by: Sarah Stodola
A few days later, Daisy sat in the barn, up in the loft. She’d watched the boys come up here before, though she didn’t think they knew that she had. She was leaning back against the wall, avidly buried in a book she’d found left there, when she heard a soft gasp. She jumped and glanced up, eyes widening guiltily.
“Don’t let Luke catch you up here,” Bo whispered, then clambered the rest of the way up the rope ladder. Daisy smiled, slightly. She liked Bo. He was the same age as her, eight, and didn’t seem to mind her company nearly as much as Luke did.
“I was just reading,” she whispered back.
“Readin’? Readin’ what?” Bo settled himself into the hay beside her, brushing back his blond hair. She showed him the cover of the book, and his eyes widened. He whistled, low. “You like cars?!”
She blushed, and nodded, looking away.
“Hey, neat!” She glanced back up to see him grinning, his eyes sparkling. “It must run in the fam’ly or somethin’. But, a girl likin’ that kind of stuff? Cool!”
Daisy couldn’t keep back a grin at that. She tossed the book to her cousin. He caught it with one hand and jumped forward, tackling her and knocking her backwards into the hay. She giggled, unable to keep quiet any longer, and threw a handful of hay at him.
Bo laughed out loud, a carefree sound that seemed contagious. Daisy laughed back, and scrambled to her feet, rushing her cousin like she’d seen the boys do when they wrestled. He wasn’t expecting the move from a girl, and so was off-balance enough for her to knock him down.
“Whoa!” He stared up at her, still grinning, but now with admiration shining in his dark blue eyes. “You’re pretty fast for a girl! Hey, you’re fast, period!”
“Aw, sure. I wouldn’t lie to my cousin.” He sat up and punched her in the shoulder lightly, more of a gesture normally used from boy to boy than the way someone would normally treat a girl, especially a young lady.
And for some reason, Daisy’s heart leapt for joy. She really was going to belong here. She knew that now. “Thanks. Hey, wanna show me what some of these cars are about? You probably know more than I do.” She used the slightly incorrect grammar on purpose, saying it just like the farm folk here in Hazzard would, and not the proper way of an Atlanta rich girl.
“Sure thing.” Bo flopped down on his stomach beside her, and she slid down next to him as he opened the book to page one and started talking animatedly about his favorite subject.
“You gotta be careful,” Luke warned as he, Bo, and Daisy waited for the trap they’d set to fill with crawdads. “These things pinch.”
“Hard!” Bo grinned. He leaned over the side of the rowboat. “Ain’t it been almost long enough, Luke?”
The older boy shook his head. “You’re too impatient. Not yet.”
Daisy peered into the clear water beneath. She could almost see bottom, in places. But not quite. “They’re like little lobsters, right?”
“Sorta,” Luke answered. “I’ve never seen a lobster except in books, but they look pretty close.”
“Kinda,” Bo chimed in, still balanced over the edge of the boat.
Daisy eyed his precarious position warily, wondering if he was going to fall in. “What do we do with them?”
“Eat ’em, of course.” Luke made a face. “Don’t you know nothin’?”
She glared back at him. “I’m learning!”
He just shrugged and looked away.
“Uncle Jesse’s crawdad bisque is great!” Bo laughed. He looked at Daisy with a mischevious glint in his eyes, then splashed some water up at her. “Gotcha!”
“Oh yeah?” She reached her hand over the side of the boat and splashed him right back. “Got you too!”
“Be careful, you two,” Luke warned.
Daisy nodded, looking away from Bo just in time to receive a faceful of water. Shaking it off, she glared in his direction. “No fair! I wasn’t looking!”
“What’s not fair?” The blond boy just kept grinning, infuriatingly.
She sat up and placed her hands on her hips. “You aren’t!”
He shrugged a little. “Just come and get me, then.”
“Bo..!” Luke started protestingly, but it was too late. Daisy stared as the younger boy leaped out of the rowboat, cannonballing into the pond with a big splash. He came back up, shoving hair out of his eyes.
Daisy stared. “We don’t even have swimsuits!”
“We don’t need ’em,” Luke shrugged. “Why spend money on somethin’ you don’t need? Our shorts’ll work well enough.”
Bo whistled shrilly after coming up from a dive, calling out, “Are you two comin’ or not?”
