Lessons of Yore – A Staff Pick

December 31, 2008 // Filed under Uncategorized

Evelyn Fischel, readers’ services staff member at Bernardsville Public Library, has written the following comments about this recent memoir:

In the Christmas rush to clean the house and hide extraneous stuff, I came upon more extraneous stuff I had hidden from an earlier time. Surprise! I forgot I even had some of these things, including this book which I had started to read last year about this time – before it got the bum’s rush into a closet.

This sort of behavior would never happen in Mildred Armstrong Kalish’s memoir, Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression, selected by the New York Times as one of the ten best books of 2007. There would not have been any extraneous things and nothing was “stuff”: everything had value and was used up, worn out or made to last…good words to live by once again in these times.

This is a charming recollection of multi-generational family life during the Depression, which was made a bit easier by the family’s self-sustaining farm. Great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings all banded together for support, entertainment, worship and work. Neighbors and townspeople added flavor and variety to a simple, but rich life.

Filled with numerous stories about childhood in Iowa, Little Heathens also provides good insight into the self-reliant, but selfless attitudes of that time. Everyone had chores to do, lessons to learn, meals to prepare from scratch, farm animals to care for, and thrifty values to practice. For instance, the story about how socks were used up is most impressive, starting with the first hole in the toe. After numerous darnings and resizings of the sock by cutting off the toe and sewing it up for a smaller foot, the author’s grandmother would cut off the ribbed end to sew onto coat cuffs for added warmth and then the rest of the sock was cut into little squares for polishing. Think about that.

If you’re in the mood for a folksy, pleasant memoir with great spirit and inspiration, borrow this book from Bernardsville Public Library. You’ll already be practicing thrifty ways!


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