Angie's Reviews > Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression

Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish
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really liked it
bookshelves: audio, memoir

Synopsis: "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.”"

My Review: I listened to the audio version of this book and though I absolutely loved the narrator on it, she fit the voice of the story so perfectly, I am really kicking myself for not having read the print version (I am honestly considering getting a copy anyway). There were so many little things that I wanted to mark or note in the margins. This book is a wealth of wisdom, home remedies and recipes to be noted and remembered. The funny thing is that while I didn't grow up on a farm in Iowa during the depression, and neither did my parents or even my grandparents, I remember many of the same methods, ideals and lessons growing up myself. It was actually almost like reminiscing with a great aunt or uncle (in fact one evening I called my mom to talk about our memories of my Great Uncle's farm). To me this book was very homey and comforting. As a note for the author and others, yes people do still hang May Day Baskets, it was huge in my home town and I still make them to this day.

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Reading Progress

July 23, 2014 – Shelved
July 23, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
February 18, 2015 – Started Reading
February 18, 2015 –
February 19, 2015 –
February 20, 2015 –
February 23, 2015 –
February 25, 2015 –
February 27, 2015 –
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March 3, 2015 –
March 5, 2015 – Shelved as: audio
March 5, 2015 – Shelved as: memoir
March 5, 2015 – Finished Reading

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