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Kentucky by Heart: Part two of a selection from coming children’s book; Joey and honey balls

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part selection from Steve Flairty’s in-progress children’s book, tentatively titled Kentucky Billy and Other Stories of Character Virtue

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune Columnist

Monday morning, Mrs. Fielder stood in her empty classroom near her desk, finishing the coffee she had carried from the teachers’ lounge. After a restful weekend, she set her mind on the upcoming week of school. It would require much energy.

In twenty minutes, two dozen talkative students would stroll through the long hallway into her presence for the homeroom period. It was both a challenge and a joy to hear her students’ greetings, their little stories, answer their questions, and they would each be seeking her attention.

Then there was the matter with Joey, she thought.

She dropped the paper cup into the trash can and walked briskly up the hallway to the gym, where dozens of early arriving students sat talking in groups on the floor. Approaching the double-wide door, she peered around the mixed-aged children and found Joey sitting on the outer edge of a circle of students by himself. He was wearing his blue parka.

(Sketch by Suzanne Isaacs)

She moved close by his side and in a whispering voice, said: “Hi, Joey… grab your backpack and come with me. I want to talk with you about something.”

A bit surprised, he nodded as he reached to pick up his belongings. “Yes, m’am.”

Noticing the front of Joey’s parka having a darkish, discolored look, she recalled that he wore the same top Friday. Could the dark stains be from the honey balls Sheila described? she thought.

“Your front of your parka is dirty, Joey. What happened?

“Yeah, Mrs. Fielder, I tripped over a kickball when I left home this morning to come to school. The bus was coming so I didn’t have time to change it.”

“Oh, I see.”

When the two reached the classroom, there were only about twelve minutes before the students arrived. Joey put his backpack in his cubby before lifting a pencil off his desk to take to the sharpener on the back wall.

“Joey, you can do that later. Let’s talk first. We don’t have much time before your classmates arrive.”

“Yes, m’am.” He edged closer to her.

“Just wondering about you and those honey balls at lunch last week, Joey. I get the feeling that you really like them. . . and maybe you might like them too much, do you think?”

“Well… maybe.”

“I heard that you were a busy guy collecting those desserts at lunch, and I want you to tell me about it.”

Joey’s face turned a light shade of red. He was uncomfortable.

“Well, Mrs. Fielder, I’ve always liked those honey balls a lot, and I just can’t help myself from getting all I can.”

“I see, Joey. . .and are there other things you like and sometimes can’t help yourself from going after? I mean things like seeing the newest basketballs in gym class and jumping in front of others to get them.”

Joey looked up at Mrs. Fielder. He was getting real nervous.

“Joey, the class will be here soon. We should talk some more. How about coming back in the morning a few minutes earlier? I’ll treat you to a carton of milk and a sweet roll. How’s that sound?”

“Well…yes. That sounds good, Mrs. Fielder. I can come… but I wonder if I could have two sweet rolls?”

“Whoa, Joey. That’s the sort of thing I want us to talk about.”

“OK,” he said, flashing a look of disappointment.

“Have a good day in school today, Joey. Of course, I’ll be around if you need anything. We’ll talk again about this tomorrow morning. Do your best and always think about what you are doing, and especially how it might be to others around you.”

Later at school, Joey stood near the assigned back of the line place as Mrs. Fielder’s class lined up for a restroom break. He moved with the line and separated with the other boys approaching the restroom door. Once inside, he quickly maneuvered past a classmate to get to an open urinal.

“I am brave!” he shouted, unintentionally bumping a fifth-grader named Nate using the urinal next to him.

“Watch it!” Nate said. “You do that again and we’ll see how brave you are.” Nate walked out of the restroom, scowling.

“Oh, my b-b-bad, Nate. I thought I was there first,” said Joey, sheepishly. Nate stood a head higher than Joey, with wide shoulders and big hands.

Nate paused, looked back at Joey with a bit less of a frown and said: “Try counting to three first. . .and think before you act.”

Back in class, Joey took his seat and reached into his desk for his math book. He looked at the chalkboard, where Mrs. Fielder had written “Math, Page 56, Division with Remainders.” The other students settled into their seats and prepared to listen for Mrs. Fielder’s directions.

“Class, before we start,” said Mrs. Fielder, “I’d like to mention that I’m so proud of Joey. He was the first to be prepared for today’s math lesson by getting his book on his desk and ready for instruction. Sometimes, trying to be the first one to do something is a good thing.”

Sally, Millie, and Zeke, sitting close by, showed glimpses of surprise on their faces. Jeffrey stopped himself quickly from what looked like rolling eyes of disgust. But Nate, sitting two rows away, mouthed a quick “Good, job, Joey” and gave him a thumbs-up sign.

Nate’s surprising encouragement in that moment gave Joey an “I am brave” good feeling, enough to get him through the rest of his day at school with no extra problems. He wondered what his meeting with Mrs. Fielder would be like the next morning.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

A few minutes after getting off the school bus, Joey sat on the floor, next to the gym door, hoping to catch a glimpse of Mrs. Fielder as she entered the school building. He held both hands in front of his face to shield his eyes from the morning sun. At half past seven, Mrs. Fielder, wearing a light green dress and carrying a white paper bag, appeared in the hallway and glanced at the gym door.

