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We Have All Gone Away

Curtis Harnack

Publication Year: 2011

In We Have All Gone Away, his emotionally moving memoir, Curtis Harnack tells of growing up during the Great Depression on an Iowa farm among six siblings and an extended family of relatives. With a directness and a beauty that recall Thoreau, Harnack balances a child’s impressions with the knowledge of an adult looking back to produce what Publishers Weekly called “a country plum of a book, written with genuine affection and vivid recall.”
 
In a community related by blood and harvest, rural life could be bountiful even when hard economic times threatened. The adults urged children to become educated and to keep an eye on tomorrow. “We were all taught to lean enthusiastically into the future,” Harnack recalls, which would likely be elsewhere, in distant cities. At the same time, the children were cultivating a resiliency that would serve them well in the unknown world of the second half of the twentieth century.
 
Inevitably, the Midwest’s small, diversified family farm gave way to large-scale agriculture, which soon changed the former intimate way of life. “Our generation, using the mulched dead matter of agrarian life like projectile fuel for our thrust into the future, became part of that enormous vitality springing out of rural America,” notes Harnack. Both funny and elegiac, We Have All Gone Away is a masterful memoir of the joys and sorrows of Iowa farm life at mid-century, a world now gone “by way of learning, wars, and marriage” but still a lasting part of America’s heritage.

 

Published by: University of Iowa Press

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1. The Return

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pp. 11-26

In a cab bound for the East Side Airlines Terminal, where I was to check in for my flight to Iowa, a long traffic light on Forty-second Street gave me a chance to look up at the skies to see what the weather was like, for now that I was about to leave the city, I'd be encountering it again...

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2. The Barns

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pp. 27-42

Grandfather built barns during the 1870's in the valley of the Turkey River north of Dubuque. His barns were not squat and heavy-breasted, where the roof line heaves in order to accommodate heaps of grain inside and windows break out in smiles. They rose like stranded ocean vessels out of a sea of prairie grass: solid stone...

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3. Queen of Hearts

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pp. 43-52

The new teacher, Miss Flock, was hired just one week before country school opened. Through Mother's last-minute influence, two neighbor-children, DeWayne and Orban, who were to attend the Catholic parochial school, enrolled instead in the rural schoolhouse, thus keeping it open one more year. My cousin Lois and I were the last...

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4. Rooms of the House

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pp. 53-66

A pelican stuffed with sawdust was in the attic. We'd ride the humped, feathered back as if it were an ostrich, stare at the yellow glass eyes and stroke the lizard-skin pouch under the beak, not finding plump fish there, only shifting granular wood pulp, like in the limbs of dolls-stuff of no life. Rigid fowl legs rose above the huge webbed...

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5. The Milky Way

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pp. 67-76

Molly and Dolly, our Holstein milch cows, were purchased when calves from the Zuckermans, who lived on a run-down farm six miles away. They were the kind of people who opened the pen bars and allowed the animal kingdom leeway everywhere: chickens in the pantry and pigs on the front porch. They'd shamefully...

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6. The Eighty

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pp. 77-89

Molly and Dolly, our Holstein milch cows, were purchased when calves from the Zuckermans, who lived on a run-down farm six miles away. They were the kind of people who opened the pen bars and allowed the animal kingdom leeway everywhere: chickens in the pantry and pigs on the front porch. They'd shamefully...

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7. Barney

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pp. 91-101

Barney, the hired man, found his way to our homestead from his native Friesland, in Holland, through a brother already established as a farm hand in the neighborhood. Jack needed help after Father died, and the idea of providing a job for an immigrant appealed...

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8. Bringing in the Sheaves

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pp. 103-124

The oats fields were tawny, dead-ripe; it was harvest-time. Before the slender straw stalks bent jointed knees, laid low in God's relentless will to have seeds mature, fall to the ground, and sprout again next spring, we farmers planned to intervene. Sundays in church our hymn-singing rose to God beyond the varnished rafters...

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9. Father, Forgive Them

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pp. 125-144

If we traveled beyond the sanctuary of our farm in 1932 and 1933, the automobile might be stopped by men waving pitchforks. Uncle Jack would try to smile and familiarly called out their names, to weaken their unfriendliness. When the farm strikers saw the interior piled deep with children, not egg crates and cream cans, they dropped back into the ditch weeds. We rode past cars...

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10. Next of Kin

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pp. 145-158

The third Sunday in June we'd leave the farm early in the morning for the two-hundred-mile trip "back East" to the Greiman family reunion-Grandmother's people, though she herself, being too frail, never went. The original nine Greiman siblings dwindled until (when Grandma passed ninety) we were representatives of the...

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11. These Mothers

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pp. 159-172

Father's three sisters were childless and looked upon us as their family; with Lizzie and Carrie that made five mothers altogether. In 1918, Aunt Anne accompanied Lizzie when she traveled east to Jamaica, Long Island, to visit her fiance, Jack, who was stationed...

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12. Away

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pp. 173-188

The marriage of two brothers and two sisters, who shared their lives and children, created a penumbra of uniqueness which made each child feel his revealed destiny would demonstrate difference. I became the acknowledged future chronicler and composed tales in hot upstairs rooms during the long summers, fed gossip by everyone, for storytelling seemed as plausible a goal as my siblings...


E-ISBN-13: 9781587299704

Publication Year: 2011

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Subject Headings

  • Iowa -- Social life and customs.
  • Harnack, Curtis, 1927- -- Childhood and youth.
  • Authors, American -- 20th century -- Biography.
  • Farm life -- Iowa.
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