“We’re coming,” Luke called back.
Daisy eyed the water. “It’s deep.”
“But I can’t swim.”
“You not serious!” Luke stared at her, wide-eyed. “Now you really gotta jump in! It’s dangerous not to know how to swim around here!”
“I… I don’t know…”
“It’s easy!” Bo encouraged, treading water and splashing toward the boat. “Aw, c’mon, Daisy! You ain’t scared, are you?”
She drew herself up. “Of course not!” Which was anything but the truth; she was terrified.
Daisy crawled to the side of the rowboat, tensing. Could she do it? The boys wouldn’t want her to drown. But were they capable of helping her? She started to back away.
“Jump!” She heard Luke’s voice behind her, just as he shoved her, hard, into the water.
She plunged down, down. Panicked, Daisy stroked for the surface, and finally came through, gasping a breath of air.
“Hey!” Bo was beside her, coming up from below again. “Nice dive!”
She glared at him, but couldn’t spare any breath for words, too occupied with struggling to keep afloat. She saw Luke make a clean dive into the pond, then the dark-haired boy came up near the boat.
“Come on, Daisy!” he shouted. “Swim to me!”
“I can’t!” she managed.
“Sure you can.” Bo shoved her from behind, toward the oldest cousin. To keep from sinking, she had to move forward, and with much gasping, finally reached the rowboat’s side.
She grabbed the wooden siding with a white-knuckled death-grip, shaking. The water was too heavy! It caught in her shirt and shorts, dragging her down. She couldn’t do it!
But Bo and Luke were both laughing, playing in the pond. Daisy watched enviously as Luke made a dive almost straight down. How did they do that? Well, she thought, swallowing hard and bracing herself against the side of the boat, if they could learn, then so could she!
“Hey guys!” she shouted, then launched herself out from the boat. She almost went under, but made it back out to her cousins. The boys cheered and whistled as she turned, slowly, and fought her way back to the boat. Daisy gripped the edge again and grinned to herself. She would do it! She would prove she could! She would prove she could do everything the boys could! Then maybe they’d accept her, really accept her.
“C’mon!” Bo yelled as he scrambled out onto the bank and squirreled up an oak tree. She watched, fascinated, as he took a flying leap into the air, landing with a loud splash in the water. As Luke followed the younger boy up the tree, Daisy struck out for shore. She just had to learn how to swim! They were having too much fun for her not to want to join in!
Jesse smiled as he heard laughing children’s voices coming up toward the house. Daisy was finally starting to fit in. The cousins had gone crawdad fishing earlier, but they’d sure been gone a long time. They’d probably ended up swimming.
His suspicions were proved correct when the kitchen door swung open and three rather wet, and somewhat muddy, kids trooped in, talking all at once.
“Uncle Jesse, we caught a whole bunch of crawdads!” Luke announced happily.
“Uncle Jesse, I learned how to swim!” Daisy laughed, leaping across the kitchen. Jesse put out hands to grip her shoulders just in time to keep her from spattering mud all over the place, and all over him.
“Well, sort of,” Bo amended.
The girl spun to glare at both boys. “I did too swim! All the way from the boat to the shore and back again! Twice!”
“Well now, that’s a mighty fine feat!” their uncle smiled. “All right, I’ll take the crawdads.” He gingerly took the just-as-muddy bucket from Bo and dropped it in the sink. “You kids need to take a bath!”
“But we can’t bathe together!” Daisy protested.
“No, you can’t, but the boys can. All right, no mud on your feet?” At three nods, he ushered Luke and Bo up the stairs and down the hall to the bathroom. He waited just long enough to make sure that the two boys got into the shower together, clothes and all, then headed back downstairs to tend to Daisy.
Smiling, he shook his head slightly. It was time to get out the old bathtub!
Some time later, finally clean and dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, Daisy peered out from around the blanket her uncle had hung up for privacy across a corner of the kitchen. “Uncle Jesse?”
“Hmm?” He turned around from his place at the counter, and smiled.
“Where do I put the dirty clothes?”
“Well,” he washed his hands off in the sink and shook the water off, “they’ll need some real washin’, so how about in that tub you were just in?”
Daisy glanced behind her. “Huh?”
“You have to soak most of that mud out before you can stuff the clothes in that old washer. That thing’s about as ancient as they come; it don’t do a great job on its own.”
