A 10-year-old and a 6-year-old boy sit anxiously on the edges of their twin beds awaiting the turn of the page. The night light is on in the corner. Jeff, their father who is a horticultural professor at Auburn University, is reading to them about the adventures of a youngster named Harley Earle.
The children are “expecting at the turn of every paragraph to see someone from the Dufus McGee Gang, or an Indian, come jumping right out of the wall!” Jeff explains the marvel of stories authored by his father, Jerry, which he emails regularly as bedtime stories for his 13 grandchildren. At the Sibley home, the boys are not quite satisfied.
“One or the other would pop straight up in bed and forcefully say, ‘Aww man that can’t be the end! Read another one! I’m gonna call him right now and tell him he’s not writing them long enough!’” said Jeff of story time with his kids.
Those bedtime stories of Harley Earle eventually grew into a book. Jerry Sibley, the 67-year-old grandfather and a native of Mount Hope, Ala., published “The Adventures of Harley Earle” on May 16, 2006.
He also owns a second home in Auburn a mile south of Toomer’s Corner on South College Street. Sibley lives almost as much in Auburn as he does Mount Hope even though the places are about 200 miles apart.
“I think Jerry is in love with two places. One is Mount Hope, Ala. The other is Auburn, Ala.,” said friend Jack Smith.
Sibley graduated from Auburn University in 1961. “I’m not really prideful about many things, but I am proud of having a degree from Auburn University,” he said.
He and his wife Reba have been married since 1959. They have three children and 13 grandchildren, which is part of the reason he owns a home in Auburn. Jeff’s two sons and three daughters live there. Five of his grandchildren live in Athens, Ga., and Auburn is halfway between there and Mount Hope, a rural community in North Alabama 10 miles west of Moulton. The remaining three grandchildren live in Henderson, Tenn.
Sibley started writing short stories because he was tired of the classic tales. He began sending emails to his kids with stories to read to his grandchildren. Eventually, he was sending them chapters from “The Adventures of Harley Earle.”
Harley Earle is the typical 1950s southern boy. “Harley respected his mom and dad. When he got off on the wrong track, he would go and ask for their forgiveness,” says Sibley of the morals of the book. Not so coincidentally, the story is set in Mount Hope in the 1950s, the same place and time Sibley grew up.
“The book has been so much fun for me. It’s been the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. It’s been the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done,” Sibley said.
It took him nine months to finish writing the 170 pages of Harley Earle’s adventures. “I really felt like this was going to the fair or the circus for me. I was just hyped up from one day to the next. I was never discouraged.”
Publishing the book was the hardest part for Sibley. He worked with E-Book Time out of Montgomery, Ala., in the publishing process. “The biggest problem with self-publishing is you pay all of the expenses,” commented Sibley.
After the hurdles he had to jump publishing the book, his community of Mount Hope was receptive. About 150 out of 200 members at Mount Hope Baptist Church, where Sibley is a deacon, have read the book.
His first print was for 1,600 books. Twenty stores sell the book, including Hastings, J&M, GNUS’s Room and Lighthouse Christian Bookstore in Auburn. “I do not plan to try to get in the big book stores because of so much red tape,” Sibley responded in an e-mail. He plans to put the book in more stores until he sells out the first printing.
Sibley’s next book signing is at Hastings on East Glenn at 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Dec. 9. “If I can get two people to stand still long enough, then I can get one to buy my book,” Sibley said.
“It’s gonna be a local thing,” he said of possible book sales. “I hope it sells well across the Southeast.” The story of Harley Earle is a southern story. It deals with stories from his and his friends’ childhoods of growing up in Alabama, stories based on fact but exaggerated. “I’ve been accused of being Harley Earle myself.”
Sibley admits to not reading much to his kids as they were growing up. “I grew up rural and poor. From 1957 until 1980, I worked 12 hours a day and six days a week. So, that wasn’t really on my mind, reading to the kids.” He’s making it up by writing stories that his children can read to his grandchildren.
“Harley Earle is a lot of us. He’s not one person,” Sibley said. He is writing about the values that were once vital to the southern family, which may explain why the local Christian bookstore agreed to sell the book.
“He is going to Auburn,” says Sibley of Harley’s future. His grandchildren should have plenty of bedtime adventures left in theirs.