"Tell us a story," says Buddy on a cold February night.
"OK," says Uncle Chet, in the rocker by the wood stove, ready to feed it another log. "I'll tell you a story, something I've been thinking about for weeks."
"Good," the 7-year-old snuggles under a blanket. We're arrayed around the room, warmed by the fire. I stretch out on the couch to listen.
"Well, this a story about a state legislator from Illinois, a lawyer who stands up for ordinary people."
"I know who it is," says Buddy. "Obama."
"He soars into national consciousness on his extraordinary speeches. They come from the heart and a keen mind, connecting actions and consequences in a way no one has before him. When people hear the truth so distilled and so eloquent, it's a revelation, confirming what they've always known inside. It gives them courage."
"Definitely Obama," says the little miscreant, our teenager. "I've seen him on YouTube."
"Word of this spellbinder spreads and crowds gather to see him. He has arrived at a critical time in his country's history. People are thirsting for change, for justice and wisdom in their lives and in their government," says Uncle Chet.
"The nation is divided. Washington is paralyzed, riven by corruption, unwilling to resolve the biggest issues of the day. Our man is persuaded to run for president of the United States, to see if he can unite us," the storyteller says as he rocks slowly and flames dance inside the glass door.
"Now our lawyer, for all his brilliance, is given little chance, at first. He's opposed by a more experienced candidate, a U.S. senator, known throughout the land. The campaign is intense, sometimes ugly. Racism colors much, but is never debated by that name. Of course, the power structure backs the conventional candidate, but people are pining to turn a new page in our history. They sense we're at the edge and need a real leader.
"The crowds get bigger and time is on our man's side," says Uncle Chet. "The more people learn about him, the more they like him, and to those he's inspired, he's almost a folk hero."
"He plays basketball, and Dad loves basketball," says Buddy.
"True," I murmur.
"Stories about him begin to circulate," says Uncle Chet, "some true, some not. People like the fact he's a self-made man. And they like his honesty, his courage. They even like the fact he was raised in a log cabin and spent his nights by the fire, like us."
Hon chuckles lowly and the little micreant says, "I didn't know Obama grew up in a log cabin."
"He didn't," says Uncle Chet. "I'm talking about Abraham Lincoln, that Illinois lawyer, whose birthday is tomorrow. Honest Abe, who went on to win the election of 1860 and become perhaps our greatest president. And if ever there was a time when we need another great president ... "
"Lincoln said, 'a house divided cannot stand,' and Obama's trying to reach across party lines, bring people together," says Hon. "There are parallels."
"Many," says Uncle Chet.
"The new Abe Lincoln," I pronounce as coyotes howl in the distance.
"Now I haven't seen that in the news," says Alice.
"The new 'rail-splitter,'" says Uncle Chet.
"What's a rail-splitter?" asks Buddy.
"Someone who splits rails for a wooden fence," he says.
He opens the stove door, lays in a quarter log of hand-split maple, then shuts the door tightly.
"Being a rail-splitter's hard work, Buddy," he says. "It takes strength, endurance and will. Those are some of the qualities that honest Abe had plenty of, and from what I've seen, so does Barack Obama."
Cooperstown News Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears twice monthly.