by: Marty Chrisman
Daisy climbed out of the car and stood in the barnyard looking around at the place where she had grown up. The old house was still standing and so was barn, even though they were empty and deserted now. The land still belonged to the Duke family but Daisy knew that nobody would ever live in the house again. A sad smile tugged at her lips as she remembered all the good times growing up on this farm. The picnics, playing tag as child with the boys, hiding in the hayloft to get out of doing her chores, riding horses in the fields, and learning how to drive a car on the old back roads.
She remembered the holidays and how Uncle Jesse and Aunt Martha used to go out of their way to make them special for everyone. They never had a whole lot of money but they always had more than enough love to go around. And there was the old oak tree that she used to climb and hide in from the boys when they were picking on her. If she closed her eyes she could almost see The General Lee, Uncle Jesse’s pickup and her Jeep all parked in the barnyard once more. And hear the sounds of laughter and voices carrying out over the night air. This had been her home for almost twenty years until she finally married Enos Strait and they moved to Atlanta.
Her smile softened as she thought about Enos. He had been a childhood friend of the Duke cousins and he’d had such a crush on Daisy ever since they were in the 6th grade. The boys used to tease him about it all the time. Finally, four years ago, they had gotten married and it had been the happiest day of her life compared to today which was one of the saddest.
With a soft sigh, she pushed aside her memories and walked over to the barn. She started following the old dirt path that led through the back field and up the hill to the Duke Family Cemetery. When she reached the fenced off area at the top of the hill, she paused for a moment before pushing open the rusted old gate. Five generations of Dukes were buried in this place including the people that Daisy had loved the most in her life.
She paused at the first headstone and read the faded inscription engraved there:
Jeb Davis Duke April 10th 1950 to June 11th 1979
Mary Anne Duke March 14th 1953 to October 21st 1973
Daisy’s parents. She didn’t remember her mother who had died giving birth to her and she barely remembered her father. She had only been six years old when he was killed in a mine explosion. That was when she had come to the farm to live with Uncle Jesse and Aunt Martha. A scared little girl missing her father.
She moved on to the next set of headstones and read that inscription:
Robert Allen Duke December 4th 1948 to September 29th 1974
Elizabeth Anne Duke March 4th 1950 to September 29th 1974
Bo’s parents. The youngest of the three cousins who had been raised by Uncle Jesse and Aunt Martha. He had only been a baby when he came to the farm, just a little over a month old when his parents were killed in a car accident. Daisy didn’t remember either one of them. They had lived in Atlanta and she had only seen them a few times. Bo was just a little over three years old when Daisy came to live on the farm.
She moved on to the next stone and read:
James Monroe Duke November 23rd 1949 to July 19th 1973
Constance Marie Duke May 11th 1952 to July 19th 1973
Luke’s parents. The oldest of the three cousins and the first one to come to live at the farm. His parents had been killed on a moonshine run when his father had lost control of his car on Deadman’s Curve and went off the side of the mountain. Daisy didn’t remember them either. She only seen pictures in the old family scrapbooks. Luke had only been three years when he came to the farm so he had no memories of them either.
She felt the tears gathering in her eyes as she paused in front of the next stone.
Martha Anne Duke July 16th 1929 to December 11th 1987
Beloved wife of Jesse Duke
Aunt Martha. The only mother Daisy or boys had ever known. She had been a loving gentle woman who had taken in three children and given them a home. She had taught Daisy how to cook, how to sew, and how to take care of a house. She was always there with a hug and kiss whenever any of them needed one (and sometimes even when they didn’t) She had died of a stroke when Daisy was 14. Daisy still remembered how she cried for days and so had the boys.
On to the next stone and the most recent one in the cemetery. It was only three months old. Daisy felt the tears falling down her face as she read the name on the stone:
Jesse Duke March 18th 1926 to August 30th 1999
Uncle Jesse. The Duke patriarch. The only father Daisy or her cousins had ever known. And he was their father in every way imaginable. He ruled his house with a strict hand but with lots of love. He taught all of them so many things. And he never treated her any differently than he did the boys. He taught her how to drive, how to hunt, how to fish and how to shoot right along with them. One night three months ago, he had gone to bed and simply never woke up. The doctor said it was a heart attack but Daisy knew differently. She knew that he had died of a broken heart.
Daisy paused for several minutes before moving on to the last 2 graves she had come to visit. Because those two graves were the hardest ones of all to visit. Finally she took a couple of steps and looked down at the two headstones standing side by side, just like the two boys who lay there had done in life. She read the two stones as if they were one:
Beaureguard (Bo) Robert Duke January 29th 1974 to May 10th 1999
Lukas Kristopher Duke May 25th 1970 to May 10th 1999
Please make the winter go quick lord
So the flowers around them can grow’
I can’t stand the thought of them lying here
Alone neath the deepening snow
The tears fell freely from Daisy’s eyes now. Bo and Luke, her cousins and her best friends. The two people who knew her better than anyone else in the world. Bo with his laugh and his good ole boy charm. The youngest and most impetious of the three cousins. Even as baby, he could wrap Daisy around his finger. He could be more reckless than Luke but he was never careless. No matter who said he was responsible for the accident that took their lives.
Luke, the oldest of the three cousins and the most level headed. The big brother who had protected them all even as children. More cautious then Bo, he was the one who usually got them out of the trouble that Bo got them into. He had been their leader, the one they all looked up to and admired. And Daisy missed him most of all.
She found herself remembering the night they had been killed. It had been cold, dark stormy night. The boys were coming back to the farm from a day in Capital City. Blinded by the storm, Bo had hit a slick spot in the road and lost control of The General Lee. They had slammed into the guard rail and then into the side of the mountain. The law could never get them but the mountain finally did. Roscoe told Daisy and Jesse that they had both been killed instantly. That they had not suffered or felt any pain. Daisy wanted so much to believe that but how could anyone know. They weren’t there.
Daisy left the cemetery, still crying. She knew it would be a very long time before she could come back here again. It still hurt too much. It was time to go back to Atlanta, back to Enos and their children. Three year old Jessica (affectionately called Jessie) and her newborn twin sons, Bo and Luke.