“Lu, I ain't never thinkin' I'm goin' be leavin' these mountains. My pappy was born here an he ain't seen none of those purty places in this here picture book.”
The book had been a gift from me to Daisy for her thirteenth birthday. We were snuggled into the decaying fence that was so heavy with honeysuckle vines that it provided us with a natural hammock. This was our secret spot where we shared life's wonders.
Daisy was my friend and close confidant. Had been since we met in Sunday School when my father came to pastor Calvary Hills Baptist Church here in the Ozark Mountains. I was nine that year and Daisy was ten. We had been inseparable ever since.
“Daisy Potter, you don't know that. If you tried harder in school you could go away to college and be anything your heart desires. I've heard my papa say so...in church.”
“Yore folks care about those things. Mine don't. They don't think nothins better than these mountains. Heck, they never got no schoolin.”
“Daisy, don't say heck . That's the same as cussin and you know...”
“Lu, get up! Hurry! I see Dawkins' truck comin up the road. We can meet him at the big oak. Hurry, Lu!” Daisy started running barefoot down the dirt road to meet the peddler. The peddler's truck was always welcomed here where people rarely went into town. It was filled with groceries, notions, clothes, and hundreds of everyday items. But, what we ran to get were tall black licorice sticks. We could get several for a nickel and we usually had a nickel between us.
Daisy was already at the truck when I caught up. She could run like the wind..
“Where's ole man Dawkins?” Daisy was talking to the stranger who was busy opening the back of the truck.
The stranger turned to look hard at her before he replied. Something about his stare made me uneasy. But, Daisy had no fear.
“He's moved East to be with family. I've taken over his route. What you girls want?”
Just as I was about to dig out my nickel I turned to ask Daisy about the licorice. She stood staring into the back of the truck where a cornflower-blue dress sprinkled with yellow flowers was hanging. She climbed up into the truck and ran her hands over the prize.
“It's the purtiest thing I ever saw. Lu, if I could have this dress I'd be happy to die and go to Heaven. Look at them buttons, shaped like little flowers, ain't they?”
The stranger watched us as we talked about the dress. He stepped up into the truck and unhooked the dress. He held it up against Daisy pushing her long white-blond locks aside. I grabbed Daisy's arm and pulled her back out onto the dirt road.
“A nickel's worth of licorice, please.”
Re-hanging the dress, he reached into the candy jar and pulled out a handful of licorice sticks. I handed him the nickel and pulled Daisy with me back down the road.
“Lu, you're the most fraidy-cat I ever seen. All I was doin was lookin at the dress.”
“You don't know that man. He's not Mr. Dawkins. I don't like the way he looked at us.”
“Oh, fiddlesticks! Remember, I can run like the wind.” Grabbing a handful of candy off she shot up the path to her house. “See you later fraidy-cat!”
If only that were true. I never saw her again. She had disappeared like a vapor. Her folks said she never came home that day. Rumors had it that she had run away. Others suspected her father had something to do with her missing; he had been known to be violent man.
Weeks turned into months and months turned into years. Her fate remained a mystery.
I grew up and moved into Hot Springs to attend college. My parents still pastored the flock at Calvary Hills. One morning before class time, I received a telephone call from my father.
“MaryLou, a body of a young girl was found buried in the woods up behind the church. The authorities think it might be Daisy Potter. I didn't want you to hear it on the news. She was dressed in some kind of a blue dress with yellow flowers...”
Oh, Daisy...why didn't you run like the wind?
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