Local author gives insight into Helena shaping her family story
Published 8:17 pm Tuesday, March 14, 2023
Written by Lizzie Bowen
Upon entering the home of Deborah Elliott, the overall feeling was festive and cozy. Her Christmas decorations are strewn across the fireplace, and the Christmas tree stands tall. This house has seen a lot.
This house has survived a tornado, seen many beloved animals live and die and Elliott raised her three beautiful boys within the four walls of this home. Deborah is a nurse who has a passion for writing and has a book entitled “Family Tails: my life with boys, dogs, and other amazing critters.” She decided to tell the story of her life with her three sons and all the animals they have raised throughout the years.
“Originally, I started jotting down stories for my children,” Elliott said. “They are all true stories, and I didn’t want them to forget the amazing critters we had. I knew that as they grew up, they weren’t going to remember it. As time went on, it developed, and eventually I felt I should make it available for people beyond my family.”
When the pandemic began, Elliott was a nurse, and faced with extra time, to try and bring these ideas to life. She decided to work seriously on the book and give her son’s critters a voice.
“This book will appeal to anyone who loves family, nature and animals,” she said. “People often read books that are exciting adventure books, and it takes them out of their lives. This book is a book I think many people can identify with.”
The experience of having an animal you truly love is one that is shared by many. Elliott hopes to tell the triumphant tale of family and what pets can truly mean when it comes to a family-dynamic. For many, pets play a vital role.
“It will make you laugh a lot,” she said. “It may make you cry a little bit too. But it is really beyond just animal stories.”
Ron Adair, the illustrator of the book, sits on the couch across from Elliott and his face brightens when talking about first coming across it. You can tell immediately of the passion he has for this project and the way in which the story touched him.
“This book is rich, and it is multi-dimensional,” Elliott said. “The critters are the thread that holds it all together, but they are in many ways, front and center. The other things in the book really add so much texture to the book.”
Adair has known Elliott for many years and has done illustrations for several different books, but when he came across “Family Tails: my life with boys, dogs, and other amazing critters” he knew it was truly something special.
“I’m honored that he felt my book was worthy of his time and talent,” Elliott said.
Adair said he has a passion for animals and that his love for animals made the project that much easier.
“It was nice to be excited about doing the next piece,” Adair said about illustrating the pictures for Elliot’s book. “I grew up with such a variety of animals, and I could certainly identify with the connection God gives us with His creative order in so many different ways. There was a lot in my DNA that really attracted me to Debbie’s book.”
Elliot said she has always enjoyed writing, and it has remained a passion throughout her life. Although she chose nursing as a profession (one that she loves equally as much and shares a similar passion for) writing was always in the back of her mind as something she wanted to wholeheartedly pursue.
Elliott explains all the critters that she has had throughout her time in this house and how they are featured in her book. Her eyes light up as she mentions each and every animal, the love she had for them evident in her expression.
The first animal is Susie, an english setter who lived 14 years who she described as a “wonderful dog.”
“She had so much character,” Elliott said. “She loved to dig in the ground, she loved to run, she loved to watch the sky, she loved fireworks and she is featured in several different chapters.”
Her next animal was named Shepherd who was a 110-pound stray German shepherd.
“When he showed up, he was over twice as big as my two boys put together,” she said. “He was so huge and massive, but he was the biggest baby. He was just wonderful. He was a very protective dog and a very loving dog.”
Next, she tells the tale of Spike the gecko who was a part of their family for over 12 years. She laughs when she talks about him.
“It is amazing how attached you can get to a lizard,” she said.
Whiskers is a squirrel brought home by Elliot’s son, Sam, who is featured and illustrated in the book. Adair shows an intricately drawn photo of Whiskers where he is sitting in a boot.
“I raised him until he was almost an adult,” she said. “He was just a sweetie. He loved my husband Lou.”
Elliott then speaks about the “assortment of aquatic creatures” that her sons grew up with and how they also played a part in the family.
“We had Mozart the catfish,” she said. “We had a Jamaican shrimp. We had Fatboy who was a fire belled newt. He was a character too, he lived for about 15 years in our tank.”
Elliott goes on to talk about her other two dogs, Jasmine and Lily who she describes as “extremely intelligent.” Jasmine was a black lab and Lily was a rescue dog from the humane society who she said was “a little bit of everything.”
“She was really sweet,” she said. “Her and Jasmine were just best friends.”
A cat named Autumn was also thought of fondly, and it was said that she talked in her own way and language. Miss Pepper was a mixed lab who loved to play tug of war. The description of this little animal family is fondly described as “an assortment of creatures.”
Elliott said she has always wanted to be a writer and became inspired to become one at eight years old when she first began writing.
“It started when I was in school one day,” she said. “We used to tell a story after lunch, you had to tell a story to the class and my day come. I wasn’t prepared. I forgot about it. So, I just got up there and made up a story and everyone stood up and clapped.”
Elliott said that becoming a nurse was a wonderful profession, but a part of her always dreamed of being a writer. She continued to write for newsletters, magazines and has a lot of ideas for books to write in the future.
Adair said he has always enjoyed making art and has been drawing since he was five years old.
“My identical twin brother and I, Don, we had this great competition going back and forth where he would learn to do something, and I would get motivated to learn it as well as him,” he said. “We had this cross-pollination of motivation skills. Our interest were very similar. I learned a lot, and we both started drawing when we were 5 or 6 years old.”
Adair said he learned so much more about Elliott’s husband, Lou, and about her family as a whole while he read the chapters of her book. As he illustrated them, he found himself knowing her whole family (and her critters) in a way he never thought he would.
“I’ve always wanted to draw and paint,” Adair said. “I have always enjoyed that, and thankfully, by God’s grace, I have been able to do it throughout the course of my life.”
As we sit in her house, Elliott recalls the day that a tornado hit, and how she tried to protect her three boys the best she could. This story is retold in the book with illustrations by Adair, and Elliott said that the chapter entitled “Tornado” might be the longest one in the book.
“It was 2:30 a.m. in the morning when we woke up,” she said. “The phone jangled once, and that was because the phone line had been hit by lightning. We got the kids, and we all huddled together. The whole house was shaking.”
Elliott said that the house was built very well and that she felt blessed. Although heavily damaged, the house stood strong. Not a single window was broken during the storm. Several oak trees had fallen down due to straight line winds. Some of the trees were very large, and the trees fell in a way that Elliott describes as a “barrier.” She believes that these fallen trees protected the house.
“We were very fortunate,” she said. “It took a year to get us back. I stood on the front steps the next morning, and from my front steps I counted 75 trees on the ground.”
Tales like this one are told in Elliot’s book “Family Tails: life with boys, dogs and other amazing critters.” She hopes that this story will touch others and remind them of the importance of animals, family and sharing life experiences. The book can be found and ordered on Amazon.