You'll want to spend every minute of your time with the O'Daniel Family, experiencing their simple adventures in a way that only this oldest daughter can weave them. Written with a sense of hope and an amazing capture of mid-twentieth century detail, you will enjoy the opportunity to:
Revisit big department stores again, when Louisville's only place to shop was downtown
Spend a delightful day at Fontaine Ferry, Louisville's famous amusement park
Be part of the quarrels, love and joy - feeling the bonds of this close knit era, when dependence on family members and neighbors was essential.
Experience farm life in the suburbs. Deanna's classmates jumped rope in subdivisions while the O'Daniels slopped hogs, killed chickens, and hoped they went to school without smelling like the animals they tended.
Only a few can tell their story coherently like Deanna does with this touching memoir. First born in a large rural family, she relates her passage through childhood with charming and accurate descriptions of life in Kentuckiana. A chronicle of many customs and places that are fast slipping away from our collective memories, such as her description of the country store in Nelson County, Kentucky. A book you will tell others, "I'm so fond of this one."
John Allen Boyd, Emerson Avery, That Latin Teacher
Deanna's story is of dedicated parents and (eventually) 11 children. They migrated near Louisville, Kentucky when Deanna was five. Her stories about those formative years paint a portrait in glowing colors, depicting struggles and love that molds and endures. You will love Deanna and her story.
Terry Cummins, Feed My Sheep
O'Daniel, a gifted writer who tightly weaves her life's journey through stories that makes growing up on a farm sound like sunshine. She shares the daily toil, angst and rivalry associated with a large family in a humorous, but realistic way - tugging at your heart for a piece of those bygone days.
Corrider Jones, A Backward Glance
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"Kiss Your Elbow" - A Kentucky Memoir
By Deanna O'Daniel
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Deanna O'Daniel
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIf Only I'd Listened to Mama
It was 1946 and we lived in the outskirts of Louisville. I was going on six and not yet in school. Only rich kids went to kindergarten, and our new parish, St. Bartholomew's, didn't even have one. Johnny was almost five, Marcellus almost four, and Jimmy was the baby. In January, Mama was expecting her fifth child. Grandma Anna who still lived with us, and I were hoping for another girl - I wanted a sister.
Daddy liked the stability of his delivery job for Sealtest Dairy, but he wanted to feed the family from the farm. While looking for a farm of his own - the one he called "the perfect place" - he rented a small farm on Goldsmith Lane. This area was filled with beautiful rolling pasture land and the white split rail fences of horse farms. One of the things Daddy did to make extra money was to sell hay to those horse farms. To me, the horses were so beautiful, I just wanted to pet them. Daddy showed us how to give them carrots by holding them on our at hands so the horses wouldn't nibble our fingers.
* * *
The air smelled sweet after Daddy cut the timothy and alfalfa grasses several nights ago, when he got home from his job at the dairy. These grasses became hay, but first they had to lie in the field for days and dry in the sun. Johnny, Marcellus and I played in them, tossing the stalks into the air and throwing them at each other. When they were thoroughly dry, we helped Daddy rake the hay into piles. Then Daddy tied it into three-foot bales, the best size to sell to the horse farms. Then, the three of us had fun jumping from bale to bale, and pushing each other off to the ground, before some of our neighbors came by to help him hoist the heavy bales into the hayloft.
In the cool of the evening, Daddy took Johnny, Marcellus and me along with him to sell some bales to one of the farmers down Goldsmith near Hikes Lane. My brothers and I lay back on the itchy haybales and stared up into the trees that lined both sides of Goldsmith Lane as we bumped our way along on the back of Daddy's farm truck. Goldsmith Lane was a gravel road at the time. It was fall and the crisp weather had us in our sweaters. This was one of the things we liked about our move out of Gethsemane, Daddy was always driving somewhere and taking us along. It was great adventure and we tried to be good so he would take us again the next time. Being an almost only child himself, he never really adjusted to noisy children.
* * *
On the day after our ride on the haybales, Mama, Grandma and I were outside enjoying some of last few days of 'Indian Summer' weather. It was warm and sunny, not chilly like the night before. It was a perfect day for cleaning Grandma's curtains. Grandma's lace curtains had to be hand washed and stretched in order get the winter coal soot from our potbelly stove out of them.
