"The Mustard Seed" was inspired by the story my mother often told me of the death of her sister Rosemary a few days after Rosemary's 4th or 5th birthday, my mother can no longer exactly remember, though it seems to me that when she used to tell me the story she said that Rosemary was just 4 when she died. Based her mother's description my mother, a nurse, believes that her sister died of some form of bacterial meningitis.
I made up the character of Josie, though I based her on my mother, who did use to deliver the laundry for her mother. But my mother was only 2 years old when Rosemary died, so she remembers the story only as it was told to her by her mother.
Some of the details of the story came directly from what my mother told me:
-That my grandmother found Rosemary sitting on the front stoop on her fourth or fifth birthday, which she pronounced "bursday", holding a bag of jimmies, waiting for her cake.
-That my grandmother's customers were often lax about paying her and so she couldn't cobble together enough money for the ingredients for a birthday cake for Rosemary.
-That as Rosemary lay dying she did see a vision, which she described to her mother.
After Rosemary's death, the second of her children to die, my grandmother fell into a severe depression. She believed that all her children were going to die and that she was helpless to save them. It was a neighbor woman who came to my grandmother's rescue, lending a hand with the housework and childcare while talking her through her sorrow. And so my grandmother recovered.
I've always believed that this story from her early childhood is the key to my mother. I believe it explains so much about her: her desire to enter a healing profession, how she could never stand to see anyone unhappy, how she takes the world's suffering to heart. And her love of eating and feeding others. Sometimes I think this story is the key to me, too.
In a comment from a couple of days ago my sister Romaine asked why I developed an interest at this time in Florence Fey's life story.
The answer is that I've always felt captivated by the story of this grandmother of ours whom we hardly knew. Ever since I wrote "The Mustard Seed" I always thought about someday writing down the rest of what I knew of her story.
And by way of this blog that someday finally came.