BERWICK, N.S. —
It’s not a time machine but, for residents of Berwick, it might be the next best thing.
“The Misadventures of Little Benny: In Conversation with Benny Hiltz” transports readers back to The Great Depression-era in Berwick. The book is the end result of Benny Hiltz, now a 92-year-old man living in Morristown, reaching out to author Gloria Marshall for help publishing his memoirs.
“Benny had already written about 25 pages of memories and he wanted to publish it and he didn’t know how to do it,” said Marshall, who lives in Lower Sackville.
It didn’t take much convincing to get Marshall on board.
“I immediately recognized it as a Huckleberry Finn-type of story. I knew it had potential, so I agreed to do it,” she said.
“It’s a record of a time of freedom that children had, which now is lost in today’s society.”
The collection follows Benny’s childhood pursuits in Berwick during the 1930s. The aptly-named title hints that coming of age as one of two sons in a family of eight children proved to be anything but a smooth transition for “Little Benny.”
“It’s an interesting, light-hearted memoir of a boy struggling to grow up,” said Marshall.
The stories are told through the eyes and words of a protagonist fixing to prove himself as worthy of the same admiration often afforded to his older brother.
“It’s a book that no matter who you are, you’ll like to read it,” said Marshall.
“I didn’t put it in my words because Benny has a way of speaking that’s unique.”
Benny’s father, Wallace Hiltz, worked long hours and his mother tended to the home.
“What struck me the most was the calibre of the character of Wallace Hiltz,” said Marshall.
“Even though he was a man of great strength and integrity, he loved his children and it really showed.”
The children played with homemade toys and wore hand-stitched clothes. Like many families enduring the economic unrest that characterized the worldwide Great Depression, the Hiltz clan made the most of every penny.
At 10, Benny landed a job at a local bowling alley. He’d sit on a bench off to the side of the pins as bowlers hurled balls down the lane. His job was to set the targets back up at the close of each round.
“The bowling ball would come down and almost hit these boys sitting behind the pins,” said Marshall.
The story of the wayward bowling ball that caused Benny the most grief is one of Marshall’s favourite tales in the book.
There are many “Little Benny” moments that make the New Ross-born author chuckle as she reflects on the misadventures that stood out most during the writing process.
“It was a joy,” she said. “I really enjoyed it.”
Locals might recognize mentions of familiar landmarks, professionals, structures, businesses, and traditions mentioned in the book. Readers with little to no knowledge of Berwick can follow the misadventures that both entertain and beckon back to days long gone by.
“(Kids) still had a lot of freedom and the whole community looked after the children, made sure the children were safe,” said Marshall, who also wrote My Brothers’ Footsteps. “It’s a lost time in our history.”
“The Misadventures of Little Benny: In Conversation with Benny Hiltz” is Marshall’s fifth book. She’s pleased to report that more than 100 copies sold on Amazon in the first week.
A launch and signing event is planned for Sept. 12 at Berwick’s Rainforth Park from noon to 4 p.m.
Tony Hiltz is pleased to see readers from near and far ordering copies of his father’s book and even reaching out to Benny. He said his father is humbly enjoying the widespread response, which came as a surprise.
“I just think it’s wonderful that his memories are written down for posterity and placed in a book for others to read,” he said.
“Dad has gotten many calls from people thanking him for making them public. One of his childhood friends, who now lives in New York, called and they have rekindled a friendship.”