I knew why Grandma wanted to clean the curtains - Uncle Mac and Aunt Gen were coming down from Chicago to spend the weekend with us. The whole family was excited. Grandma, especially. She wanted everything to look perfect for them, now that we had moved to the area around Louisville. I thought about Uncle Mac, his jolly laugh, and how much fun the whole family had when he visited. He loved the Irish folksongs of his father's side of the family. I knew that in no time after his arrival he would pick up Grandpa Demetrius' squeezebox (an old instrument similar to an accordion) and have us singing, McNamara's Band, My Wild Irish Rose and When Irish Eyes Are Smilin,' while his wavy blond head moved side to side in the rhythm of the Irish melodies. If Daddy was in the mood, he would play his harmonica or guitar. Otherwise, he would just sing with along Grandma and Mama, while we kids kept up as best we could.
I looked over the stiff, lacy material as Mama and Grandma carefully removed them from the windows. Grandma exclaimed, the lines in her round face tightening, "I declare, these curtains are filthy." Mama and Grandma called this part of their spring-cleaning, but the past year had been too busy with our farm auction and moving to Louisville to get them done in the spring. Grandma was very cranky about the care of her curtains because they were so delicate.
They could never be ironed. The heavy at irons we heated against the stove would tear them to pieces. Instead, they were put on stretching frames. These frames were made of wood and each one was as large as the curtain that t on it. Tiny nails were all around the edges. She and Mama had to be careful not to prick their fingers and bleed on the lace as they pushed the edges of the material down over the nails. I watched them work across from each other, stretching each inch at the same time so they could keep the pattern straight as the curtain dried. My job was to look after Jimmy, the baby, as I sat with him on the pallet that I threw down into the grass for us nearby.
Grandma was very proud of these curtains and loved to work with them. Taking time to push the stray ends of her gray hair up into the bun at the back of her head, she looked over at me and said, "Deanna, your grandfather Demetrius gave me these curtains for our tenth wedding anniversary." Then her voice saddened, "He died before you were born. They're over thirty years old, and fooling with them reminds me of him," she went on, smoothing them as she stretched. "He was called Dee, and that's where your name, Deanna, comes from. I told your mama to name you after me and him, Dee, and Anna. Josephine had her heart set on calling you Mary Ann, but I talked her into saving that name for the next girl. I'm an old woman and I wanted a child named after me before I died." She continued to look over at me, her plump little belly leaning against the wood, her hands working smoothly, while she waited for my smile. I had heard this story before, but Grandma liked to tell it, and I loved Grandma. So I smiled and said, "I wish I knew Grandpa Dee, too. Your curtains sure are purdy', Grandma." The light from the sun made my eyes squint and my light brown hair glisten as I looked at the curtains.
She turned to Mama and said of the curtains, "You be careful now, Josephine." Mama chuckled and said, "Grandma, you say that ever' time we take 'ese curtains off the windas'. You know I love 'em, too." The two women had several frames to work through. They laid each frame, as they worked on it, on top of the sawhorses Daddy used for his carpentry work. When they finished with each one, they carried it over to the back of the house where they leaned it to dry, next to the fragrant sweet pea vines Mama loved so much. Then they jumped back quickly because the bees liked the sweet pea vines, too. The aroma of the pink flowers filled the air and I sniffed in as much of it as I could while I played with Jimmy and settled into the beautiful autumn day.
"I knew this was the right place for us when I saw those sweet peas growin' by the house," Mama said as they worked. "We had 'em by our house in Howardstown, and my father said they meant good luck."
I gave Jimmy his rattler. He gurgled and cooed as he shook it, then dropped it and rolled onto his back. I giggled as he pulled his toes down into his mouth, then I pushed his blond curls back out of his eyes. Mama turned the radio on to our favorite old time country music show, "Georgie Wildcats." The fast pickin' banjo and guitar music tickled our ears. Jimmy pulled himself up into a crawling position and rocked his little body to the rhythm of the fiddle. He looked real cute to me, going back and forth like a little motor.
"I can get a lot of work done when Georgie's on," Mama laughed to Grandma as her foot started to tap on the grass beneath the sawhorse to the sounds of, There's a bright and a sunny side of life, from the Carter Family. "I'm glad he's on every day," Grandma agreed. Soon the fiddle music of "Turkey in the Straw," started up and encouraged her own foot to move. The music made it easier to continue working with the lace.
