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The Gifts of Gradyville

There comes a realization that the best "things" to give a child are not things at all.
By Melissa Taylor

I think we, as adults, are often preoccupied with giving to the children in our lives bigger and better "things". We all do it. We all seem to want our children to have all the conveniences that we claim to never have had.

My trip to Gradyville, Kentucky, was an afterthought

A recent trip to Gradyville, Kentucky reminded me of something that we all know--we just sometimes tuck it way back in our mind where it's not as easily accessed, as it should be. That "something" is the realization that the best "things" to give a child are not things at all.

My trip to Gradyville was an afterthought. I cajoled my mother into accompanying me into the countryside in search of old barns to photograph. By the way, should you ever need a tour guide, my mother is excellent at spotting old barns. She is even adequate as a driver if you want to be able to quickly jump out and snap a photograph before the next car comes around the bend behind you I was forced to downgrade her from an "excellent" to an "adequate" driver when her fervor for barn-spotting overwhelmed her ability to stay on the right side of the road.

Anyway, as we were traveling the Portland and Milltown countryside looking for barns, we decided to venture into the community of Gradyville and that little side trip brought back a lot of memories of some very special gifts that I received a long time ago in that particular community.

I spent a lot of time in Gradyville as a child

I spent a lot of time in Gradyville as a child. A good portion of almost every childhood summer, as well as a brief period of time when we actually called it home, was spent at the home of my grandmother, Sallie Janes. During those times, I had the marvelous opportunity to plant seeds for lasting memories.

There are many memories of mischief that my brother Lenny and I got into as well as the hours upon hours that we spent (somewhat) quietly occupying our time. But the memories that I reflected on this weekend were those of the people who influenced our lives.

At the time, the experiences seem insignificant, but looking back on them, they are treasures that are irreplaceable.

My grandmother Salllie Janes taught us country ways

There was our grandmother, Sallie Janes who tried to teach us things that we might not otherwise have learned as "city kids" growing up in Louisville. She taught us about chickens and gardens, and for Lenny, at least a brief lesson on how not to drive a pickup truck.

Dire warnings about a raging Big Creek

She once impressed upon us the importance of never ever (again) going into a raging Big Creek after a summer of flooding not even if we were wearing life jackets. This particular lesson was imprinted upon our minds (and other body parts) when we were chased down the gravel Gradyville Baptist church road with the threat of a switch. We thought at the time that she was angry, but in truth we had nearly frightened her to death and she wanted to make sure we never took that risk again, and, for the record, we did not!

I had always thought our grandmother liked Lenny best

I always thought that our grandmother liked my younger brother better than me. A thought that I'm sure he would be all too happy to reinforce if given the opportunity. But almost every Friday night when we drove in from Louisville to spend the weekend with her, there would be a large kettle of soup made with her own special recipe. Looking back I don't think it was a coincidence that she always made this particular soup that was and still is my all-time favorite. To be fair there were also frequent pumpkin pies, which were Lenny's favorites; but we had soup at almost every visit and that is something that I will never forget.

Mr. Woodson Nell made a big impression on us, a well

Mr. Woodson Nell made a big impression on us as well. He showed Lenny, what was in our minds, the second greatest catfish hole in the world. (Lenny found the greatest all on his own!) Mr. Nell would stop by occasionally when we were fishing and just happen to have extra sandwiches or snack cakes to share with us. There were also many occasions when he told us that he had more minnows than he could possibly use and wondered if we would use some of them so that he didn't have to turn them loose. As children, we never realized that Mr. Nell made a point of catching extra minnows when he knew that Lenny would be in town to fish.

Mr. Noel Hayes would sometimes take us for a ride in his milk truck

Mr. Noel Hayes would sometimes take us for a ride in his milk truck and we felt like we were off on a grand adventure. Even though our "adventure" was all of maybe fifty feet from our grandmother's drive to the next - it was special to us. I also always held Mr. Leon Murphy in high esteem. He seemed to me to be a kind-spoken gentle man - and he once gave me a nickel. I'm not sure if it was the fact that he seemed to talk to children like they were important, or just the nickel; but he left a lasting impression.

Mr. Lasley was the school bus driver

Mr. Lasley was our school bus driver for the short time that we lived in Gradyville. He often picked us up before daybreak and in spite of the early hours and a busload of rowdy children, I never remember him being grumpy or having uttered even one unkind word. I also remember that Mr. Lasley would occasionally stop behind the Gradyville store and let us walk across the creek on the old metal bridge. One such crossing especially stands out in my memories because Cozetta Keltner insisted that I not be allowed to cross the bridge unless Mr. Lasley walked very closely behind me. I was small as a child and she was concerned that I would fall through the wide spread side rails. Mr. Lasley very patiently walked behind me with his hands on my shoulders. Cozetta was relieved and I felt safe. I wish I had spent more time with Mr. Lasley and perhaps I would have learned some of his secrets for Job-like patience.

