Harking Back

Louisville author pens book
about growing up in ’40s, ’50s

She describes things
that many others will remember

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (August 2011) – Deanna O’Daniel has fond memories of growing up in Kentucky. What makes them special is the time period and all it encompassed. The 1940s and 1950s are preserved in her book, “Kiss Your Elbow, A Kentucky Memoir.”
“I feel like I belong to a unique segment of the population,” said O’Daniel, 70. Her family made the move from the country to the city during a time of mass migration in American history.

Deanna O'Daniel Book

Photo provided

Author Deanna
O’Daniel has penned
a book about her life
growing up in Kentucky.

O’Daniel was born in Gethsemane, Ky., in Nelson County. That same year, famed intellectual, Thomas Merton, arrived at the Abbey of Gethsemane mona-stery there. The home in which she was born is now known as the Thomas Merton Retreat Center.
Her family lived on a farm that had been in the same family from 1918 to 1946. Her book depicts “what life on a farm was like; it describes department stores in Louisville when shopping was a social occasion. Ladies wore hats and gloves, and everybody rode the bus,” she said.
“People were more social back then.” O’Daniel remembers the Union Station train station at 10th Street and Broadway (where the Tarc station is now located) and the soldiers from Fort Knox that one would see gathered there. People would come and go frequently, since “Louisville was known as the ‘Gateway to the South,’ ” said O’Daniel.
As the oldest of 11 children, she was “the other mother” to her siblings many times. While her mother had her ninth baby, O’Daniel was responsible for watching her eight siblings. At age 12, she had to cook, clean, tend the garden, and busy her siblings while keeping an eye on them. But it was something she did and never balked at the idea; it was just expected of her and many young girls like her.
“The neighbors helped a lot,” said O’Daniel. Everyone knew their neighbors and knew they would need to rely on them at some point and could do so, she said. “We used to have a wonderful social fabric.”
The title of the book is derived from an old Southern saying that refers to making the impossible happen. When O’Daniel was 4 years old, her grandmother lived with her family and she would ask her grandmother when she would get to be a boy and do all of the fun stuff boys did. Her grandmother’s reply was to “kiss your elbow before falling asleep at night and you will wake up and be a boy.”
“I lived in America at the best time. It was a peaceful, prosperous, friendly world after the war.”
Her family moved from Nelson County to what was once a rural area of Hikes Point in Louisville. Her father still farmed but also worked at a brewery. She wrote the book partly because she wanted “people to get into the flavor of farm life.”
One chapter in the book deals with hog killing, once a common chore on farms. “I’ve gotten a lot of response from people about the hog killing. We had a special set of knives we used just for that and people want to know what happened to them.”
O’Daniel relates stories of buying banana splits for 39 cents, visiting the Dime Store and spending time on the riverfront at Fontaine Ferry Park, which existed from 1904 to 1968.
O’Daniel began a 30-year teaching career at age 19. “If you had really good grades, you could receive an emergency teaching certificate at that time,” she said. In this post-Baby Boomer era, many classrooms were overrun with 50 to 60 children, and teachers were desperately needed.

Deanna O'Daniel


She taught fourth grade at Holy Name in Louisville and had approximately 40 children in her classroom. “Students had a deep respect for their teachers,” she said.
When she was a young student, O’Daniel had always enjoyed writing. It was a form of entertainment but something she put aside for many years. After her mother’s death in 2001, O’Daniel returned to writing and began working on her memoir.
She’s been published in anthologies and newsletters, and belongs to two writing groups: the Cherokee Roundtable and Women Who Write. Mary Popham met O’Daniel through the Cherokee Roundtable and said she is “a very honest and detailed writer.”
One of O’Daniel’s “main strengths is her telling of the details of the areas she writes about,” said Popham. “She has a good memory and the ability to re-create scenes.” Popham said she is “an inspiration to others who want to get books published. She knows how to promote her book.”     
Peggy DeKay has been director for the latter group since 2009 and remembers O’Daniel “coming to the group meetings and bringing short stories to read.” These short stories turned into the chapters of her book.
“She would bring stories faithfully and poems, too,” said DeKay. The group critiqued O’Daniel’s work and encouraged and supported her efforts, as they would do for all 40 members.
“By the time the book came out, we all felt as if we had been a partner in making the book happen,” said DeKay. Being part of Women Who Write was “a wonderful way to compile a book and get constant feedback.”
The book is rich with the history of the area, said DeKay. “It’s a treat for anybody interested in Louisville history. She’s quite a historian.”
O’Daniel’s book was published by AuthorHouse Publishing Co. in Bloomington, Ind., and is available at Carmichael’s Bookstore and several other area bookstores. More can be found out by visiting her website at:www.KissYourElbowKentucky.com.

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