Local author recalls mom's stories in new book

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

Growing up in the Swannanoa Valley, entertainment was always readily available for Shirley Swindle and her four siblings, as their mother would regale them with tales of growing up during the Great Depression. 

Those stories remained with Swindle through her career as a teacher in Buncombe and McDowell Counties, so when she retired in 2014, after teaching at W.D. Williams Elementary School for nearly a decade, it was time to put them in a book. 

"The Adventures of Annie and Ellie-Belly" preserves the memories passed down to Swindle and her family in a collection of stories that chronicle two sisters navigating their ways through life in the 1930s.

Swannanoa Valley native Shirley Swindle  wrote "The Adventures of Annie & Ellie-Belly" as a way to preserve the stories her mother told her and her siblings growing up.

"My mother passed away at age 92 in 2015," Swindle said. "Her memory was sharp as a tack."

When Swindle retired from teaching she didn't want the stories of her mother and aunt, who passed away in 1998, to be forgotten. 

"I seriously started putting pen to paper," she said of how she came to pen her first book, a fictionalized version of her mom's accounts. "I really wanted to turn everything I had into a novelette."

In spite of the struggles her mother and aunt faced as children, they always found a way to make the most out of life. 

"My mother was such a creative, imaginative little girl," Swindle said. "I always tell people that even though they grew up during the Depression, she was never depressed."

However, there were times when the reality of what the economic hardships would set in. 

"Sometimes they would have to wonder where there next meal was coming from," Swindle said. "But for the most part, her and her younger sister could always find a way to be entertained."

Swindle spent hours with her mother collecting stories for the book. 

"My first priority was just to record these stories for our family," she said. "I was just hoping to preserve them. But then I started writing and I would pass off a chapter to friend and ask for their opinion."

One piece of feedback was consistent, Swindle said. 

"A lot of people said I should put it in book form," she said. "I thought it could be fun to try my hand at writing and put something into fiction form that might be good for laughs, and there are chapters in there that are heart-wrenching."

The story depicts the "highs and lows" of a family struggling through one of the most sever economic downturns in recorded history. 

"It has a lot of historical value," she said of the book. "It's a real look into the life of a family dealing with the struggles of that era."

Her mother learned not to take anything for granted, Swindle said, but she also came to rely on her own penchant for mischief to pass the time. 

"I wrote on the dedication that the book is in loving memory of my mother, the real-life Annie who always had a twinkle in her eye and a prank up her sleeve, and she did," Swindle said. "For my children and grandchildren, who knew her as grandmother, I wanted them to know what she was like as a little girl. I wanted them to see that the mischievous character they came to know in her was something that she had her whole life."

The difficult experiences her mom had as a child helped prepare her to handle tough issues as an adult, according to Swindle.

"I really saw my mom's resilience, faith and determination working on this book," she said. "She didn't shrink from difficult circumstances, she met them head on and she really looked hard to find the silver lining."

"The Adventures of Annie and Ellie-Belly" is available on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble and iTunes for $12.95 or digitally on the Amazon Kindle for $5.95.