Meet Daisy from Valerie Fraser Luesse’s Almost Home

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Today a character from Valerie Fraser Luesse’s newest novel stopped by to introduce herself!

Name: My name’s Daisy Dupree.

Parents: We’re not real close. Mama tried to marry me off again before any grass could grow on my husband’s grave. Can you believe that? And with the war on, all the young men around home are overseas. You shoulda seen some o’ those geezers she brought to my door.

Siblings: I’ve got four brothers. Most of ’em’s a lot older’n me, but I’m close to my brother Mack. He’s in the Navy. Don’t let me forget to drop this letter off at the post office soon as we’re done with this interview.

Places lived: Spent my whole life in the Mississippi Delta till my husband enlisted. Thought I’d lose my mind sittin’ in that farmhouse, wonderin’ what was happenin’ to Charlie over there. So I heard about jobs at an Army plant here in Alabama. That’s what got me to Blackberry Springs.

Jobs: I helped Charlie on our farm till he shipped out. Then I worked in the factory over in Childersburg till . . . well . . . till I got that telegram tellin’ me Charlie was gone.

Friends: If you’d told me a year ago that I’d find the best friends I ever had in Alabama of all places, I woulda said your biscuits ain’t done in the middle. But we’ve got us a regular little sisterhood goin’ here. Anna moved down from Illinois with her husband, Jesse—he works at the plant. Me and Anna’s about the same age, and we hit it off right away. You ever had a friend like that—one that’s completely different from you, but you can finish each other’s sentences? That’s me and Anna. And then there’s Dolly—she owns the boardin’ house where Anna and Jesse live—Dolly and her husband, Si. Dolly Chandler is one of a kind. She looks after all of us, not just her boarders. I don’t even live there, but she mothers me more than my mama did. Don’t tell her I told you, but Dolly lost her boy when he was just a little thing. Breaks her heart to this day. Breaks mine, too. I need to hush about that or I’ll cry, and I HATE to cry in front of anybody. Our other friend is the oddest one of all—Evelyn—an out o’ work college professor from up in Chicago. Can you believe that? An Illinois farm girl, a Chicago professor, an Alabama inn keeper, and this ol’ Delta girl—all the best o’ friends. War’s a funny thing, you know?

Enemies: Ghosts. At least I thought they were my enemies till I found out what they were tryin’ to tell me.

Dating, marriage: This is a touchy subject right now, but I’ll try. See, me and Charlie grew up together—knew each other our whole lives. It was just a natural thing to get married after we played together as kids, went to school together . . . I always loved Charlie, so it was easy to marry him. But now along comes Reed. We’re strangers, really, but Anna says there’s something between us. I just can’t let myself believe that. He’s a war hero, for heaven’s sake. And he looks every bit of it. Got the strangest eyes I’ve ever seen—strange in a beautiful way. And I said that to him the day I met him—you ever heard of anything so stupid? I just blurted it out: “You’ve got the strangest eyes I’ve ever seen.” But he says he likes the way I say what’s on my mind. I’m tryin’ to help him get well. He got hurt real bad over there—and I don’t just mean the leg that got shot up. He got hurt real bad on the inside. Know what I mean?

Children: Me and Charlie didn’t have any.

What person do you most admire? Well, Dolly of course! I’ve never seen anybody with so much love in her heart—and such a longin’ to give it to other people.

Overall outlook on life: I don’t know any more. I was plannin’ to hide myself away here—spend my days sketchin’ on the creek bank. I like to draw—did I tell you that? It’s like I’m waitin’ on a storm to pass—sorta takin’ shelter. But then Reed came along . . . I don’t know. Let’s talk about something else.

Do you like yourself? I haven’t for a long time now because of something I did. But Reed and Anna say that what I did wasn’t wrong. Sure feels wrong.

What, if anything, would you like to change about your life? I wish me and Charlie had seen what was precious and what wasn’t before it was too late.

How are you viewed by others? You’d have to ask them. I just know the people here make me feel like I’m okay the way I am. There’s a real comfort in that.

Physical appearance:

Eyes: They’re green.

Hair: I say it’s mousy brown. Reed says it reminds him of caramel. I wear it short.