Steps for self-control (Image from Pinterest)

“Hi, Mrs. Fielder!” shouted Joey as he rushed toward her.

“Good morning, Joey. Are we ready for our talk?”

“Yeppers, Mrs. Fielder. I am brave, I mean. . .ready. What do you have in your bag?”

“Ha ha. We’ll find out, won’t we, Joey? C’mon with me.”

After a brisk walk, the two found themselves in the classroom, and Joey was soon munching on a cherry sweet roll and a small carton of milk.

“Can we talk some now while you’re eating, Joey” I’ll let you talk between bites, OK?”

“Yeppers… I mean ‘sure.’”

She handed him the bag and he got busy eating and drinking.

“Joey, I believe you are such a nice, young fellow and smart, too. I’ve been thinking a lot about your behavior, though, and I believe it gets in the way of the good things about you. I think it’s a matter of your self-control, and I want to see if I can help you. Is that OK?”

Joey sat at a desk not far from his teacher at her desk. He respectfully nodded at Mrs. Fielder. With a few crumbs dropping out of his mouth, looking almost comical, he quietly answered: “Yes, that would be OK. But I don’t know what is ‘self-control,’ Mrs. Fielder.”

“Well, let me explain what I mean by not having self-control, Joey. It’s when someone likes something or wants something badly, and they go after it real quickly before thinking about it.”

“What’s wrong with that, Mrs. Fielder?” Another crumb fell from his mouth.

“I’m glad you have that question on your mind, my friend… and here is what I want to tell you.” She smiled and looked directly into his attentive eyes. “When someone acts before thinking about it, it can cause problems… and, Joey, that can be either a difficulty for themselves or for another person.”

Joey looked respectfully at Mrs. Fielder. He seemed to be listening but not completely understanding.

“So, when you wanted to be first in line in the lunchroom a few days ago — and didn’t first think about it — what happened?”

A tear welled up in Joey’s eye. “I crashed with Sheila.”

“Yes, you crashed with Sheila, and that was not a good thing, was it?”

More tears came. “No, it wasn’t.”

“And let’s think about some other instances, Joey. When you jump in front of your classmates to get the newest basketballs, what happens?”

“Sometimes Mr. Martindale makes me sit down for a few minutes and everyone gets mad at me.”

“They get upset because they feel it’s unfair. That’s also the way they might feel when you blurt out answers during classroom lessons.

And Joey… now about the honey balls. I know they give you that ‘I am brave’ happy feeling, just like you see when you watch Bruce, the Brave Bat on TV. But one thing is sure, it can be so annoying for your classmates when you bug them about buying their honey balls, and besides, too many sweets can make you sick.”

“But I can’t help myself, Mrs. Fielder, from all those things you said, and — ”

“Let me teach you how, Joey. OK? From now on, whenever you get one of those feelings when you want something RIGHT NOW, try counting slowly to three. One…two…three. Then think about both the good and bad things that might happen.”

The homeroom bell rang, and students began strolling into the classroom. The talk with Mrs. Fielder was over for now, but Joey began thinking about his behavior in a new way.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

During the next few days and then weeks, Joey took Mrs. Fielder’s advice to heart. He began to take notice his “I want it now” feelings, and soon he was silently reciting—and sometimes out loud–the words “one, two, three” when the feelings came. On three different occasions, classmate Nate gave Joey a wink and a thumbs up when he heard Joey saying those words.

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

Most importantly, Joey’s behavior in school improved greatly, and classmates who used to avoid him began to be very friendly. And then on one special Friday…

“Boys and girls, we have about five extra minutes before it is time for us to line up for lunch. We have time for one person to share something that is important to them now,” said Mrs. Fielder.

“Sharing Time” was a common occurrence in Mrs. Fielder’s class, and around the classroom, students thought about what they might share if picked. Joey glanced to his right and left. Then, he slowly lifted his hand.

“Oh, Joey. So glad you want to share with us. Feel free to start, my good man.”

His classmates became quiet, more quiet than usual.

“Mrs. Fielder, I am nervous, but can I come up in front of the class to share? I want to see everybody’s eyes when I talk.” Students became even more quiet.

“Well. . . why sure, Joey. Come on up,” she said with a broad smile.

Joey slid out of his seat and moved hesitantly in front of his classmates. He paused and looked at the floor, then lifted his head toward them and began to speak.

“OK… I just wanted to say I am sorry to the class for being so much of a pest to you all. I hope I act better now.” Fighting back tears, he continued. “Mrs. Fielder and Nate… they both helped me by telling me to count to three when I think I might lose control of myself and do bad things. Also, I’m most sorry to Sheila. Thank you all.”
Nate stood up by his seat and turned to where most could see him. He began to clap his hands slowly while mouthing the words: “Joey is brave… Joey is brave… Joey is brave.” Then others joined in, then more, then all. Soon, Mrs. Fielder motioned for all to stand as the students sang in unison.




Mrs. Fielder, grinning, held her hand up for quiet. “Class, we need to line up for lunch so we won’t be late. And don’t forget… we’re having HONEY BALLS for dessert today.”

Joey’s eyes twinkled as he replied: “One, two, three… and I will be very happy with only ONE honey ball.”

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