reality of what we need to live - resourcefulness, love, and family.

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