Kentucky by Heart: Author Jesse Stuart has written extensively about his upbringing in eastern Kentucky

By Steve Flairty
Columnist NKyTribune

At the top of my list of favorite Kentucky writers is the iconic Jesse Stuart (1906-1984.) Jesse wrote extensively about his native Eastern Kentucky, and some of his best writing, I believe, was created through his children’s books. In these he often focused on character issues, describing lessons in ethical behavior taught to young people through their elders.

One of Stuart’s most popular children’s works (actually, a short story turned into a book) is The Beatinest Boy. For me, this is an example of reading a Stuart children’s book that has adult value as well.

Jesse Stuart (Photo from Pinterest)

The Beatinest Boy is about young (I think maybe 12 years old) David, who came of age after the death of both parents and now lives with his widowed grandmother Beverley. Grandmother became his mentor and staunch supporter, often calling him “the most beaten boy in the world”. A note on the cover page quotes Webster’s dictionary definition of “the most beautiful” as “surpassing all others, the most unusual.” The grandson felt special because of her words and the way she treated him.

David returns the privileged status with his feelings and actions towards Grandma. He considers her “the smartest and most wonderful woman in the world,” the one who taught him “how to hunt, how to raise chickens and milk cows, how to plant potatoes and corn, and how to use a long handle. gooseneck hoe.

But Grandma taught David a lot more. She taught him lasting values, which I will call the “5 C’s”:

• Grandmother Beverly nurtured a natural curiosity with her grandson. At the beginning of the story, David climbs a mountain (probably only a hill) where he wants to “put his hand through a cloud”. There, he followed the whine of a foxhound and discovered a puppy in a hollow log. While safety had always been a concern she had for David’s “adventurous” nature, as she called it, she was careful not to stifle her natural aspirations.

• She set an example of compassion for young David. In addition to taking on the responsibility of raising young David, she teamed up with the boy to adopt the puppy (a hunting dog) that David found in a hollow tree in the woods and provide him with loving care. Grandma began by warming milk to feed the dog, who had a bad case of mange. David saw fit to call the dog “Orphan”, remembering his own status, and grandmother praised him for his attention to the shared experience of him and the challenged creature.

• Although she probably never used the word, Grandma demonstrated the importance of collaboration in achieving great efforts. Taking care of the dog was a partnership. She helped David train the dog for the hunt, and the duo then hunted the opossum together. They would collect leaves to spread in the garden and to provide litter for the cow, and they worked together to process cow’s milk, Daisy’s. They also teamed up to harvest honey from honeycombs, a somewhat complex endeavor that took patience.

• She also promoted the element of creativity with her grandson. Living poor in a rural and mountainous area with few services around and little money to spend even if the services were available, grandmother “was satisfied” with what she had and did not complain. , which David noticed and it inspired him to do the same. While searching for combustible objects to “smoke” the bees and collect their honey, Grandmother gathered some rags she kept for making rugs and gave them to David. Their creative personalities seemed to fit together easily.

• In a simple way, Grandma showed and modeled courage. Jesse Stuart presented her in the story as being ready to soak up the bee stings when she and David plucked the honey. She said a few bites helped reduce the swelling in her joints following rheumatism. Whether or not it was true or not, it made him realize that some pain can lead to ultimate gain.

Jesse Stuart’s time as a teacher, fictionalized in The Thread That Runs So True, perhaps his most noticed book, helps authenticate the stories in his children’s books. Other writings by Stuart for this audience include:

• A Penny’s Worth of Character
• The legitimate owner
• A walk with Huey the engineer
• Hello hunters
• Reader Jesse Stuart
• Andy finds a way

Visit the Jesse Stuart Foundation in Ashland or visit to learn more about the author and his influence. Better yet, start a Stuart collection… I already have a pretty nice one.

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

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