5Q :: Dennis Herschbach details life without any modern amenitiesGrowing up in rural Blackberry, acclaimed author Dennis Herschbach lived a life almost unheard of these days: no indoor plumbing, no electricity, hunting for meals not just for sport, etc.
If you’ve ever wondered what life in northern Minnesota would be like without indoor plumbing or electricity, Dennis Herschbach has the book for you.
In “Brown Sugar Syrup and Jack Pine Sand,” the Blackberry native describes in detail how his family got by in the ’40s and ’50s without any modern amenities. That means no indoor plumbing, no electricity and hunting for meals.
To find out more about this fascinating book — Herschbach’s follow-up to the acclaimed “Grief Journey: A Walk in the Shadow of Death,” about the passing of his wife — we sent a few questions over to the now thoroughly modern author:
Budgeteer: First of all, how would you describe the mood of “Brown Sugar Syrup and Jack Pine Sand”? Some will undoubtedly look at how your family lived as completely freeing, while others might pity you for not having modern conveniences. Are the memories in the book fond ones for you?
Herschbach: I think the word that sums up the overall mood of the book is “nostalgic.” While it’s true that some might read the book and believe that times were difficult — and they probably were — the way we lived was the norm, so it wasn’t as though we were alone in our lifestyle.
Many of the events I have written about are fond memories. I had a wonderful childhood, because I absolutely loved the woods, feeling at home in the forests and fields. Yes, there was stress in my family, and life was more difficult in ways than it is now, but to grow up in the surroundings I did was a true blessing. I can still close my eyes and smell the sweet ferns and the turpentine emitted by jack pines on a hot August day.
That life was hard on my mother, though. She had to work so hard, and received so little in return for her efforts, I can understand why she was unhappy. I, on the other hand, wish my grandchildren could experience what I did, if only for a week.
Looking back at those years, what was the most difficult aspect of life?
For me, the most difficult aspect of my life was the tension between Mom and Dad. This was, I believe, due to the vast difference in their childhoods.
There is a poignant picture of Dad’s family in my book. It shows one of the shacks in which they were forced to live after losing their farm during the Great Depression. Mom was raised in a town and hardly ever was in the country. I know the tension between them affected me. Perhaps as a means of escape, I became an unrepentant dreamer.
On a similar note, seeing all you have now, are there any aspects of your earlier life that you miss? Are there some modern “conveniences” you could do without?
I miss the freedom to wander that we had in those days. We pretty much hunted and fished where we wanted to. Blackberry, where I grew up, was sparsely populated.
I miss the role imagination played in our lives. When we listened to the radio, we had to form images in our mind.
There was time to daydream, to pretend, to think of adventures.
I miss the pace of life when we sat on the grass to watch a county league baseball game or sat on the banks of the Mississippi River watching the eddy currents spin by.
Unfortunately, I have become technologically dependent. What would I ever do without my computer? I could live without a cell phone, and many of my gadgets, but don’t touch my computer, TV or my hot showers.
A lot of Minnesota readers probably know you best for “Grief Journey” — do you think that fanbase will carry over to your new work? Do you stick to a similar style of writing?
My first book, “Grief Journey,” was written as therapy following the death of my wife in 2005. That book continues to provide comfort to those suffering the loss of a loved one, especially a spouse.
Now my writing is quite different in content and style. “Brown Sugar Syrup and Jack Pine Sand” is strictly prose, while my first book included quite a bit of poetry. I would hope those who have read “Grief Journey” will be curious to find out how my writing has evolved along other lines.
What’s next for you? Have you outlined your next writing project yet?
I am involved with Lake Superior Writers, an organization that has been extremely helpful to me. I am part of a poetry group that meets on a weekly basis.
At the same time, I continue to write prose, and this fall I will have a short story published in an annual anthology, “The Talking Stick.” I am currently working on a novel that I hope to finish in this lifetime.
Some time ago, I heard an author say we should stop trying to push the rope — to let it pull us. I’m not sure where my writing will pull me, but I intend to enjoy the ride.
NEWS TO USE
Learn more about “Brown Sugar Syrup and Jack Pine Sand,” Dennis Herschbach’s follow-up to “Grief Journey,” at www.redsteppress.com.