Tuesday, June 22, 2010

LITTLE HEATHENS by Mildred Kalish and GROWING UP COUNTRY by Carol Bodensteiner

These two books describe the authors' experiences as kids growing up on Iowa farms in two different eras. Mildred Kalish lived near Garrison in Benton County during the late 1920's and the 1030's. Carol Bodensteiner lived on a dairy farm near Spragueville (east of Maquoketa) in Jackson County during the 1950's.
The contrast was great. Mildred's family had no running water or electricity and traveled very few miles. Carol's family had a TV, a freezer, a car, and milking machines.
What impressed me about both lives was the incredible amount of work farm women did routinely: rising early to help milk 50 cows, cooking enormous quantities of food daily; raising, processing, and preserving most of the family's food; and sewing the family's clothes. In the farming neighborhood I grew up in, if a woman couldn't do all those things and keep a half-way decent house, she was considered shiftless!
Even ten-year-old girls took pride in preparing complete breakfasts, pancakes and all, just when morning chores were finished. And the necessary work all ages of children did that was fun and was valued.
In spite of hard work, both girls and siblings had a lot of fun: some scary moments, and some hilarious episodes. Both attended one-room rural elementary schools.
Each writer has a distinct voice and approach to her memoir: Carol is very much dialogue and present-action oriented. Mildred reminisces more and sees her family in perspective. Both absorbed the Mid-Western work ethic that netted them great results as adults. I loved each one for its individuality.
What I missed most in both books was a description of the the impact of WW II on farm family's lives, which is what I remember most vividly as a kid. Mildred was old enough by the time the war started to enlist in the WAVES. Carol's parents were married in 1942 and her father was in military service, but that was never mentioned. And of course Carol was born much later. I guess the book about farm life during WW II has yet to be written, unless someone can point us to such a book!


  1. I haven't read Little Heathens, although everyone seems to love it, but I did read Growing Up Country. Carol was the author at the library Friends' group annual author dinner in 2009. The book was great fun, and it was especially fun to hear Carol recount some of her childhood stories, and her experience writing the book, in person! Though I didn't grow up on a farm, I did spend time on my grandparents' farm and a lot in her book brought back memories, even for this small town girl. Highly recommended!

  2. Thanks for reading Growing Up Country. You make an interesting point about referencing WWII and the impact it had. The fact is, WWII and my dad's service were never mentioned as we were growing up. Mom and Dad's focus was always on facing the day and looking forward. It was only as an adult that I began asking about his time in the service and hearing his stories. So it didn't really fit in my book with the perspective I chose. Good idea for a book, though!

  3. Carol: What a surprise to hear from an author! Thank you for your comments. I guess I'm going to have to write the book about growing up on the farm during WW II. I was about 6 or 7 when it started, and I vividly remember sitting on the floor by the Coronado Radio hearing FDR's announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor. And how much we were affected by the war effort: rationing of many things, speed limit, victory gardens, etc. And we kids in country school had a county-wide contest to collect milkweed pods for life jackets. (Those were the days before herbicides, and milkweeds grew abundantly.)
    Your book and Mildred Kalish's really sparked memories of my childhood. Thanks so much for writing about a lifestyle that is rapidly disappearing.