A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky by Heart: A sneak-peek of coming children’s book starting with Joey and honey balls

Editor’s Note: This is the first 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
KyForward Columnist

Joey’s eyes got bigger as his stash of honey balls grew in number, now seven. His classmates were big buyers today, he thought

“Oh boy,” Joey whispered to himself as he reached across his meal, barely touched, of mashed potatoes, green beans, and cornbread. His hand found the honey ball the lunchroom staff put on his plate, and it quickly disappeared into his mouth. There would be more later and that made him happy.

Not a bad take from his fourth-grade classmates on this Friday in the cafeteria at Grantsfield Elementary School, where he made quick, frequent trips away from his seat at the class’s assigned green-colored table.

Joey (Image courtesy of Liliya Kourdeltchouk and Suzanne Isaacs)

Joey was on the take for nine-year-old classmates’ desserts, each made of a mixture of peanut butter, honey, and corn flakes, and non-fat dry milk, baked and shaped into a small round ball the size of a large marble. Honey balls were like sweet gold in his mouth, and every other Friday was his day to stock up.

And it wasn’t that he stole them. He bought them for five cents each… a nickel pulled from the front pocket of his light-blue parka he wore on Friday. Nickels saved from his allowance he received from his mother every two weeks, a paper roll of 40 nickels. Many of Joey’s classmates came from families who were poor, and a nickel seemed like a lot of money. He knew that to be so, and it would help him get his honey balls.

I am brave, thought Joey, with an odd grin on his face. It was a saying that often came to his mind when he was happy with something he did. Sometimes he said it aloud, too, so his classmates could hear it. He picked up those words from Saturday morning TV cartoons while watching Bruce, the Brave Bat, a friendly cave bat who swooped into people’s lives to save them from harm while shouting “I am brave!”

Glancing at the large black clock on the wall directly in front of him, it showed 12:18 o’clock.

He quickly gathered his small, golden treasures into his napkin and dropped them carefully into the wide pocket on the front of his light-blue parka. At 12:20, Mrs. Fielder would return from her lunch break with the other teachers.

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)

But at that moment, he felt his body jerk when Mrs. Fielder appeared at the door leading to the hallway. She’s early, Joey thought. He was nervous.

“Boys and girls, I want everyone to quietly line up behind Matthew,” said Mrs. Fielder. “We’ll quickly take a restroom break and then go back to our classroom. Remember, we have our spelling test to take. Hope you are ready for it.”

From his bench seat, Joey grabbed his tray and lifted his legs from under the table. He spun clockwise, feet surging to the floor. He was lucky. He sat at an end seat and fortunately his legs bang into a student next to him. I’ll be the first one in line again, he thought.

Mrs. Fielder casually looked to her left while talking to Mr. Brown, the other fourth-grade teacher. Joey carried his heavy tray of mostly uneaten food in hand and zipped around a classmate, dark-haired Sheila Baker, yelling “I AM BRAVE!”

Sheila stood much bigger and taller than him. She was hard to miss… and he did not miss.

Kaarrump. . .the crashing of two hard, plastic trays loaded with plates, saucers, silverware, and untouched food brought silence to the lunchroom. Both Joey and Sheila managed to hold tightly to their trays, but the collision left a mess of metal and greasy food touching the shoes of several nearby students, who jumped away.

Mrs. Fielder rushed to the crash site from 30 feet away.

“Fourth graders in my class… watch your step so you don’t slip, but keep moving,” directed Mrs. Fielder, who seemingly appeared from nowhere to get to the mess. “Be careful taking care of your cleanup responsibility and then get in line. Mr. Brown will take our class back to the room while I attend to this.”

An upset child wailed in the middle of the school cafeteria.

“Waaaah… waaah,” cried Sheila. “J-j-jo-ey ran into me while he was p-p-passing me to get to the front of the line!”

By now, Joey had put his tray up. He quietly and quickly caught up with his class as they followed Mr. Brown’s. Meanwhile, Mrs. Fielder motioned Sheila to step with her over to a lunch table seat while the school’s custodian and a cafeteria worker cleaned the floor. Neither of the two workers seemed happy.

Sitting aside her, the middle-aged teacher tenderly adjusted her horn-rimmed glasses and patted Sheila on the hand. She remarked in a quiet voice: “As soon as you’re ready, Sheila, sweetheart, I want you to tell me exactly what happened with Joey, okay?”

Honey balls (Image from Pinterest)

Sheila hesitated, quietened and appeared to slightly regain her composure. “I wasn’t going to tell on him for doing it, Mrs. Fielder, but now I will because Joey embarrassed me when he ran into me in front of all my friends.” She flashed a bit of anger in her expression. “Joey… all during lunch… Joey was going around at the tables… asking people for their honey balls for a nickel. Then he ran past me. He was yelling ‘I AM BRAVE!’”

Mrs. Fielder tilted her head, puzzled a bit. “Honey balls, Shelia? And he said: ‘I am brave?’”

“Yes, honey balls. He loves them. It’s like he wants them so bad and he can’t get enough of them. That, and he always says his annoying I AM BRAVE!”

“Does he do that all the time?

“Yes, every other Friday when we have them for dessert.” Sheila was regaining her composure, and she acted like she wanted to say more.

“Well, Sheila, I know that must be a bit annoying for you and your classmates. Does Joey do other things that are annoying, too?”

“Yes, Mrs. Fielder, all the time. It’s like… it’s like he sees something he wants and he wants it NOW.”

“Can you give me some examples, Shelia?”

Honey balls recipe from Grant’s Lick PTA County Cookbook

“Well… like in gym class, he always grabs the newest basketballs out of the bag, Mrs. Fielder, and he just runs in front of people to do it. When any of us says anything, he gets mad and always says “Shut up! I AM BRAVE!”

“Why have you not said anything to me, Sheila… and has he been doing this for two months, since school started in August?”

“Well, yes, he has been doing these things since school started. He acts like he can’t control himself, Mrs. Fielder! Some of my friends are upset about it just like me, but we just didn’t want to be a tattletale… just like you always tell us.”

Mrs. Fielder looked fondly at her student. “Oh, Sheila, I’m so glad that you and the others have listened to my words about telling on someone not being a good thing. But sometimes it becomes necessary… and I’m glad you told me about Joey. I’ll soon be talking with him about these things he’s doing.”

Teacher and student walked back to their classroom, where Mr. Brown monitored Mrs. Fielder’s class along with his own group next door. Sheila quietly walked to her seat as most students sat upright in a respectful posture and held up their hand showing the “quiet sign.” It was a sure sign they figured Mrs. Fielder expected their best behavior, especially after the sad event in the lunchroom.

Joey looked to be the most respectful of all. He needed to look that way because he had some explaining to do to his teacher.

Mrs. Fielder picked up her list of spelling words while slightly raising her voice: “Number one…” The sounds of rustling notebook paper and pencils were furious.

Related Posts


  1. Ray Turner says:

    To Bake Or Not To Bake

    Hmmm, Story says baked, but recipe card doesn’t specify. Will it work both ways?

  2. Scott says:

    Now if I didn’t know better Steve I think you got Joey mixed up with Champ Garret and the school wasn’t call Grantsfield. I’ll have to check with Alexa and now I don’t know about that.

Leave a Comment