Anyone who lived through the Great Depression could be excused for having a jaded view of American society. It was a troubling time for many Americans who dealt with natural calamities, economic hardships and visions of a future that were murky at best.
Somehow, though, many of the children and young adults of that era, people in your own family tree, grew up to become what has been described by some as “the greatest generation,” people who rescued the world from fascism and egomaniacal dictators and built the foundation for the world systems that sustain us today.
One of those people made a swing through her native Iowa recently, bring some homespun charm, grace and warmth to a state in the final throes of a nasty, old-fashioned winter. Her name is Mildred Armstrong Kalish, the petite, 5-foot octogenarian author of “Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression.”
You may have heard of the book; the New York Times called it one of the 10 best books of 2007. You may have seen Millie, too; she’s made many TV appearances, including on NBC’s Today Show. What makes Kalish’s book so remarkable is how unremarkable her stories are. You’ve probably heard similar stories from your own family members who were around at the same time.
But Kalish, a retired English professor who has found her way to Cupertino, Calif., after her childhood near Garrison, Iowa, has a deft storytelling style, engaging readers by transforming the mundane events of her childhood into parables from the Heartland.
If you get a chance to meet her, do it. At the very least, read her book. You will probably come away with a better understanding of what some members of your ancestral tree went through at a critical time in the 20th century.