Voice: You tell me! You’re the one doin’ the listenin’.

Right- or left-handed? Right—why?

How would you describe yourself? I try to tell the truth, and I try to do my part. I’m pretty curious, which gets me into trouble sometimes. Dolly and them think I’m funny, but I don’t try to be. It just comes out that way.

Characteristics: Heavens to Betsy, girl! I don’t know. I just try to be honest about who I am.

Strongest/weakest character traits: Anna says I’m pretty and don’t know it. I am not pretty. Beauty queens are pretty. I haven’t put on makeup, well, ever. Not much anyway. And since Charlie died, I’ve worn these overalls every single day o’ my life. All that to say, I’m kinda hidin’ out, so I don’t think I’m very brave.

How much self-control do you have? A good bit till you put me in a situation—like church—that reminds me too much o’ Charlie. And then I have to get out o’ there or I’ll have a come-apart.

Fears: I’m afraid I’ll fall in love with Reed and he’ll fall in love with a beauty queen. And I’m scared to death o’ church.

Collections, talents: I don’t collect anything really. But I do love to draw. And people say I’m good at it. So I guess that’s my talent.

What people like best about you: That I say what I think.

Interests and favorites: Me and my brother Mack used play river pirate when we were kids, so you can’t begin to imagine how excited I was to find a diary that turned out to be . .  . Oh, wait. I need to hush. I’ll give too much away.

Food, drink: This is the South, so pretty much everything is good. I guess my favorites are Dolly’s chocolate cake and homemade lemonade, her sweet tea on a real hot day, fried chicken, catfish and hushpuppies, banana pudding, sweet potato casserole, fried peach pies, real creamy grits with lots o’ butter, hot biscuits with sawmill gravy, Delta tamales, chili dogs, collard greens . . . Is that enough?

Books: Catherine’s story of course!

Best way to spend a weekend: You gotta promise not to tell a livin’ soul. You promise? Okay, here goes: Best way to spend a weekend is with Reed. Doesn’t even matter what we’re doin’. But if you repeat that, I’ll swear you’re lyin’.

What would a great gift for you be? Nobody would ever guess this, what with me roamin’ the countryside in overalls, but I’d love to have a string o’ pearls. Don’t even ask me why.

When are you happy? I’m gonna let you guess the answer to that one.

What makes you angry? Anything that hurts the people I care about.

What makes you sad? Goin’ to church and listenin’ to all those old hymns Charlie loved so much.

What makes you laugh? The women at Dolly’s. We have the best time together.

Hopes and dreams: I hope that one day my black cloud goes away—that I feel like it’s okay for me to be happy again.

What’s the worst thing you have ever done to someone and why? Anna and Reed know. I can’t talk about it with anybody else.

Greatest success: Finding the diary.

Biggest trauma: Losing Charlie.

What does you care about most in the world? People—the people I love. Don’t nothin’ else matter.

Do you have a secret? Everybody does.

What do you like best about the other main characters in your book?
We’re all on a journey together, but we’re travelin’ for different reasons. And the people at Dolly’s, they’re the best kind—honest and carin’—and funny. We all stick together, but we’re all different, and that’s what makes it interestin’.

What do you like least about the other main characters in your book?
I accept ’em for who they are, so I can’t really answer that.

If you could do one thing and succeed at it, what would it be:
That’s another one o’ my secrets. Reed knows the answer, so you’ll have to ask him.

Most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you: How much time you got?

Haha! I guess we’ll wait on that one!

***

Valerie Fraser Luesse is the bestselling author of Missing Isaac and an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently the senior travel editor. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse has published major pieces on the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana’s Acadian Prairie, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana won the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama.Luesse_Valerie_MAIN

Meet Pete McLean of Glory, Alabama, from Missing Isaac by Valerie Fraser Luesse

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Novel PASTimes: We’re talking today with Pete McLean, who lives in a little farming community not too far from Birmingham, Alabama, which we all saw on the news a few years back when Dr. King and civil rights marchers protested there. Welcome, Pete.

 

Pete: Thank you. I ’preciate you havin’ me.

 

Novel PASTimes: Tell us, Pete—how old are you?

 

Pete: I’m seventeen.

