Daisy’s Kin

Wyan­t’s Store

I was four­teen years old, and we’d just moved into the par­son­age in White Hall, Vir­ginia. I was walk­ing down the road to Wyant’s Store when a girl about my age came speed­ing up behind me on a fire-engine-red bicy­cle and almost ran me down. I jumped into the ditch as she raced by, laughing.

When I got to the store, she stood in the back by the drink machine sip­ping an orange Nehi. She tucked a strand of brown hair inside a head-scarf tied tight­ly to her chin and flashed an imp­ish grin at me. That grin led me to believe she’d brushed by me on her bike as a tease. I hadn’t made any friends in White Hall, so I approached her. “Hi,” I said.

She burst out laugh­ing, sprint­ed up the aisle, and bolt­ed out the door.

White Hall from Wyan­t’s Store

“What the heck?” I muttered.

Old Mr. Wyant, stand­ing up front by the cash reg­is­ter, shook his head and smiled. “Don’t mind Daisy, son. She’s pecu­liar. Runs in her family.”

Mr. Wyant was being kind. “Tetched in the head” was the phrase most peo­ple used to describe Daisy and her kin.

She wasn’t a teenag­er like I thought. She was 24 when she chased me off the road with her red Schwinn Phan­tom. She was still rid­ing that bike at age 34 ten years lat­er when I left White Hall. In all that time, I nev­er saw her with­out a scarf cov­er­ing her head. One of the girls from the church told me Daisy always wore scarves because she didn’t wash her hair. And although I saw Daisy laugh and gig­gle many times over the ten years I knew her, she nev­er spoke a word in my pres­ence. I don’t know if she couldn’t talk or just had noth­ing to say.

She lived in a trail­er in the woods with her moth­er, Lot­tie. Lot­tie was in her mid-fifties, short and stumpy with a weath­ered face, hearty laugh, and wide smile sport­ing a gap where her upper front teeth should have been.

Some­thing about her made me uneasy. I told one of my friends she gave me bad vibes. “You can’t let your guard down around her,” he said. “She’s the kind would sneak up on you in your sleep and cut your throat.” He based that com­ment on a rumor that Lot­tie sold Daisy’s favors to a man, and when he wouldn’t pay, she cut up his face with a penknife. I doubt this was true. There were lots of sto­ries about Lot­tie and Daisy, but they were usu­al­ly short on names and details.

Moor­man’s River

Daisy’s father, Ray, and Lot­tie split up before I moved to White Hall. He lived by him­self in a lit­tle shack near Moorman’s Riv­er. He was in his six­ties, tall with a mel­on-sized bald head, round blub­bery face, flab­by chest, and bul­bous bel­ly that jig­gled when he walked. They say he was a good farm­hand in his day, but he no longer worked by the time I came along.

Peo­ple made fun of him for his curi­ous afflic­tion. About every ten sec­onds, he would emit a “Teep!” It was con­tin­u­ous, like a per­ma­nent case of the hic­cups. I don’t know how he got any sleep.

My bud­dy and I were squir­rel hunt­ing one after­noon when we heard a strange sound com­ing from the oth­er side of the hill. We hid in the brush and watched as Ray passed by us, stalk­ing small game with a shot­gun, try­ing his best to be stealthy, but even with his lips closed tight, the Teep came through. “Bup … Bup … Bup.”

Old Pied­mont Store

Daisy’s old­est broth­er, Mar­tin, was a rail-thin scare­crow with dark sunken eyes. Most days he ped­aled a rick­ety bike to the old Pied­mont Store and stood in a cor­ner, star­ing vacant­ly into space. When spo­ken to, he replied, “I’m f‑f-fine. H‑h-how y‑y-you?” That was about as far as he could car­ry a conversation.

He suf­fered from an afflic­tion sim­i­lar to Ray’s, but his was episod­ic and it came on like a seizure. We were work­ing in the fields on a hot after­noon load­ing hay bales on a flatbed wag­on when one of his spells hit him. He began to roll his shoul­ders and duck his head. Then a raw, hoarse cry, like the honk of a goose, came up out of him from deep down in his chest. It repeat­ed about every ten sec­onds. Again and again. Martin’s spell last­ed about fif­teen min­utes, then died off as inex­plic­a­bly as it start­ed, and we all went back to work.

I saw him strug­gle through sev­er­al episodes over the years. They fol­lowed the same course. When they were over, we all went about our busi­ness and act­ed as though noth­ing had happened.

