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

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Bantam Books, 2007 - Biography & Autobiography - 292 pages
49 Reviews
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 Heathensoffers 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.”

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I loved the recipes! - Goodreads
... and i still feel guilty writing this 2-star review. - Goodreads
I enjoyed the story telling of Mrs. Kalish. - Goodreads
The recipes were a nice add to the book. - Goodreads
She even throws in some tantalizing recipes. - Goodreads

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - TheMadHatters - LibraryThing

This book was semi-interesting. It's technically an adult non-fiction book, but I found it on a list of adult books for teens. I'm always interested in true stories about people overcoming adversity ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - sriemann - LibraryThing

This reminded me of the books I am reading by Alice Taylor about her childhood in rural Ireland. I wish there were more books like this about how things were done before the advent of so much ... Read full review

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About the author (2007)

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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