Friday, May 1, 2015

Little Heathens

Book 11 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from Jan. 20 - Feb. 3

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

Summary (via Goodreads)
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.

My Opinion
This book felt very familiar to me, which isn't surprising as myself and my family have always lived in Iowa so I've heard these old time farm stories my whole life. The writing was basic but did the job of telling her story. It felt like visiting a grandma and listening to her talk. I would imagine this book is quite a treasure for her relatives.

Everyone should have an Aunt Belle in their lives!  I skimmed most of the recipes (just not my interest) but the photos were a very nice addition.

I had to stop reading and do some research when she listed the phrase "Hunger is the best pickle" as "the most instructive" of Ben Franklin's lessons. I've never heard that before and to have it be spotlighted as the most instructive over other, more familiar ones she listed (such as "Don't cry over spilt milk", "A stitch in time saves nine" and "A fool and his money are soon parted") gave me pause. I had to look it up and ask around to see if I was the only one unfamiliar with it (I wasn't, and we couldn't get a clear consensus on what it meant either).

The story about how their walnut tree was stolen was surprising. Someone cutting down and stealing an entire tree is not a crime you hear about every day! 

Even if this wasn't the best book ever, it was still worth reading for me since I love history and I love Iowa. It's been on my 'to-read' list forever and I'm glad I finally got around to it.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"This is the story of a time, and a place, and a family. The time was the Depression years, the place a rural area of Iowa, the family - mine."

"Once I deliberately used the word 'shit' to shock [my grandma]. She looked at me with distaste and said, 'Now you have in your mouth something I wouldn't even hold in my hand.' "

"Childhood was generally considered to be a disease, or, at the very least, a disability, to be ignored for the most part, and remedied as quickly as possible."

"Even when confronted early in the childhood with irrefutable evidence to the contrary, I tried to cling to the blessed and sustaining conviction that, somehow, life was fair. The literature I read told me so. I had plans to make a better life for myself, and I wasn't going to let a little thing like reality interfere."

"Although cooking today is vastly easier, there is still nothing like putting a good meal on the table to make people feel they have done something meaningful."

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