White Hall Farmland

One of Daisy’s old­er broth­ers, Ned, worked full-time as a farm­hand. He lived alone in a room over a shed on the farm. In 1964, I worked beside him all sum­mer. He couldn’t read or write and got most of his infor­ma­tion from the radio. He was amazed that I knew so lit­tle about world affairs. He patient­ly explained to me that Hitler was alive in Argenti­na plan­ning a Nazi come-back, that the end of days would come in 1968 at dawn on East­er morn­ing, and that the Russ­ian launch of a cos­mo­naut into orbit was fake. “Don’t seem like you know much with all your book learnin’,” he said, curl­ing his lip. Despite my igno­rance, we got along well, and I learned a lot from him. He was a knowl­edge­able, reli­able farm­hand; he worked hard every day; and he paid his own way all his life.

Old Fire Road

Daisy’s youngest broth­er lived in the trail­er with her and Lot­tie. He usu­al­ly went out­side only at night when no one was around, but I caught a glimpse of him in a rare day­time sight­ing. My pal and I were rab­bit hunt­ing on an old fire road in the woods when Daisy and a tall lean man with coal-black hair came around a bend. At the sight of us, the man cried out and ran away, and Daisy fol­lowed him.

“That’s Jack,” my pal said. “He’s afraid of people.”

A cou­ple years lat­er, Lot­tie and Daisy showed up at the par­son­age, sob­bing. “Please help us, preach­er,” Lot­tie said. “We don’t have no one else to turn to.”

Dad drove down the grassy road to the trail­er. When he opened the door, blood spilled out on the steps. Inside, the shot­gun was still propped between Jack’s knees. When the sher­iff and med­ical exam­in­er were done, Dad cleaned the floor and walls as best he could, and Lot­tie and Daisy went back to live in the lit­tle tin box where Jack had killed him­self. They had no place else to go.

These old mem­o­ries lay dor­mant in the shad­ows of my mind until last week. Research­ing a White Hall fam­i­ly on Ancestry.com, I stum­bled across Daisy’s obit­u­ary. Since then, I’ve been think­ing about her and the oth­ers in ways I was too imma­ture to con­sid­er when I was a boy.

I won­der now how they got along. Fed­er­al wel­fare pro­grams were just get­ting off the ground back then; Virginia’s Depart­ment of Social Ser­vices was in its infan­cy; and non-emer­gency health­care didn’t extend to peo­ple who couldn’t pay. Jack’s psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­or­der, Ray’s afflic­tion, Martin’s seizures, and Daisy’s arrest­ed devel­op­ment all went undi­ag­nosed and untreat­ed. I don’t recall any­one even sug­gest­ing they should receive med­ical attention.

The White Hall com­mu­ni­ty pro­vid­ed a safe­ty net of last resort. When they got in big trou­ble, some­one always helped them out, but day to day they had to make do on their own with all their dis­ad­van­tages, and yet all of them, except Jack, lived into old age. Lot­tie and Ray died of nat­ur­al caus­es in 1980, Mar­tin in the 90’s, then Ned, and Daisy last in 2006.

It seems to me now that per­se­ver­ance in the face of immense obsta­cles and myr­i­ad dis­ap­point­ments should have earned Daisy and her kin some respect, but most peo­ple back then, includ­ing me, didn’t give it to them. Daisy’s obit­u­ary implies she went to her grave with­out gain­ing it.

Mount Mori­ah Church Cemetery

“Daisy Lee Hatch, 69, died Novem­ber 6 at Martha Jef­fer­son Hos­pi­tal. Born March 8, 1937, in Free Union, she was the daugh­ter of Ray­mond and Char­lotte Hatch. She will have a pri­vate service.”

Three sen­tences. Thir­ty words. Terse, dis­mis­sive. Noth­ing about a life span­ning sev­en decades. No men­tion of sur­viv­ing rel­a­tives or mourn­ers. My guess is pri­vate ser­vice meant no service.

Daisy and her fam­i­ly lived hard lives. I wish I and oth­ers had treat­ed them bet­ter when it would have done them some good, but those days are gone and can’t be changed. All I can do now is remem­ber them, tell a small part of their sto­ry to keep their mem­o­ry alive, and hope their ghosts will par­don the thought­less­ness of the boy who lived in the par­son­age six­ty years ago.