Skip to main content

2011 Reading Challenge~Book #2


Last night I crossed book #2 of my reading challenge, Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression, off my list of "gotta reads." It was different than I expected but enjoyable. Not amazing, but enjoyable. Reading it was like sitting down with an elderly relative and listening to her stories of her childhood. Mildred Armstrong Kalish reminisces about growing up on a farm during the Depression without emphasizing deprivation, which was a welcome change from other Depresseion-era books I've read (which admittedly are not many). While her young self was far from pampered, she feels blessed to have grown up when and where she did. The amount of work required from the entire family to produce the food that they would eat (very little was bought) is staggering. Yet they all willingly pitched in and never complained . . . well, seldom complained. Their thrift and ingenuity fill in any perceived lack in their lives. They seemed contented and happy with their simple, unglamorous lives.

This is not a linear narrative of Kalish's life told in story form in the manner of, say, Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series. Instead, Kalish dedicates entire chapters each to a single subject: relatives, medicine, wash day, nut-gathering, school, animal tales, leisure, gardening. They lived their lives in seamless harmony so that it was often impossible to distiguish work from fun, for those who lived it and for the readers. Life was hard but immensely satisfying, according to the author.

What impressed me most about Little Heathens was the vast store of what we more "enlightened" moderns would call "folk lore" exhibited by Kalish and her family. Doctors were something you only went to if home remedies were to no avail, and they almost always worked. Their knowledge of home nursing encompassed everything drawing out a splinter to remedying blood poisoning. Living so much by the seasons and off the land meant that they knew the natural world around them intimately, even down to the smallest dips and rises in the topography of their farms. They knew almost by instinct when to plant and when to harvest, where bees made their hives, and how to save seeds for the next year's planting. If you were to plop me or anyone else I know down in the middle of a wilderness, we wouldn't know the first thing about survival. But Kalish and her family would in the same amount of time be half-finished erecting a log cabin using makeshift tools fashioned from the natural materials around them and putting up food they've foraged from the forest for the winter in containers made of bark. We often assume that people in times before ours were ignorant, unsophisticated, and at the mercy of natural forces, but I've got a growing conviction that they were a lot smarter than we moderns want to give them credit for. It's a pity this kind of knowledge is dying along with our forefathers.

In the epilogue, Kalish tells us briefly of her life after the farm, and I discovered that she taught for a time at my college alma mater. I think I will look her up and see if I can find her mentioned in the archives somewhere.

The book gets a little earthy at times, so I wouldn't recommend just handing it over to your young-ish children (though I did and gasped a few times at what I had done!). I also detect a note of overweaning pride from time to time as Kalish tells us of her life and accomplishments. But then again, maybe she has earned the right to brag a little. Not particularly deep and difficult, the book lent itself to quick reading, and I now know that a 300-page book is about the limit of what I can handle in one week. If a slower pace and more thought are required, even that will be out of my reach, and I suspect that I will avoid certain books during this reading challenge just because I know I will not be able to keep up. Be that as it may, a whole two weeks into it I'm glad I've set this challenge before me. It's been beneficial.

NOTE: I've added a Mr. Linky in case anyone wants to share a book from the past week. If you have a book from the first week, please add it and a link to your blog (if you have one) in the comments section. Thanks!

Comments

  1. I didn't like the book, so don't remember anything earthy in it. :P

    ReplyDelete
  2. I don't see how to link! :( I finished my book, too - I finished it last night, but just got around to posting today.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular Posts

Auntie Leila's Linky Party

Auntie Leila of Like Mother, Like Daughter (one of my favorite blogs!) is having a linky party about kitchen sinks! I thought I'd join in and show you mine.

First is a picture of my kitchen sink area in its entirety:



It's a small room~~just 13' x 8'~~but I've decided I don't really mind because everything is only a step or two away. Leila has been talking about making the kitchen work for you instead of you working against it, and that's really quite easy to accomplish when the space is so small. In fact, reading her post about her kitchen made me laugh because our kitchen set-up is almost identical!

The windows up close:





I like to put these "gingerbread" Christmas decorations in the kitchen. Girl of the House made the paperbag gingerbread boy when she was four. Isn't he cute? The little red gingham bag was made by the director of the preschool where I used to teach and is over 20 years old. The felt ornaments were made by my grandmother, t…

The Growlery

We've just about wrapped up another room and I wanted to show you pictures. This room is off the kitchen and is intended to be a TV room, I'm sure, but since we don't have a TV, we repurposed it. We call it the growlery (begin at about 6:30 for the reference). In days of yore, the growlery was a room where the men retired after dinner to sip brandy, smoke cigars, and talk politics. We were stumped as to what to call this room, but Dave hit upon "the growlery" and it has stuck. We all knew right away that that was the perfect name! It inspired me to take a more masculine tack in paint, furniture, and decor. See what you think!

The view as you enter from the kitchen:



We bought the chairs brand new. We hardly ever buy new furniture, but we'd used up most of what we already had in other rooms, so we splurged. I'd love to move the exercise bike if we can find a more propitious place for it.

The view from the door that leads to the back patio:



And the view…

A "Reasonably Clean" Welcome

Like Mother, Like Daughter is having a linky party similar to their "Pretty over the Kitchen Sink" from last December. This time we are focusing on entryways. Leila of LMLD has written a series of helpful posts on the Reasonably Clean House, which you can find in the LMLD's sidebar; hence the "Reasonably Clean" Welcome!

As I may have mentioned once or twice *wink*, we moved in mid-June, and I've been swept up in a flurry of nesting ever since. I don't mind because I enjoy nesting, but the focus of said nesting has not been on any of the three entryways this house is blessed with. In fact, one of them is still downright dismal as the room it opens on awaits paint, furniture, and general unpacking. Unfortunately, that seems to be the one lots of people use. But I'm not showing you that one . . . yet. I put my energies into the front entry, the one I *wish* people would use more often and the one that had the least to do to pretty it up a bit. F…