Little Heathens High Spirits and Hard Times on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression
By Mildred Armstrong Kalish, published by Bantham Dell
I am the first one to tell everyone that I do not read for enjoyment very often; I read for information. That said, I knew it was going to be a long trip back from Spokane, Washington, after all I had a lengthy airport layover and reading is a productive pastime. After all, I was up-to-date on my work related things, so my mind was free to "just pick something".
I was looking around the bookstore in downtown Spokane and saw Little Heathens was a staff pick. The employees ideas about the book were positive. The comments on the back cover were interesting and the few pages I thumbed through sounded good; an easy read, maybe even enjoyable. This might be a good book, I thought, setting the book down and moving on, leaving the bookstore without buying anything for my return trip.
The next day on my airport sit, I still had no diversion but to wander aimlessly through the airport (much like everyone else), then into an airport bookstore. The salesman asked if I was looking for anything in particular and, for lack of another title, I asked for what he understood to be Little Heathens (I got the title all confused), and they had it! "You'll love it" he said. (Remember, I read books for information, not amusement.) He was absolutely right--I loved it.
I am not exactly sure why I loved it (?). Maybe because I have rural roots somewhere. Maybe because I could imagine my own family members on a similar farm, during the same time, living the same lives in central Illinois. Maybe because the stories, if not the same, sounded familiar, rang true, or hit some spot deep down in my psyche that loves to hear stories from my relatives about the past--not history mind you, but family stories of what life was like (not so very) long ago.
Or maybe because it was Mildred Armstrong Kalish's story. It is her story and she tells it very well. From the point of a grown-up child, Ms Kalish tells her story with compassion and wonderment. She transcends story telling, for me, to that captivating point where I was almost in disbelief simply because of the way it was told, like I had heard it before, like I was hearing my own families memories; voices I haven't "heard" in a very long time. And I loved every minute of it. Her memories of family events and the people who shaped her world, growing up, still resonate with me.
Little Heathens also made me think. How could a single, unknown person's account of farm life over sixty years ago give me pause? Because I have heard it before from my own parents, and have reflected on it myself. Times and people have changed, and as Ms Kalish wonders herself several times through the book, lives have gotten easier, and there are few people with recent recollections on how to live without, or having to make do, and be happy with that. We Americans have become very different people.
As much as I can imagine playing with "the big kids", I enjoyed loosing myself in time, reading Little Heathens. In fact, I liked so much that I recommended it to my mother, who will find some kinship with the author. She said she would like to read it when I was finished and I told her I would pass the book on to her. Now as I think about it, I am not sure I want to part with it. I think I will have to buy mom her own copy. I would like to revisit this place whenever I want to. (I wonder quietly to myself if there are any quilt shops in Garrison, Iowa?)