Steve Apps Photo Steve Apps
Apps, a UW professor emeritus, has written three dozen books.
True story from my childhood: Thanksgiving dinner, I’m about 13. The whole fam is gathered at my parents’ house. My existence is briefly acknowledged, when someone says I’m doing well in school and that one of my teachers suggested I could be a lawyer. My grandpa looks across the table and scowls, “You can’t be a lawyer. You’re too goddamn short!”
Ah, yes, memories. For most of us, they are often painful, at best bittersweet. For Jerry Apps, they are lovely, transcendent, heartwarming. From childhood to now, in his early 80s, he’s had a charmed life — as rich in Wisconsin culture as a cream puff at the State Fair.
The UW-Madison professor emeritus has written three dozen books — some historical, some fictional, some meant for children. Most impressive, putting him alongside such regional greats as August Derleth, Sigurd Olson and Aldo Leopold, are those on rural life, drawn from his own experiences.
These include The Quiet Season about country winters, Whispers and Shadows: A Naturalist’s Memoir and Roshara Journal about his farm in Waushara County, a gorgeous book adorned with photos by his son, Wisconsin State Journal photographer Steve Apps. All were published in recent years by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.
Now the same press is releasing a slender volume of Apps essays titled, Never Curse the Rain: A Farm Boy’s Reflections on Water. It’s as refreshing as a sweet summer rain. It explores the role of water in his life and environs, from Saturday baths in his maddeningly happy boyhood to river excursions as a UW educator. Apps shows the many ways that water is precious and why he believes it is something we can all learn from.
Apps’ late father, Herman, to whom the book is dedicated, emerges as a central figure. Asked if his house had running water, he’d reply, “Sure, grab a pail, take it to the pump, fill it up, and run back to the house.” He could study the sky and predict a storm with accuracy that would blow Bob Lindmeier away.
Never Curse the Rain is steeped in history and remembrance. How the Wild Rose village marshal would prep for outdoor movie night by using a rope to lower the lone suspended streetlight and unscrewing the bulb. How the neighbors kept his family’s barn from burning by stringing a cable around a huge stack of burning hay and using two tractors to drag it into an open space. How “Nothing could be better than toasted homemade bread, spread thick with butter and a slice of cheddar cheese and tasting faintly of oak smoke.” How rain drumming on a canvas tent made “music as powerful and beautiful as that made by the finest symphony orchestra.”
Toward the book’s end, Apps describes watching raindrops fall on a lake, creating “circles upon circles that came and disappeared. It was something like life itself. We hope to make a little splash (some hope for larger splashes), with expanding circles that influence the people in our lives, perhaps even beyond.”
Jerry Apps is making quite a splash.