Cozetta has a special place in my Gradyville memories

Cozetta also has a special place in my Gradyville memories. The first day that I was to ride the school bus as a tiny second grader, I was scared to death. My grandmother told me to find Cozetta Keltner on the bus and to tell her that my grandmother said that she was to "take care of me". Cozetta had no idea who I was, but she took her job seriously. She was probably not much older than me, but she looked after me while I was on the bus and she never even once let me fall through any gaps on old walking bridges.

Aunt Daisey and Uncle Marvin Keltner: key figures in our lives

Aunt Daisy and Uncle Marvin Keltner were also key figures in our Gradyville lives. Much like my own grandfather, I have very few memories of Uncle Marvin - except that he drove a most unusual car and often wore a hat that reminded me of those worn by folks I had seen on television who were going on safari. I have very faint memories of my Grandpa Janes - known to everyone else as Galleon - but I know that he was a big man, and a kind man, and a whittler. One of my most treasured "things" is a little toy that he whittled from cedar. Aunt Daisy, however, I remember well. I recall that she, much like myself, loved to talk. On many occasions when I was sent to the tiny little post office to retrieve the mail, I would have to wait for her to finish whatever conversation she had started with the other adults before I could fetch the mail to take back to my grandmother. I also recall an artistic side to Aunt Daisy. She made for me many pairs of "barefoot sandals", and I thought they were just the greatest.

Darry Bragg

Another young person who made a lasting impression on my life was Darry Bragg. Darry has the unique distinction of having taught me to ride a bicycle. While this may seem to many to be an everyday occurrence, it was far from ordinary for me. It will come as no shock to most who knew me as a child - and many who know me as an adult for that matter - but I was somewhat clumsy. With the exception of Darry Bragg, everyone I knew had all but given up on me ever successfully riding a two-wheeled bicycle. It was all but a foregone conclusion that any mobility that I would have between tricycle and automobile would either be provided by someone else or by walking on my own two short legs. Darry, however, took it as a personal challenge that he would teach me to ride; and with patience that would have rivaled my mother and Mr. Lasley, he did!

Family members are definitely present in most Gradyville memories

Family members are definitely present in most of my Gradyville memories. At family reunions and holidays more aunts, uncles, and cousins than I could count would gather there to reminisce and eat and play and laugh and then eat some more. My ever-present companion and playmate, my brother Lenny, was the source of many memories, and together we learned many life-lessons at the same time. Certainly, my parents are like a ribbon that runs through all my memories. If written, the memories that they have given and the lessons that they have taught could not be contained in all the books that could fill a library.

My reminiscing this weekend was a little about family and a lot about people who -- had it not been for the Gradyville community - would have been strangers to me. These people all shaped my life - some in small ways, and some in more profound ways. For most it would have made no difference in their life if they had never met or acknowledged me in any way. If they had never given me a ride in a milk truck, or helped me walk across a rickety bridge; or given me a nickel; or taken care of me on the school bus; or taught me to ride a bike; or even made soup for me because they loved me just as much as my brother - their lives would have been the same....but mine wouldn't.

The gift I would like to leave with a child

I have given a few gifts in my life, but I hope that someday at least one child or former child will be able to look back and say that I had a positive influence on their life - if only for a moment - and even if I never knew it. I hope that they can recall that I taught them some of the valuable lessons that were taught to me - those of generosity and kindness and patience and basic human goodness - just a few of the valuable gifts that I received from exceptional parents and the good people of Gradyville. Melissa Stone

This story was posted on 2008-07-08 08:34:16
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Gradyville Baptist Church

2008-07-08 - Gradyville, KY - Photo By Melissa Taylor.
THIS IS NOT JUST A PICTURESQUE COUNTRY CHURCHIt also has the distinction of being in close proximity to two of the greatest catfish fishing holes in the world -- at least in the minds of the Stone children. The first, we were introduced to by a kind and generous man, Mr. Woodson Nell. The other was found during a great summer expedition by none other than my favorite brother, Mr. Lenny Stone!

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Gradyville Baptist Church: Inspiration for Gifts of Gradyville

2008-07-13 - Gradyville, District 4, Adair County, KY - Photo BY Melissa Taylor.
PRETTIEST CHURCH SCENE IN AMERICA? Many Adair Countians think so. Hundreds of thousands of travellers along the Louie B. Nunn Parkway have a view from the parkway etched in their minds' eyes of the little white church on Big Creek. Thousands have photographed the scene, but no one has ever captured it quite like this, with the hill behind it. The photo accompanied a story of wonderful memories of a little town made for making childhood memories, which Melissa Taylor entitled, "The Gifts of Gradyville." It's a wonderful Sunday Read.

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