Kenneth David Brubacher was born into a large family of “sort of” Mennonites in Elmira, through no fault of his own. He was encouraged to make an attempt at becoming a normal human being, but with limited success. To the surprise of nearly everyone he graduated from secondary school in 1970. From there he traveled the world extensively turning his hand to many kinds of jobs and eventually returned to Elmira having accomplished very little. He got work as a millwright but it soon was clearly evident that he was a “millwrong”. After being mercifully fired from that job he went trucking and almost immediately distinguished himself summa cum laude (with oak leaf cluster and Silver Star) by destroying the truck.
He got married and begat two lovely daughters, which took after their mother in many wonderful ways and turned out normal. It was considered a blessing that he had no sons because there was a high degree of probability that if he had sons the little morons would turn out like their dad.
Questions & Answers with Author Kenneth Brubacher
In what ways did your upbringing inspire you to create “Mennonite Cobbler”?
I grew up in an atmosphere where we had no “screen time” at all, meaning there was no TV or radio or any other outside media in my experience, except for the odd reel-to-reel movie brought into the school for historical or documentary purposes. Yet I always loved a story. Mostly those were supplied at school or church, but we as children were allowed to go to the public library and get books to read. I quickly discovered that there were wonderful adventures to be had between the covers of a book, and so gravitated to the art of the story.
At what age did you recall first questioning and challenging the rules in your strict household?
As a small boy of seven I started my first paper route, and did so until mage 14. Every Friday after supper I went around to my customers in Elmira to collect the fee for the daily newspaper, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record. One particular establishment of collection was a large house divided into 3 small apartments. The man from whom I collected the money was a bachelor who had the coin ready was normally pretty much comatose by the time I got there, he having already enjoyed communion with contents of bottles containing the Demon Drink. The door was not locked and I would creep in quietly, take the money, and then also take in the TV show there playing. I remember vividly the show “Man From Uncle” which portrayed heather sinners engaged in all manner of hell-bound activities which I found endlessly fascinating, like drinking, smoking, thievery, subterfuge, not to mention non-Mennonite concepts such as guns and car races. Yet I loved it, and lightning did not strike. At least yet…
Your book “Mennonite Cobbler” doesn’t have a traditional starting point. How did you decide where to begin?
Looking back on it, I simply followed my life. As was the case with home rules, the first 18 years of my life was spent being hammered into a Mennonite mold into which I did not fit. The next 18 or so was spent in extrication from the mold and to commence asking hard questions. Then came identification of the demons residual to my upbringing - another 10 years or so - followed by a period of seeking communion with same. Then the time of identification of who and what I am, comfort with same, and then life really started. And with it, the journey of writing Mennonite Cobbler began!
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
After I took the last curtain call of the stage play Mennonite Cobbler, and I was chatting with the audience in Meaford Hall, a lady came up to me and said, “You are a very brave man. It is not many people who have the courage to stand up in front of a lot of people and bare his soul.” Until then it had not yet occurred to me what I had done, but she was right. Unwittingly I had done just exactly that.
The hardest part is to honestly get to the heart of the matter of the entire circumstance and yet not denigrate, belittle, or embarrass the people involved. How to inject humor into a cult of guilt and repression, yet not cast dispersion on those in power who did so in what I now believe to have done so in misguided clear Christian conscience? Or were they, perhaps, right all along?
What was your goal for writing Mennonite Cobbler?
My goal is to deify myself as the be-all end-all ultimate in literary fashion and accomplishment of all time. Big Bill Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, and all y’all other pen dudes – move over! Here commeth The KDB Show!! C’est moi! I have arrived!!!
And if any reader actually believes that, then I will offer for sale some dubious land near the Everglades, generally dry, not too many slithering thangs lurking about, excellent prices… Cheap! Make money!!
But if the above does not cut it, then I must go back a fair few years even before my children (about 5 years ago in 2005) said, “Dad, you really must write these stories down. “ That sowed the seed of what is now in print and what went to stage 2 years ago. People had told me, after listening to the stories that I should go on stage. So I told my family we should do this and they did not say NO, and we did it.
