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An Important Decision

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 By Jene Hedden


We are currently in the midst of the presidential primaries which are a measure of how America views the qualifications of Republican and Democrat candidates in their aspirations to be president of the United States of America. Each state, through either a preliminary vote (primary) or caucus (variation of a primary) selects a candidate from both parties to be the nominee for the national election in November. The primaries are a time to make decisions about national leadership. But first we must wait to see how this process evolves over the coming months. We as a nation seem uncertain as to who our next President should be.

I am reminded by these events of a time of uncertainty in my own life.  I think the year was 1953.  When I was seven, I attended a one-room school in the hamlet of Keltner KY. which was and is a gathering of a few houses, a church (Pleasant Ridge Methodist Church), a small cemetery and a country store operated by a neighbor by the name of Ural Coffee.

My memories of the store included my introduction to large loaves of bologna sliced by hand with a butcher knife and crackers sold from a barrel (before the namesake interstate chain restaurant was dreamed of). My uncle Douglas Keltner would take me there from time to time in his 1939 Chevrolet.

The Keltner store was a small boy’s magical adventure. It was a combination grocery, hardware store, feed store, veterinary clinic, “CNN Situation Room” and the local source for the purchase of dungarees, wool socks, leather boots and long underwear. The walls were lined in those days with things needed on the farm as well as things a young boy could only dream of owning someday.

Near the end of the second grade, I was faced with a difficult decision. I believe that my grades were good for that school year. The teacher, Winnie Blaydes, was somehow distantly related to me. My mother referred to her as “Cousin Winnie”. But in my mother’s family, with the number of aunts, uncles and cousins being numerous, I could not be certain of all my relatives in and around this village situated along the Green/Adair County line. Maybe my grades were the result of some nepotism or maybe I was smart enough to get A’s and B’s as I had done all that year. In fact I was the top student in the second grade class at the Keltner one room school.  I was also the only second grade student that year.  There were only 19 students attending the school that year for all eight grades at Keltner School. Oh well!

On this day of my recollection, Uncle Douglas told me that I might receive some reward for my good grades at Keltner School that year. I could not imagine what treasures my anxious hands might hold as I returned to the family home place across Adams Creek. I could not envision the availability of rare toys or maybe, just maybe, a delicacy I had heard the adults talk about as my cousin Becky and I sat on the floor with our crayons, coloring on some scrap of paper...“Double Cola and Moon Pies”. I had even heard it said that the Moon Pies came in different flavors!

           I’m sure I may have tasted a “cola” before but it was a rare variation from the “sweet whole milk” or the staple at my Grandmother’s house when I wanted a bite to eat outside the family mealtime. Grandmother seemed always to have a piece of cornbread on hand leftover from the last meal. Cornbread was the “loaf bread” that I might have today. Grandmother would suggest I crumble the cornbread in a cold glass of homemade buttermilk and let that be my snack. Buttermilk was kept cold in the spring-house down the hill where the runoff from the pine-oak forest that surrounded our country home provided the cool pool of water for the needed refrigeration.  That cold buttermilk and cornbread were refreshing at those times when I wanted something to eat between meals. But as we drove to the country store up the “Dug Hill” with its potholes and red clay mud, my thoughts seemed to lodge on a sweet snack like the Cola and maybe a chocolate Moon Pie!

I remember climbing the stone steps that led to the store’s porch, which was as high as my head.  I suppose the high porch allowed a delivery truck to unload feed sacks or bags of flour without having to lower and raise the heavy load of fifty-pound bags. This was long before the modern hydraulics. 

Walking through the door of the country store was an exciting moment for a second grader. Inside it was dark with so much to see. Once inside and after my eyes adjusted to the dim light provided by two or three bare incandescent light bulbs strung from the ceiling on bare wires, I began to envision the enormity of my choosing. This would be much more difficult than I had anticipated.

Uncle Douglas immediately ordered a slice of cheddar cheese and four large crackers. He broke the cheese in half and handed me two crackers. I was almost too anxious to eat this treat. But eat I did. I think I may have said something about being thirsty. The crackers were hard to swallow down the dry throat of an excited boy. Douglas seemed to have anticipated my dilemma as he also ordered two Double Colas. I think they may have been room temperature but I did not care. The sweet carbonated liquid was a wonderful treat for me.

I assumed the soda and cheese crackers were my treat. And I would have been satisfied. But then he spoke the words of grace, “What do you want to get?” Then I realized I still had a decision to make. My eyes caught sight of a small “Case knife” in a glass showcase just at my eye level. The handle was red and it contained two shiny blades.  I asked Mr. Coffee to see and hold the unbelievable tool that was almost within my grasp. Then I was told that the object of my sudden desire would cost a dollar. I knew that this would be much more than Uncle Douglas would be willing to spend. I held the knife briefly dreaming of someday owning such a treasure. I could imagine myself as I whittled some object from a block of pine from the neighboring hills. Then I carefully returned it to Mr. Coffee and thanked him for showing it to me. I began again to consider the Moon Pie. Would I choose chocolate or perhaps, another flavor? Vanilla, banana or strawberry?

Then I noticed something I had never seen before. It was an object on a card well above eye level. I suspect I noticed it because of the many colors it displayed. Red, blue, green. Red! What was it? I had never seen anything like it. It looked a bit like some kind of writing instrument. Well it had a point at one end and something like my number two pencil eraser on the other end. I asked Uncle Douglas if I could hold one. “Scripto” was written along a shiny silver piece of metal I later learned was a pocket clip. I marveled at the beauty of this red object that Uncle Douglas called a “mechanical pencil”. I carefully turned the barrel of this mystery and saw immediately the pencil lead began to grow. I turned the barrel the other way and the lead became shorter. I was enchanted; short, long, short, long.

Oh how I wanted it! But there was the immense issue of the cost. Our family was not wealthy.  I had never been in possession of more than fifty cents! Mr. Coffee told me he would let me have it for TWENTY-FOUR cents! What amazing words! I turned to Uncle Douglas. He asked if I was sure I wanted it.  I was as sure as a seven-year-old boy could be of anything in his world of awareness. The deal was made. The pencil was mine!

I do not think I even took the mechanical pencil to school the two or three days that remained of that school year. Eventually I did take it to school the following year but by then, I was attending a public school in Louisville with thirty or so other third graders. Other kids also had mechanical pencils that year, and somehow it seemed to have lost some of its magic.

Uncle Douglas passed away some years ago. I have not been back to Keltner General Store or the community of Keltner in many years; yet the roots of my childhood still guide me in decisions to this day.  I now realize that the thought of a seven year old making such a big decision about a mechanical pencil seems to make a connection with our national election process for president. There is so much to consider. The potential consequences of a wrong decision and the impact on our future are great. Hard decisions still lie ahead. 

But I pray that each American will feel the excitement of making a well-considered choice and will delight in their choosing. The decision about America’s next president has far greater implications than a seven year old’s twenty-four cent Scripto mechanical pencil. May God help America to make that presidential choice wisely.


Edited by Paula Moore Hurtt