This morning I walked into a drugstore in downtown Nashville and bought three sacks of blue raspberry Dum-Dums.
The cashier looked at me funny. She casually asked why I was buying so many blue raspberry suckers.
So I told her a story.
It all starts in Corbin, Kentucky, which sits halfway between Knoxville, Tennessee, and Lexington, right off I-75. The little downtown looks like it belongs on the cover of a “Saturday Evening Post.”
Corbin rural. These people are salt-of-the-earth. I once had a friend from southeastern Kentucky. We were in Boy Scouts together. He called it a “campfar.”
These are solid people. Sturdy people. They’ve had to be inasmuch these are the descendants of coal miners. They have black sediment in their bloodstream.
I visited Corbin years ago to interview a retired coal miner who survived the Hurricane Creek mine disaster in the 70s. The tragedy happened about an hour northeast of Corbin. It was the largest mining disaster in U.S. history.
I asked my interviewee, point-blankly, how he survived the deadliest mining disaster in the history of our country. The old man simply replied, “God.”
And I never forgot that response.
The drugstore gal, interrupting my story. “Wait. I think I’ve heard of Corbin before.”
A lot of people have. They just don’t realize it. Namely, because Corbin is the birthplace of the greatest invention of the 20th century; an invention we use every day; a societal advance that changed the lives of all Americans, making our modern lives possible.
I am of course talking about Kentucky Fried Chicken.
“Yes, that’s it,” said the cashier. “I’ve been to that museum in Corbin. I got my picture made with Colonel Sanders. Please, go on with your story.”
So I did.
I told her that last week, Corbin endured a major disaster. Only this catastrophe didn’t happen in a coal mine. It occurred in a residential area.
Eight-year-old Eli Hill was playing basketball outside his home. It was an ordinary day. And something un-ordinarily bad happened.
The coroner said that Eli was trying to dunk a basketball on his goal when the backboard fell on top of him. Eli died Monday at University of Kentucky Chandler hospital. The news hit everyone like a cinderblock to the chest.
“Oh my God…” The cashier said, covering her mouth.
I showed her a picture of Eli on my phone.
“I have a daughter his age,” said the cashier. “I can’t imagine losing my 8-year-old.”
Eli was the poster-boy for the all-American 8-year-old. He looked like Opie Taylor. Red hair. Easy smile. He was an ardent disciple of fun.
He loved going to church. He was in all the Christmas pageants. Loved vacation Bible school. Loved singing. Loved to cuddle.
He ate at least one bag of microwave popcorn each day. He could make people laugh. Especially his mama. And the only thing he liked more than receiving hugs was giving them.
He was a second-grader. His teachers adored him. His classmates loved him. If you would have asked someone what Eli’s favorite subject was, they might have told you baseball.
“My daughter loves baseball,” said the cashier, visibly moved.
Eli was your quintessential baseball nut. He was one of those boys who memorized statistics and recited them like scripture. He could tell you anything about any player.
He played catcher for the Corbin Bombers Little League team. He had a heck of an arm. His teammates and coaches looked forward to every game. It was not a proper game unless Eli was wearing a glove.
Eli’s teammates were pallbearers at his funeral.
The woman behind the drugstore counter completely lost it when she heard that. So did I.
The cashier dabbed her eye with her pinky. “This is just too much. I just can’t even…”
So I opened the bag of suckers. And I gave the cashier one.
“What’s this for?” she said.
Eli Hill’s favorite thing in the world was blue raspberry suckers.
The young woman tucked the sucker into her shirt pocket. There were tears on her cheeks. And mine.
“Please tell Eli’s family that I’m praying for him,” she said.
I’ll do my absolute best to get your message through.
Dana - March 27, 2023 12:55 pm
Your writing about precious Eli touched me deeply. I live just a little over an hour from Corbin. We’re practically neighbors. My heart goes out to his family and friends. I cannot imagine the heartache that they’re enduring. May the Lord hold them close. God bless you, sir. You certainly have a way with words and no doubt have been touched by the Almighty.
KATY@10:15 A.M - March 27, 2023 2:16 pm
Praying for all families of the children who are lost to us, but born into heaven, from such tragedies. In the 1980s, an 8 yr old neighbor- boy died in the same manner. Please secure and add plenty of weight to the base of these portable hoops.
Becky Souders - March 27, 2023 5:03 pm
Another fine tribute, Sean Dietrich. Such a fine boy deserves these fine words.