Book recounts growing up in Missouri during the Depression

Thursday, April 23, 2009 | 11:16 a.m. CDT
Harvey Shell, left, and brother Bill Shell relax in the Shell family's yard. Bill's birth is one of the many memories chronicled in the book.

COLUMBIA — When Harvey Shell began the process of writing and publishing his book about the Great Depression, he wasn't thinking about the parallels between the current economic climate and the one he grew up in.

“It’s a timely subject. When I started off, I wasn’t thinking about (the) Depression, I was thinking about when I grew up," Shell said. "It just worked out that we ended up with the country in another depression."


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Shell’s new book, “Whispers from the Maple on the Hill,” is an autobiography about growing up during the Great Depression and World War II in Crowley’s Ridge, a small town in southeast Missouri. The book is available for purchase from Barnes and Noble online and in stores in Columbia, Rolla and Jefferson City, as well as at Columbia Books.

No memory is too small to be included: Shell covers a variety of topics including young men in his town going to fight in World War II and trips to the grocery store. With those two events — the war and the Depression — serving as the backdrop for his childhood, Shell transports the reader back to a "bygone era." 

Shell said he did not plan on having his book published professionally, nor did he plan a book tour. He simply hoped to share his childhood memories, including those of his brother's birth and the maple tree after which the book is titled.

“The Carter family was very popular then, and Ma Carter had a song out, 'The Maple on the Hill' and it was my mother’s favorite song; she loved it and always hummed and sang that song," Shell said. "And we did have a big maple tree in the front yard, and I climbed and rolled around under it."

With the support of his wife, Joanne — who wrote the book's epilogue — his daughter, Carol, and his son, Charles, Shell produced the work for his family as well as for others to enjoy.   

“I just tried to paint a picture in words,” he said.  

Shell’s original plans for his book were not so grand.  

“My brother said, 'Harvey, you have a good memory, why don’t you write all that down,' and I said, 'I might do that sometime,'” Shell said.

The process began two years ago as an attempt to write down his early memories simply for his family's enjoyment. Shell looked into self-publishing after his relatives were enthusiastic about his endeavor.

Hoping to get professional feedback, Shell called Scott Swafford, an editor at the Missourian, who took a half-written early copy. Swafford suggested Shell look into professional publishing, because he said he thought others outside of the Shell family would enjoy the book.  

From there, Shell searched for reputable publishing companies in the area before deciding on Acclaim Press in Morley, Mo.

“Last summer (the Shells) came down to the office after they had called to see if we were interested in the manuscript,” said Douglas Sikes, the publisher and co-owner of Acclaim Press. "We examined it, and thought the story had merit to it, and thought it would find a good, strong interest, not only regionally, but farther out, because of the common denominator of the shared depression experience and the war; it's common to all Missourians."

Shell worked with Sikes and editor Nadine Roberts, making sure the details of his life translated onto paper, as he had previously only told them with friends and family.  

“The hardest part was having to concentrate. It’s a lot of years to remember the events and the people, and I had to think of that sometimes," Shell said. "Also just staying with it (was hard), as it took a while to write."

Shell saw his work come to fruition March 3, when Sikes brought Shell the first completed copy of his book. Although he had the finished manuscript, as well as a sheet of paper with what the cover and flaps were going to look like, it was the first time he held his book in his hands.

When Sikes arrived, Shell stood up and held his book. While Sikes and Joanne Shell exchanged pleasantries, Shell stood unmoving, holding his book in his hands, slowly flipping through the pages.

“I think it came out looking very good,” he finally said, smiling down at his handiwork. With satisfaction and pride, he often repeats, "I think it came out looking very good."  

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