What started as a collection of memoirs for his grandchildren, soon took on a life of its own according to Cowden native Rod O’Kelly as he revisited his old stomping grounds on Thursday for a book signing at the Dry Point Township Library.
O’Kelly began writing what would become his first novel, “Comin’ up Country” back in 2008 and it was first published in 2011. The book relives some of the many memories of his childhood in Cowden which helped shape his future.
“I stated out writing this as a little bit of family history for my grandchildren and it just snowballed— it wasn’t a planned deal,” said O’Kelly. The book was finished in three years as O’Kelly would write some, put it away and think about it, and then write some more. “It was a fun project,” he smiled.
A steady stream of patrons came to the library to reminisce with O’Kelly and talk about the good old days and pick up a signed copy of his book. Rod took time to talk with everyone and catch up on old Cowden times.
O’Kelly takes a sentimental journey through his early years in Cowden, moving from farmplace to farmplace, battling most of the obstacles common to rural families of the 50s and 60s: drafty walls, sooty coal heat, muddy yards, and uneven floors that caused peas to roll off the plates.
Ever heard of Mud Run School? It’s in the book. Is your last name Ford, Copenhaver, Nance, Moore or Prater? You might end up reading about yourself or your relatives.
O’Kelly said that during the 50s and 60’s, “My favorite neighbor was Ott Blankenship. [Ott’s wife] Bertha worked at the hair pin factory in Shelbyville.” Today we know this as the Sta-Rite company still owned and operated by the Bolinger family. Before going off to college, O’Kelly worked at the Hygrade Cheese factory in Shelbyville.
With no living relatives left in Cowden, it is rare for O’Kelly to come back home. He has lived on the same farm in Terre Haute for the last 40 years and owns a private cattle and swine research farm ;Boot City western wear, and Boot City Opry.
After moving around some in Cowden, O’Kelly’s father family bought the family farm in 1948. “It was plainer than a broom, and stayed that way into the 70s.” He also learned that “BBQ raccoon is greasy – it ain’t good.” (p7).
His farming background paved the way for O’Kelly to attend SIU and study agriculture. “From the earliest times, I remember being surrounded to some degree by the presence of livestock, mainly cattle and hogs.” Later, Rod earned his PhD in Animal Nutrition at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1969.
“Comin’up Country” chronicles life through O’Kelly’s eyes and takes us all the way through his college years into his first business endeavors—many of which prove to be humorous as well as frustrating.
For a lot of us who grew up in the 50s and 60s, O’Kelly’s trip down memory lane will prove to be heartwarming of simpler times. For those who came along in later generations, reading “Comin’ up Country” may lend perspective of how we evolved from a mostly agrarian society into a more industrialized nation.
If you missed the book signing, it sells for $15.00 and is available through Amazon or by contacting Rod at: Boot City Inc., 11800 S Us Highway 41, Terre Haute (812) 299-8379.