 

Novel PASTimes: But you were eleven when you met the field hand Isaac Reynolds?

 

Pete: No, ma’am, I was eleven when my Daddy passed. I’d always known Isaac.

 

Novel PASTimes: Before we talk about your friendship with him, tell us about his relationship with your father.

 

Pete: I’m not sure I can explain it. They just had something special between ’em, you  know? Like they understood one another. Respected each other. They liked to sing together when they worked—ol’ gospel quartet songs and spirituals—on accounta Daddy was a tenor, and he could harmonize real good with Isaac’s baritone.

 

Novel PASTimes: But your father was Isaac’s boss, correct?

 

Pete: Yes, ma’am, but they didn’t act like it. Daddy didn’t feel right bein’ nobody’s boss ’cause he didn’t come from money. But Mama did. And then when they got married, Daddy started workin’ her family farm with Daddy Ballard—that’s my Granddaddy. But I don’t know—sometimes I think Daddy was prob’ly more at home with Isaac than he was with Daddy Ballard. I saw him slip Isaac some extra money one time, and when I asked him how come, he said it was because he knew what it was like to want things you couldn’t have. I think about that a lot—and I try to do what Daddy woulda wanted me to—helpin’ other people that ain’t got as much as I do.

 

Novel PASTimes: So tell us about your friendship with Isaac Reynolds.

 

Pete: Well, he’ll always be my best friend—except for Dovey I mean. But that’s different. Isaac was like the best big brother you could ever imagine. ’Course when I was little, I didn’t understand how hard his life was or what it was like for somebody that dreamed o’ bigger things to be trapped on a cotton farm. I just loved spendin’ time with him. After Daddy passed, well . . . I don’t know how I woulda made it without Isaac. He taught me so much and took up so much time with me. Helped me get past the fear o’ bein’ without my Daddy. And he taught me how important it was to look after Mama. If I live to be a hundred, I won’t ever have another friend like Isaac.

 

Novel PASTimes: Tell us about Dovey.

 

Pete: (Smiling) She’s the most beautiful girl in the whole world. And I don’t just mean on the outside. Dovey’s beautiful on the inside, too. And she can see things—feel the currents in the river, you know? What’s so amazin’ is that you can walk from my house to hers, but if I hadn’a gone lookin’ for Isaac in the backwoods, I never woulda met her. And when I think about life without Dovey—well—I don’t wanna think about life without Dovey.

 

Novel PASTimes: So her father and your mother are both widowed?

 

Pete: Yes, ma’am.

 

Novel PASTimes: Any chance the two of them . . .?

 

Pete: Um, I reckon you’d need to ask them about that if you don’t mind.

 

Novel PASTimes: Do you feel like you learned anything from your search for Isaac?

 

Pete: In a way, I learned everything while I was lookin’ for him. I found Dovey. So I learned how to love somebody like I never loved anybody else. I saw how hard her fam’ly has to work for not much money and how that wears on people like her Daddy, who’s got a lotta pride and just wants to make a good life for her. And Dovey taught me that people like me and her and Isaac—we come from different worlds, and you gotta know something about somebody’s world if you wanna understand ’em.

 

Novel PASTimes: Pete thank you so much for your time.

 

Pete: Thank you for havin’ me. We got an all-day singin’ comin’ up at the church if y’all wanna come. There’s gonna be a ton o’ food, so come on by if you get the chance. Everybody’s welcome.

Novel PASTimes: Thank you for the invitation! That sounds delightful!

Luesse_Valerie -Valerie Fraser Luesse is an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently a senior travel editor. Her work has been anthologized in the audio collection Southern Voices and in A Glimpse of Heaven, an essay collection featuring works by C. S. Lewis, Randy Alcorn, John Wesley, and others. As a freelance writer and editor, she was the lead writer for Southern Living 50 Years: A Celebration of People, Places, and Culture. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse has published major pieces on the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana’s Acadian Prairie, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana won the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society.

Luesse earned her bachelor’s degree in English at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, and her master’s degree in English at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She grew up in Harpersville, Alabama, a rural community in Shelby County, and now lives in Birmingham.
Find Valerie here: https://www.facebook.com/valeriefraserluessebooks/, or www.MissingIsaac.com