It was a short distance from the steamboat landing at the bottom of Main
Street (where Daisy was watching the boat race that turned out to not be a
boat race) to the Whiskeydaddle Festival which was up on Water Street.
Daisy took her time as she picked her way through the 4th of July crowds. This
was one of the few times throughout the year when everyone came to
downtown Peoria and the streets were packed.
It used to be overwhelming to her at times when she was younger – all the
big buildings and the masses of people almost made her hyperventilate. But
now she was used to the big city. She found herself even liking it, though
she’d never want to live here. It was so loud! All the time! Even at night. How
could anyone sleep in a city that itself never sleeps?
As she wended her way up Water Street she noticed how smartly everyone
dressed for the holiday – and, also how hot it was. Just like the river was
packed with schools of boats, the streets were filled with swarms of parasols
fending off the sun’s hot gaze. All kinds of cold drinks were available with
plenty of ice from the ice house, which was also on the riverfront, just beyond
where the Whiskeydaddle Festival was being held.
It was nearly 4 p.m. when she found her family at the festival. They were
eagerly chattering about something, as was the rest of the crowd.
Apparently, during the barrel rolling competition, one of the daddlers got a
little too competitive and, after he was toppled into the water, began pulling
other daddlers from their precarious spinning perches.
Naturally, other daddlers jumped into the pool to join in what was to
become a massive water melee that left all those in the front rows soaked to
This had delayed the competition and, after disqualifying the offending
participant and having every other team promise to “keep it clean,” they
were getting ready to restart the event when Daisy arrived.
She didn’t really see who won as her cousins were busy telling her all about
the water fight. And she really didn’t care. She was starting to get tired and
was daydreaming about the leisurely wagon ride back home after it was all
over – she knew she would probably fall asleep. At least, she hoped she
This daydream was abruptly broken by the piercing call of the next
Whiskeydaddle event – the barrel burn. Daisy rolled her eyes. This, she
thought, had to be the dumbest event of them all. Why would any sane
person want to hold a charred barrel in their hands? And what did it prove?
After the water melee, those who had been most deeply drenched left
early, leaving room up front for Daisy and her family. Daisy planted herself on
the ground in the front row as eleven bulking creatures – representing each
of the eleven distilleries competing that day – made their way onto a
wooden platform. There, eleven barrels were sitting on top of small iron tubs.
Each barrel was filled to the brim with red hot coals.
As the contestants got in place in front of their designated barrel, workers
with special gear quickly lifted each one allowing the coals to fall out into
iron tubs below. The barrels were then handed to each competitor whose
demeanor immediately changed. Some started shaking; some jumped
about; there were even a few who started screaming with a high-pitched
intensity – which the made the crowd in turn jump and howl.
That day the air was filled not only with the scent of charred barrel, but with
the scent of charred human as well. Some of the less-experienced daddlers
(and, to be honest, how could anyone really be “experienced” at holding a
red-hot whiskey barrel?) would grasp the barrel tightly to their chest, just so
they didn’t drop the thing right away (hence, the high-pitched screaming).
And more than a little facial hair was sacrificed that day as many used their
thick beards to protect their skin from the searing barrels, leaving both
smoking in the hot July sun.
Daisy noticed that there was one whiskeydaddler who stood above the rest,
both literally and figuratively. He was several inches taller than the other
competitors, which made him standout even more, and he calmly held the
smoking barrel in his ham-like hands straight out in front of him, as if he were
presenting it to the crowd for their approval. He stood there with a serene
intensity in his green eyes, as his competitors flailed about and, ultimately,
dropped out one by one.
And Daisy noticed that those were the same green eyes that she was
confronted with on her aunt and uncle’s staircase a few months back.
After seeing he was the clear winner, Dan lifted the smoking barrel over his
head and launched it into the barrel-rolling pool, where it hissed and
steamed away to the approval of the crowd that was now standing up and
cheering – all except for one pretty girl who just sat there.