Monday, 27 October 2008

Little Heathens

Little heathens - hard times and high spirits on an Iowa farm during the Great Depression, by Mildred Armstrong Kalish.
This little paperback arrived from the wonderful Amazon on Saturday, there waiting for me when I got in. I finished it last night, read right the way through it! I can't do better than describe it as portaying "a world of hard work tempered by simple rewards". A fascinating glimpse of a very hard life in an extended family during the depression, working on farms, growing, being as self sufficient as possible, but with time for adventures, fund and mishaps.
I found it simply written, no over-egging the pudding in a literary sense, good clear prose, with lots of information too - skinning a rabbit, animal husbandry, recipes, vegetables, food storage, etc. New York Times Book Review classed it as one of the 10 best books of the year. Not sure I'd go that far, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. Two minor irritations for me, though; she says that her gret-great grandparents could have taught Emerson a few things about self-reliance; well, in my view, Emerson's experiment in self-reliance was as much a philosophical/spiritual undertaking. I'm not saying there was no spiritual side or philosophy to this book, just that I couldn't see how the comparison could be made. What irked me more was that on more than one occasion she had a dig at modern day folks, proclaiming they wouldn't know how to do this or that, know what this or that was, know about hard work, etc. Well excuse me :) LOL, but there are millions all over the world who work just as hard at these sorts of things. Fair enough, we don't have the extreme hardships and worries of the Great Depression haunting us permanently (although we may well be headed there, ironically........), but there are a huge number of us who are living self reliantly, skinning rabbits, growing, preserving, making, going without, enjoying the simple pleasures and living in wonder at nature, the seasons and all that they have to offer.
I forgave her those things, though, for including recipes in her book - I love books where real recipes are intermingled with true stories.:)
Some bits I liked:

H.L. Mencken's definition of Puritanism as "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy" (p5) - this made me smile.......:)

"Susannah and Jacob helped establish two churches; broke sod three times in their lives, plowing virgin soil to prepare it for raising crops; and were almost totally self-sufficient. Like other pioneers, they did their own doctoring from home remedies. They raised, butchered, canned and cured their own cows, hogs and chickens. They hunted squirrels, rabbits, pheasants and quail right there in Yankee Grove. They atnned their own leather in a hollowed-out hickory log. For the most part, they mended the harnesses for their horses and repaired their own shoes.
They made their own bread and sometimes ground their own flour of oats and wheat; they ground the corn to feed to their chickens and to make cornmeal mush for themselves. They made their own shirts, knitted their own sweaters, scarves and socks, and sewed their own aprons, dreses and night-wear. They patched together and tied their own wool quilts. Their industry and independence were nothing short of astonishing. Ralph Waldo Emerson could have learned a thing or two about self-reliance from my great-great grandparents"(p4)

It is easier to keep up than catch up (p51)

I had no shoes and complained until I met a man who had no feet (p51)

"Somebody said that it couldn't be done,
But he with a chuckle replied,
That "maybe it couldn't" but he would be one
Who wouldn't say so till he'd tried.
He buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing and he tackled the thing
That couldn't be done
And he did it" (p66)

Well worth a read, and a keeper. :)

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