Daisy Wayne had just checked the oven, close to noon, when she heard voices at the front door. Her younger sister stepped into the sunny kitchen. “It’s Johnny Trowbridge,” Pansy said. “He wants to see you.”
“Mayor Trowbridge,” Daisy corrected in a hushed tone. The sisters had known Johnny since he was their pupil in elementary school. They weren’t quite used to his new role as mayor of Rockport. Removing her apron, Daisy went to see why in the world the mayor was calling on her.
He stood in the doorway holding his straw hat in both hands. My goodness, Daisy thought, his hair is already getting thin.
“Howdy, Miss Wayne,” he said, and glanced out through the screen. “Don’t you have a splendid breeze here.” People often remarked how well situated they were, with a fine view of the Potomac beyond the dry canal bed and the fringe of trees.
She directed him into the parlor, the only room besides the kitchen on the first floor of the lock house, the sisters’ home since birth. Pansy stood in the doorway, and the mayor invited her to join them. When all were seated, he said, “We’re going to have a celebration this Saturday, and I’m counting on you both to be there.”
“It was posted in the store,” said Daisy. He was always rather round, she thought, but he doesn’t look so short sitting down.
“Yes, we’re rewatering the canal—the part that runs past Rockport.”
“You mean there’s going to be water in the canal again after all these years?”
“That’s right. And water in the lock, of course, just like it was when your dad, the legendary ‘Salty’ Wayne, tended it. The Park Service will operate it now. They’ll use the barge for tourists and kids on weekends, like at Georgetown and Great Falls.”
Pansy said, “I never thought we’d see the day. There’s been no water above Violette’s Lock since the river dams washed out in the flood of ’36.”
“You always remember that date,” said Daisy proudly.
Johnny Trowbridge smiled. “There’s more,” he said. “The Canal Society has donated funds for a mule. She’ll be one of a brace of mules to pull the barge.”
“That’s nice,” said Daisy. “It will be like the old days.”
“We’re going to dedicate her Saturday,” said the mayor.
“No, the mule.”
Daisy suppressed a smile. She had heard of dedicating ships and buildings, but never mules. Pansy excused herself to fetch refreshments.
“There’s more, Miss Wayne,” said the mayor. “We’re going to name her Daisy. We’re naming her after you, because you’ve lived on this old canal since the glory days when the barges hauled stone and coal and lumber. It’ll be an epic event. The whole town and the Canal Society will turn out, and we may even have a congressman or two.”
She had listened patiently. “I think it’s crazy,” she said—“dedicating a mule. And just because I was born on the canal is no reason to name a mule after me. Was this your idea, Johnny Trowbridge?”
“Now, Daisy” (as mayor, she thought, he should use her first name), “you have to take a historical view. It will be educational. We’ll get in a little Civil War history—”
“I won’t have to give a speech, will I?” Though still dubious, she began to feel the honor of being included in the ceremony.
“Oh, no. I’ll just introduce you and mention your life on the canal. You can say a few words if you like.”
“It’s been a long time since I taught my classes.”
“I’m sure you’ll do just fine.”
Pansy came in with hot drop biscuits, jam, and coffee on the silver tray.
Saturday, the first in May, was cool and clear; bright with forsythia and dogwood. Daisy and Pansy wore new spring dresses and hats. They didn’t have far to go, since the ceremony would be held at the lock—Wayne’s Lock—just a stone’s throw downstream.
A gate would be opened, letting water fill the canal and the lock where the old barge lay. Deemed still serviceable, the barge would rise to the upper level, ready to be drawn by the mules on its token weekly journey.
The road into Rockport was jammed, and some visitors walked blocks from their parking places, past the town’s homes, stores, and historic buildings. A high school band had come up from Harpers Ferry. Because of the nearby junction of three states, they played “Maryland, My Maryland,” “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia,” and “The West Virginia Hills.” The only hitch was when a gust blew music off the stands.
Daisy, Pansy, and Mayor Trowbridge stood near the massive wooden lock, facing the people. Daisy had never seen such a crowd. Suddenly struck with awful stage fright, she clutched her sister’s hand.
Visiting dignitaries spoke. They called the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal a national treasure, an ambitious project that, if completed, would have connected the Potomac River with the Ohio, and thus the Mississippi. An inland waterway from Norfolk to New Orleans. The mayor raised his arm, and a distant aide turned a large wheel. Water rushed down the weed-grown channel. There were cheers and applause.
Daisy began to feel better when a man arrived with her namesake, the mule. She had grown up around mules. As a child she had watered and fed them. Pa had sometimes let the girls ride them while he walked along talking with the barge captain. She stepped back to speak to the mule and stroke its nose. It followed her as she moved up between the mayor and her sister.
Johnny Trowbridge tapped the microphone. “Ladies and gentlemen, howdy,” he said. He welcomed the distinguished visitors and introduced them one by one. Then he gave Miss Daisy Wayne a large bouquet of flowers.
“Folks,” he said, “you’ll recognize these flowers, since most of you come from the states they represent: the black-eyed Susan, dogwood, and rhododendron.” Gusts of wind snatched at Daisy’s bouquet and wide-brimmed hat, distracting her from the mayor’s speech.
“And now,” the mayor enthused, “I want to tell you about this wonderful gift . . . mule of fine stock and very sweet disposition . . . appropriate that we should name her Daisy, since Daisy Wayne, known to most of you, has spent her entire life on the C and O. Daisy, would you like to say a few words to these good people?”
She gathered her wits as best she could. She had thought of one small point she’d like to add.
“This is a lot like facing a new class on the first day of school,” she said. Her voice had carried only a few feet. The mayor raised the microphone, and there was a shriek from the loudspeaker. Her next words, though, rang out clearly. “I’d just like to add one thing to what Johnny—what Mayor Trowbridge told you.” She looked at Pansy for support.
People were starting to laugh. Nothing she had said seemed amusing, but smiles had turned gleeful. The wind tugged at her hat. Was that it? The hat in one hand, the flowers cradled in her other arm? Trying to ignore the levity, she forged on.
“When I was born—right here on the C and O, in that old lock house yonder—Ma and Pa were looking for a name. Ma wanted to name me after her mother, but Pa . . .”
More were laughing, children even. She was afraid she’d be too nervous to continue. Most were local folks, but some were city people and she was just a country girl after all. Tow-headed Daisy and Pansy, now two old maids who’d lived their entire life on a canal that dried up in 1936. Tears filled her eyes.
“Pa won out,” she said, trying to make the best of it. “He named me Daisy—after his favorite mule.”
More laughter. Desperately she turned to Pansy and whispered, “They’re laughing at me. I didn’t realize . . . I should never have agreed . . .” She let go of her hat to wipe away a tear.
Pansy looked up at her, smiling. “Honey, they’re not laughing at you. They’re laughing at the other Daisy—mule Daisy. She’s eating your flowers!”
Bewildered, Daisy turned to look, then covered her surprised grin. To wild applause, she slowly drew a black-eyed Susan from the bundle and offered it to her co-star.