She giggled slightly. “Okay.” Pulling the blanket aside, she picked up the muddy shirt and shorts gingerly and threw them in the soapy bathwater.
“There!” Jesse smiled. “Beats scrubbing ’em anyday.”
“What are you doing?” Daisy changed the subject, coming over and craning her neck to try to see what was in the sink.
“Well, I’m done cleanin’ the crawdads, but I still have to cook them. Want to help?”
Daisy almost backed off, but, curiosity getting the better of her, she pulled a chair from around the table and climbed up on it. She made a face at the mess in the sink, poking it with one finger. “Yuck.”
Her uncle chuckled. “Now, sure. But wait till you taste them.”
“What are you making?”
Jesse started picking up the pieces of crawdad and washing them off under the faucet. “Crawdad bisque. Your Aunt Lavinia’s recipe. The best in the county,” he smiled.
Daisy tilted her head at him, leaning on the counter. “Who’s Aunt Lavinia?”
“She was my wife.” The smile grew softer. “Died just before Luke came to live with me. He came six months before Bo.”
“Oh.” She wasn’t sure what to say to that. “She was a good cook?”
“The best.” Jesse nodded at her. “She always wanted a little girl of her own. Wish she was here to see you now.”
Daisy returned her uncle’s smile slowly. “Didn’t you have kids of your own?”
“No.” He shook his head, dumping the last handful of diced meat in a pot. “We never did. It’s just you, Luke, and Bo. You three are the last of the Duke clan.”
“Really?” Her eyes widened. “Gosh.” She peered into the pot as Jesse lifted it to the stove. “What was she like?”
“Aunt Lavinia.” Jesse’s smile slowly left, and she wondered if she’d said something wrong. “Uncle Jesse?”
The smile was back now, but somewhat sad. “It’s all right, Daisy. I just miss her, that’s all. What was she like? Oh…” He trailed off, looking into the distance. “She was very kind. Loved children. She would have been delighted to have known you three. The prettiest girl in Hazzard. Every boy in town was after her.” Jesse chuckled. “But I got lucky, didn’t I?”
“I guess so.” Daisy straightened from her leaning position on the counter, and climbed down off the chair. “What else?”
Her uncle started cutting up and tossing other ingredients in the pot as he spoke. “Lavinia loved music. Had a voice like a bell, too.” Daisy was startled when he looked straight at her. “She looked an awful lot like you.”
Her eyes widened slowly. “I thought I looked like my mama.”
“You do. Marion and Lavinia were friends in high school, and everyone thought they were sisters ’cause they looked so much alike. It was after we married that your parents met each other.”
Daisy grinned. “Marion and Henry.”
“Uh-huh. Marion and my brother Henry.”
They were both silent for a few seconds, then Daisy looked back up at her uncle. “Did it hurt when she died? Aunt Lavinia, I mean?”
He froze, then nodded, slowly. “A bit.” He smiled at her. “Don’t worry about me, Daisy. It really don’t hurt that much anymore. I have you three to look after, and the farm to keep up, and crops to sell. I have too much to do to sit around and be all sad. I know I’ll see her in heaven, when the good Lord says it’s time for me to go, and that’s enough for me.” He returned to chopping celery.
“It hurt when my mama died too,” she whispered. “A whole lot. It still hurts.”
“I know, honey. I know.”
Daisy bit her lower lip, then reached out to wrap her arms around his waist, leaning her head against his chest. “I love you, Uncle Jesse,” she whispered.
He put down the knife and returned the hug, sighing deeply. “I love you too, Daisy. And I promise, I always will.”
She tightened her hold, then glanced over at what he was doing. “Can I help?”
Jesse leaned back and looked down at her, surprise in his eyes. The look quickly melted into a pleased expression. “Course, honey. How about makin’ up some biscuits to go along with the bisque?”
“Sure!” Somehow, it felt good to be here, talking like this, learning about her aunt. “How?”
He chuckled kindly. “You don’t know?”
“I’ve never cooked *anything* before!”
“Okay then.” Jesse wiped his hands on a small dish towel before opening a drawer under the counter edge and rummaging around. “There should be a recipe here somewhere… my Lord, I haven’t been through these in years. Aha.” He pulled out a small card with handwriting on it. “Here.”
