Retired Mebane bank CEO Rick Smith has started a new chapter in life with the publication of his first novel (and second book), Crumbs from Heaven.
Smith retired from Mebane’s First Savings and Loan in December 2020, after 30 years at the helm of the family-owned company, where he had succeeded his father, Linwood Neal Smith, as president and CEO. Keeping the family tradition intact, Smith’s niece, Amy E. Cannady, has served as CEO of Mebane’s First since January 2021.
Crumbs from Heaven – which is Smith’s second book and follows his 2011 foray into nonfiction, Change for a Dollar: A History of First Savings and Loan – tells the story of J.D. Harrison and his family while visiting his childhood home in a small Southern town.
The book jacket bears an illustration of a hummingbird, with a deep golden, red-orange sunset in the background – details that Smith says signify the meaning of the story.
As anyone who’s ever given or received a Papyrus greeting card can attest, legend has it that “hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration.” Their rapid, erratic flight – backwards, up and down, with wings beating between 50 and 80 times per second – reminds us that every moment is ephemeral and precious.
The image of the sunset on the book jacket for Crumbs from Heaven, of course, signifies the end of life, Smith explained in a recent interview with The Alamance News.
Crumbs from Heaven tracks the all-too-common circumstances in which many Baby Boomers (i.e. those born between 1946 and 1964) find themselves today: their nests are empty and they’re ready to settle into retirement when they’re suddenly thrust into a role reversal, having to care for their aging parents.
Smith, 69, began laying the foundation for Crumbs from Heaven while researching Change for a Dollar.
“When I got to the 1950s and sixties, I started to think about my childhood,” Smith recalled in the interview. “I discovered through that, I love to write.”
Crumbs from Heaven initially unfolded, in fits and starts, as a series of short stories that he began writing during the Christmas season in 2013. “I would put it down for a while [and] pick it back up,” he recalls. “The more I wrote, the more I thought [I] can tie this together…I did a lot of praying; it took a while but I did get this into novel format.”
With no formal training, Smith learned to write the same way legions of others do: by writing.
“I find if you read, the more it will help you to write,” he tells the newspaper. In addition to contemporary bestsellers, such as Where the Crawdads Sing, Smith says he also read classics by John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and others in honing the elements of storytelling: setting; character; plot; point of view; and theme.
While many places may seem familiar to readers in Alamance County and Mebane, including the fictional city of Maybin that serves as the setting, Smith emphasizes that Crumbs from Heaven is a work of fiction, as he also notes in the novel’s opening pages.
Crumbs from Heaven opens with Smith’s protagonist, J.D. Harrison, being summoned by his father to come home one weekend for a surprise.
“They end up touring the family home that’s in foreclosure,” Smith tells the newspaper. Every room in the house evokes memories, transporting Harrison back to a simpler time, when he was about nine years old. “As a nine or 10-year-old kid, the world is still a magical place,” Smith explains.
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The fictional backdrop of Harrison’s semi-idyllic childhood of the early 1960s is juxtaposed with the realities of the present, as his father battles lung cancer and his mother, dementia.
Albeit an imaginative invention, Crumbs from Heaven is a meditation on memory – filled with sensory details that will ring familiar to multiple generations of North Carolinians – and uses the past to show readers what it means to be fully present.
The overriding message, Smith says, is simple: learn to appreciate the good and bad, because these moments won’t last. “Life should be enjoyed to the fullest, savoring everyday memories as though they are crumbs from heaven,” the author elaborates.
“At a certain age, you begin to think about the inevitable,” Smith elaborates. “Reminiscing does bring some direction to this family.”
Smith says he opted to publish Crumbs from Heaven through Palmetto Publishing, a self-publishing company in Charleston, South Carolina, after toying with the idea of trying to land an agent to represent him and get the novel published through a traditional publishing house. He quickly learned he would spend more time doing that than he would if he published and distributed it on his own, Smith tells the newspaper.
Smith says he believes “there’s a story in all of us,” adding that he hopes to do more writing in the future.
In between marketing his novel – he held a book signing for Crumbs from Heaven at the Mebane Historical Museum last month – Smith is continuing to serve as the interim vice president of Mebane’s First Savings and Loan. “I’m just not here all the time,” Smith says of his semi-retirement.
He also enjoys reading and gardening, as well as spending time with his wife, Juliana, who is also retired, and their 2-½ year old granddaughter. The couple has one grown child, daughter Meredith, who is also employed with First Savings and Loan.
A Mebane native who worked in real estate before joining First Savings and Loan in 1990, Smith is a graduate of Wingate University, Appalachian State University, and the Graduate School of Banking at Louisiana State University.
Crumbs from Heaven is available from amazon.com; barnesandnoble.com; Walmart.com; Target.com; and numerous other online retailers.