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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."
From the Hardcover edition.
This beautifully written memoir takes place on an Iowa farm during the Great Depression. Kalishnow a retired English teacheroffers a plainspoken yet poetic account of her upbringing in a large family during this dark chapter in America's past. The family numbers seven, including grandparents and siblings, and in spite of numerous hardships, the clan manages to find moments of joy and occasions for celebration. The book derives its plot, in part, from the routine of farm life. There are animals to tend to, meals to be cooked, clothes to be washed. The domestic scenes are delightfully drawn: Gossip and stories are exchanged in the kitchen, and in the unheated bedrooms the children sleep under piles of quilts. Family expenditures are limited to necessities like kerosene, flour, coffee, sugar and salt. Kalish writes about everyday chores and family life with relish, adding enough humor and vivid imagery to make the reader savor every anecdote. Recreating the Midwest of her past, she writes with flair and an eye for the telling detail. Her recollections of neighbors and kinfolks, a life lived off the land, and a slower approach to daily existence feel at once old-fashioned and fresh. This is a spirited narrative about survival that fans of memoir will welcome.
A reading group guide is available online at randomhouse.com/bantamdell/bookclub.html.