While we women were busy with the curtains and the baby, Johnny and Marcellus were gathering the apples from under the three trees of yellow apples growing in the orchard, Daddy called them Golden Delicious. I peeked around the corner of the chicken house and watched them throw as many apples at each other as they threw in the bushel basket. Their job looked like a lot more fun than mine, and I wished I could have been over there throwing apples, too. Grandma and Mama would be canning these apples into applesauce in the afternoon.
With the curtains done, and the Georgie Wildcats program ended, it was time for lunch. We called it dinner back then because that is what we called it on the farm. We called the evening meal supper, and it was a lighter meal. Farmers always ate their heartiest meal in the middle of the day when they were working at their hardest in the fields. Mama fixed cottage cheese and sauerkraut, and Grandma got out the bacon and biscuits that were left over from breakfast. Jimmy sat in his high chair and smashed his food on its tray with his hands before he put it into his mouth. We laughed watching him and he giggled along with us, enjoying the extra attention.
It was Johnny's turn to help me with the dishes while Mama and Grandma busied themselves getting jars and lids ready for the afternoon canning. After the dishes, we three kids ran for the front porch where we pumped our legs back and forth sitting on the wooden swing. The porch went all the way across the front of our old, white farmhouse.
Glancing into the sky, I noticed it was the same color as the blue corn flowers that grew along the side of the highway that we took when Daddy drove us back to Howardstown on Sundays. Fluffy clouds, as full as the cotton candy puffs we'd seen at Fontaine Ferry Park, filled the blue sky. The leaves on the maple trees in our front yard were so pretty, showing ruby reds and golden yellows. I felt so peaceful, just looking through it all.
Our long front yard stretched all the way down to the road. The part of it by the lane was planted in corn that grew so tall we couldn't see the road from the house. We kids liked living on Goldsmith Lane because we had other kids to play with - the Allens and the Philpots. Dad was happy with his steady job. He and Mama didn't seem so worried about money anymore, and that felt good to us.
As we sat in the swing, we heard Grandma go upstairs for her afternoon nap. Mama took Jimmy into her bedroom for his bottle. This room was located right behind the window where we were sitting on the porch swing. The baby's crib was next to my parent's bed. She sang as she rocked him in the creaky rocker that had once belonged to my grandfather, Demetrius. We heard Jimmy's sucking sounds on the bottle as she rocked. When his bottle was done, Mama patted him on his back, and we heard him belch. Putting him down to sleep, she leaned over and spoke through the window screen to us on the swing, "Deanna, after the canning gets done this afternoon, I want you and the boys to take the jars down into the cellar."
I shivered a little thinking about the dirt-floored cellar under the kitchen floor, with the rickety steps and the cobwebs. It scared me. When winter got here Mama would be sending me down there every Sunday to get a jar of applesauce for our Sunday dinner, just like she did at Gethsemane. Mama made it taste real good by grating nutmeg and cinnamon on top. I liked the way it smelled, and always asked to grate the little brown nut that sprinkled into nutmeg. It was about the size of a walnut. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," she said. "You're fingers aren't strong enough yet."
Mama broke into our peaceful afternoon by saying, "Time for you kids to get on upstairs and take yur' naps. Ya' better get some rest, so you can help out later today." We were prickling for something interesting to do, like visiting the Allen kids or the Philpots. Napping was never something on our list, but we wanted to keep Mama happy so we unhappily trudged up the steps to our bedroom. All three of us slept in the same large bed. Its mattress was made of corn shucks. Grandma shook it up every morning when she helped us make up the bed, leaning down and rubbing the pain in her back as she did so. "Oh, I got the misery," she'd said. Then her strong arms took over, and she shook the devil out of the shucks, making them fluffy again, after out night of smashing them ' flatter than a flitter.' When we left the room in the morning the mattress was pretty and plump under its colorful quilt.
As soon as we three got to the bedroom, we jumped into the mattress and immediately started wrestling and kicking, causing the shucks to go at. We kept our squeals of laughter down because we didn't want to wake up Grandma who was sleeping in the room across the hall. After we had just had all the fun we were going to have, we felt rested quickly enough.
"I hate naps," I said, pulling my long brown hair back out of my mouth and eyes.