Daisy took the card handed to her and studied it, trying to make sense out of the scribbles.
“You can’t read handwriting?”
“Not very well,” she admitted.
“All right,” her uncle smiled, taking the card back. “I’ll help you. He held the card out a little ways. “Let’s see… first, the flour.”
“In the pantry.” He pocketed the card and headed for the small walk-in closet in the corner of the kitchen. “Everything’s in here… flour, baking powder…” He said the names of the ingredients as he handed them out to her. Daisy carried an armload to the table, then ran back for more.
“Now then,” Jesse said as he closed the pantry door, “let’s see what’s next…” Daisy, hovering at his elbow, could only grin.
Jesse smiled at his little girl. She was trying so hard to learn and experience everything all at once. He set about helping her make the dough, then put handfuls of it on a cookie sheet.
About thirty minutes later, Luke burst into the kitchen, Bo on his heels. “When’s dinner?”
“Soon.” Jesse handed the boys plates, bowls, and silverware. “Set the table.”
Bo stopped halfway there to make a face at Daisy. “Gosh, you’re as bad a mess as you were when you came out of that pond.”
“Am not!” She placed her hands on her hips, standing to her full height indignantly.
“It’s only flour,” Jesse said, waving the blond boy to finish his job. “It’ll brush off.”
“Why’re you covered in flour?” Luke asked.
“Cause I’m making biscuits!” Daisy grinned.
“Sure,” Jesse came to her rescue again. “Leave her alone. Now let’s see…” He glanced at the clock on the wall. “They should be almost done. Let’s check.”
“Aw, just call us when it’s dinnertime,” Luke grumbled, walking out into the living room. Bo paused for a moment to arrange the dishes on the table, then followed his older cousin.
Jesse opened the oven door and studied the biscuits. The smell of warm baking drifted through the kitchen.
“They smell good!” Daisy exclaimed from beside him, dark blue eyes shining.
“They’ll taste good too,” he told her, wrapping his hands in towels then pulling the sheet out of the oven. His eyes widened slightly at the weight of the sheet, but he didn’t let his surprise show. Instead, he smiled inwardly, and setting the sheet down, poked at one of the biscuits. Yep. Hard.
Oh, well. His first batch had looked about the same. But he didn’t want to quell the girl’s excitement. How to soften them..? “Daisy,” he said thoughtfully, smiling down at her, “I bet these would taste even better covered in gravy, what do you say?”
And when dinner was finally set on the table, Jesse had made good and sure that the biscuits on the plates were soft, practically smothering them in white country gravy and giving it plenty of time to soak in.
“Hey, somethin’ smells good!” Luke’s voice came from the doorway, and the two boys leapt into the kitchen, scrambling for their seats. Daisy beamed and turned proudly to go get the pan of gravy.
Bo poked at one of the biscuits still on the platter. “Hey!”
“Shh,” Jesse warned very quietly. “Be quiet. Just don’t take seconds. I made sure we can eat the ones on our plates.”
Luke made a face. “Can’t she do nothin’ right?” he whispered.
Jesse gave him a quick glare, and the two boys subsided as Daisy came back to the table. Their uncle said grace, and they all started in on the food. The boys were a little wary of the biscuits at first, but Jesse’s gravy trick had worked, and the former lumps of stone were actually good. He just hoped that the boys wouldn’t mention the ones still on the platter, still hard as rock.
As it happened, they did, but at least waited until the end of the meal, after Daisy had run upstairs on an errand for Jesse. Bo picked up one of the biscuits and pantomimed throwing it across the kitchen to Luke, who pretended to catch it. “We could play baseball with these things,” the blond boy laughed.
“Yeah. Hey, curve ball comin’ to your right!” Luke cocked his arm back with another biscuit in hand.
“No throwing food in here,” Jesse admonished.
“But what’re we gonna do with ’em?” Luke asked. “We can’t eat them.”
“No way!” Bo nodded.
Jesse glanced at the back door, then spoke quietly. “Take a hammer to them and feed ’em to the chickens, in with their regular grain. Just be sure to make the pieces small enough so the birds don’t choke. I wasn’t planning on chicken dinner tomorrow.”
The boys grinned and giggled at that, then took off outside with the platter. Jesse looked at the ceiling, shaking his head and smiling. *Lord, please don’t let Daisy do that one again.*