“Without knowing it, the adults in our lives practiced a most productive kind of behavior modification. After our chores and household duties were done we were give 'permission' to read. In other words, our elders positioned reading as a privilege—a much sought-after prize, granted only to those goodhardworkers who earned it. How clever of them.” Below is an excerpt from Kalish's first chapter; you can read it in its entirety here.
My childhood came to a virtual halt when I was around five years old. That was when my grandfather banished my father from our lives forever for some transgression that was not to be disclosed to us children, though we overheard whispered references to bankruptcy, bootlegging, and jail time. His name was never again spoken in our presence; he just abruptly disappeared from our lives. The shame and disgrace that enveloped our family as a result of these events, along with the ensuing divorce, just about destroyed my mother. Is it possible today to make anyone understand the harsh judgment of such failures in the late 1920's? Throughout my entire life, whenever I was asked about my father, I always said that he was dead. When he actually died I never knew.
So it was that Grandma and Grandpa chose to make our family of five-Mama, my ten-year-old brother Jack, my eight-year-old brother John, my one-year-old sister Avis, and me-their responsibility. They decided to settle us on the smallest of Grandpa's four farms, which was located about three miles from the village of Garrison, where they had retired after a lifetime of farming. However, because the fierce blizzards and subzero temperatures of Iowa winters made it hazardous to walk to the one-room rural school we would be attending, it had been arranged that we would live with Grandma and Grandpa in Garrison and attend school there from January until the school year ended in mid-May. At that time our family would move out to the farm. Each year from then on, we went to school in the country from September until Christmas, then moved back to Garrison and finished the school year in town.
Below, another beauty, by Frank Nicholson. Sign me up!
Further reading: Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression by Morris Dickstein.