"Why do we have to take a nap? I'm not tired," Johnny agreed. We kids didn't realize that this was a break time for Mama and Grandma. "I know what," Johnny sat up on the flattened mattress shucks, lifted his dark head and said, "Let's go down to the Allen's."
I spoke up, "You know Mama won't let us do that." Marcellus listened to our discussion and was willing to try whatever we older ones could figure out.
"Deanna, yur' just a dumb girl. If you had a brain you'd run backwards!" Johnny shot back at me, copying one of Daddy's country sayings. "She's not gonna' see us leave." Then I kicked him and we started wrestling all over again.
Our bedroom was above our parents' and also faced the front of the house. Its tall window was only about a foot above the porch roof. We climbed out on the roof to figure out how we were going to get out of the house. We frequently climbed out on the roof when we didn't want to take our naps. If Mama found out we did this she would probably make Daddy nail the window shut. I felt like a king on a hill as I stared into the trees and over the rolling countryside. I would be happy just sitting up here watching the chestnut horses chew the pasture grass and go to the creek for drinks of water. We walked back and forth on the porch roof holding onto the house for safety. Butterflies tickled my stomach, I didn't care, it was thrilling to be so high up in the air.
"We can't get down from here. You're the dummy," I whispered back to Johnny. Thinking we could shimmy down off the edge of the porch roof and slide down the porch column didn't work. We soon lost our nerve and changed our minds. An opportunity to sneak down the back stairwell that led into the kitchen came fast enough, with the way our busy Mama scrambled around the house, working from one room to the next. Making our move, we snuck out the back door.
The Allens were the neighbors who owned the farm across the road from our house. They had eight kids. The bigger ones were at school, but the ones our age would be home and would want to play with us. Something was always going on over at their busy house.
We took off for the cornfield in the front part of our yard by the road. If we used the gravel driveway, Mama would see us. Our Border collie, Blackie, followed alongside us. I was so glad we had Blackie back again. Daddy gave him to neighbors in Gethsemane because he didn't think Blackie would do well in the city. Blackie missed us so much, he sniffed his way all the way up here to find us at Goldsmith Lane. He came over seventy-five miles and it took him several weeks. Daddy was shocked to see him, but I was delighted. His fur was caked with mud and full of cockle-burrs. When we heard him whimpering on the front porch, the whole family, even Grandma, ran out to greet him and give him big hugs.
Suddenly Blackie took off from us to chase a chipmunk. He started sniffing around the old boarded-up well in the side yard where the chipmunk disappeared. Marcellus toddled over to check things out, his blond curls bouncing. Remembering the little girl in the news story who had drowned in an old well the week before, I ran over and pulled him back. There were always stories of farm kids falling into wells, particularly, abandoned ones like this one. They scared me. I didn't speak because I didn't want Mama to hear us outside.
Excerpted from "Kiss Your Elbow" - A Kentucky Memoir by Deanna O'Daniel Copyright © 2010 by Deanna O'Daniel. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsPoem - Lessons from My Mother's Heart....................xi
Introduction: Everybody Has a Past....................xiii
Poem - Frozen Moments....................xxix
1. - If Only I'd Listened to Mama....................1
2. - Lexington and the Loftus Mansion....................15
3. The Price of Getting an Ice Cream Cone....................37
Poem - Winter Mornings....................49
4. - Christmas Comes, Slow as Molasses....................51
5. - Here Comes the Easter Bunny....................69
Poem - Our Elbows Sticking to the Oilcloth....................79
6. - A Vacation at Last!....................81
7. - Shopping in Downtown Louisville....................97
Poem - Frozen Moments....................115
8. - The Ranger's Club....................117
9. - Hogkillin' Days....................129
10. - Risen From the Dead....................149
11. - Pepsi Cola Days at Fontaine Ferry Park....................157
12. - First Time in Charge....................195
13. - Eighth Grade Summer Days....................221
Poem - My Orange Blossom Cookie Canister....................247
15. - Snails, Snails, and More Snails....................259
16. - Supper at Aunt Ida's....................281
17. - "Roll Me up Some More Vanilla"....................289
18. - Teaching is Enchanting....................307
19. - "Where is Pat?"....................339
Poem - Daddy's Expectations....................353
20. - Epilogue....................355