What price to put on such a production, especially with all only family? We will all take this wonderful time together to our graves. No price there with which MC can contend.
My daughters told me that the stories of my upbringing and experiences needed to be written. The grandchildren need to know from where they come. So now this is done - to date. There is always more.
Are you concerned about receiving backlash from Mennonite communities when it comes to telling your story?
Not really. I am no longer a practicing Mennonite in the Old Order (horse and buggy) portion of the faith, so they will consider me to be an outsider. The more modern Mennonites will have questions, but not maliciously so. They may well find the book very informative, for I have found many such curious about their own origins, having had little or no instruction by their own people for enlightenment.
You are able to make ordinary circumstances in your writing seem lyrical and fun. How did you learn how to do this?
I shamelessly take Dr. Seuss as my teacher and mentor in the matter, much like the Anabaptists took Fr. Menno Simons as their mentor and teacher in 1535. When I grew up there was exactly one secular book in the house “If I Ran the Circus.” Pretty sure I could quote you that entire book along about when I got to kindergarten, this because I persuaded my older siblings to read it to me at nausea. Scarily, I still can. The color, cadence, flow, and inventiveness of the narrative captivated it and me then still does.
That, as well as reading nearly anything from the public library, colored my manner of expression in no small measure. I discovered wonderful adventures between the covers of books, many of which were very much at odds with the tenets of our faith and the teachings of the house, yet if I did not broach the topics therein I seemed to get away with it.
Humor and satire was always high on my list: Mad Magazine, Leacock, 1066 And All That, Larson, Al Capp, Schultz, the list goes on. Grab a sacrosanct slithery creature of print, then twist it without breaking it and see which way it runs. Who says those two trees out there can’t talk to each other? What sermons from those carrots freshly yanked from the garden?
As kids we are black and white. We will do it not at all or we will do it until the cows come home. It is right or wrong. It tastes great or it sucks. It is giggly giggly giggly or it has a face of stone. Then we learn grey. Slowly but surely it is no longer right or wrong – it might be ok for you, and therefor maybe I should somewhat modify my opinion of that abomination. Our cheese is no longer mozzarella or Roquefort, it all becomes medium cheddar. It’s not tasty and it doesn’t suck – it’s edible. Our joie de vivre withers with the color of our hair – we become grey people.
Lord Almighty, I beg you, spare me from becoming a Grey Man! Let there be color, and laughter, and really stinky cheese! Let there be nothing done by half. Let me have at least one seriously stomach-rumbling laugh each day, lest I be sent back as a hyena.
The song should not have been “Twist and Shout”. It should have been “Color and Laugh!”
You are a bona fide cobbler and still make shoes using traditional practices. Do you have a plan to keep the art of “cobbling” alive?
That be a tough task. With that exact problem in mind we did a photo-shoot blow by blow with descriptions 2 years ago, and the reader can find the result on the web mennonitecobbler.com. This, however, was just the mechanics of assembly, and did not go into even the rudiments of diagnostics, design, fitting, or any of the myriad complexities otherwise. From my experience it takes about 6 – 7 years to create a journeyman shoemaker, and about 13 for a master of the Craft. Who wants to do that anymore? As far as I know there are on this continent maybe a handful of Masters left, and I am pretty sure I know them all. Yet none of them have sons taking over their businesses.
You have a stage play called Mennonite Cobbler. In what ways is this different from the book? How can I see a video of the play?
I will shortly have the video of the play for sale on my web site. That was an unbelievable joy to do with my family, and I will treasure those times forever. When is the last time you wrote, produced, and directed a stage play, and then tried to teach your 5-year-old grandson to behave like a skunk?
What projects are you working on next?
I am currently putting the finishing touches on a ten-book “series’, loosely connected by theme and philosophy. My progress can be seen on my web page. Four, including Mennonite Cobbler, are available now. Two more within the next couple of weeks, and three more by Christmas. Book #10 is a compendium the MennoCob and is (hang onto your hats…) entitled “Commotion in the ManureYard”. At some point I will revise the play and put that on live. Also I have written a bunch of songs and will form “The MennoBand” and give multi-media concerts in song, stage, and video combined.
Other than that there is not much happening…