It's based on a true story story from my grandmother's life that my mother told me many times when I was growing up.
The Mustard Seed
Twelve-year-old Josie Foy trudged up the block dragging behind her a large wagon piled high with stale laundry. It was no more than the usual Saturday load, but today her arms ached as if she were pulling the weight of all the world's lost hope.
As she rounded the corner and caught sight of little Peggy playing on the cracked front stoop her heart was gripped with a pang of aching love. Josie pulled the wagon to a halt against the stoop then sat down and took Peggy on her lap.
"Whatcha got there, Pix?" she asked, kissing her sister's warm rosy cheek and brushing back a wisp of the child's angel-fine hair. Peggy unrolled the top of the small paper bag she'd been holding. "Ooooh, chocolate jimmies for Peggy!" Josie exclaimed.
"For my bursday cake, Dosie! Today I'm four!"
Josie swallowed hard. "So you are, Pix."
Peggy squirmed from her sister's lap, grinning in delight. She hopped off the stoop and began rummaging through the laundry wagon. "Did you bring Peggy's cake, Dosie? For my bursday?"
Josie felt a tightening in the back of her throat. She stood up, then stepped over to the wagon and hoisted a heavy bundle of laundry. "No, Pix," she sighed, "not yet."
"Soon, Dosie?" Peggy's pixie-blue eyes shone with happy expectation.
"Yes, soon," Josie whispered, choking back tears as she dragged her burden up the steps and through the front door.
"You're a good girl, Josie, you didn't tarry today, thank the Lord!" Josie's mother grabbed her patched sweater and purse, then glanced distractedly at their small kitchen clock. "Little Peggy's been in a state all morning over her cake. I'll bring her back a peppermint stick, as well, and one for you. Quick, then, Josie, the money."
But Josie only hung her head and began sniffling. Mrs. Foy's eyes widened in dismay. "Dear Mother in Heaven, Josie! Please don't tell me you've not been paid again! Oh please, Josie, not today, not with Peggy's birthday!"
But it was true. Though Josie had spent her entire morning exchanging this week's batches of clean and freshly pressed laundry for next week's, not one of her mother's customers had paid her today.
"Oh, why, why!" cried Mrs. Foy, burying her head in her hands. But she knew why as well as anyone, for in the depths of the Depression it was becoming more and more the practice to put off paying the less pressing debts. Josie watched through a film of tears as her mother rushed around the kitchen rummaging through drawers and cupboards, searching for the stray penny, the forgotten nickel. And for her efforts Mrs. Foy soon held in her palm six cents. Enough for a loaf of bread or a small bag of rice. But nowhere near enough for the butter, eggs, and sugar needed to make a cake.
Just then Peggy skipped through the front door. "Is my bursday cake here?" she chirped.
Mrs. Foy looked at her daughter and shook her head slowly, her eyes filling with helpless tears. Josie knelt down to her sister and hugged the child tenderly. "Soon, Pix," she sadly promised. "Soon."
But the following day was Sunday and it took Mrs. Foy another two days of begging door-to-door for her wages before she was able to give Peggy her birthday cake. And by then it was too late. For by then the fever had set in, and though Josie and her mother coaxed and wheedled, Peggy had no interest in tasting her cake as she slipped back and forth between glassy-eyed wakefulness and fitful sleep. Of course the child needed a doctor, but who had the money? Josie and her mother took turns sitting by Peggy's bed, helplessly watching her worsen in spite of their cool damp cloths and constant anxious prayers. And it was in the early hours when not even a sip of water could be forced through Peggy's colorless lips that Mrs. Foy rushed from the house to find a doctor and beg for the life of her child.
Josie meanwhile knelt over the bed, her head buried in her sister's small rigid shoulder, her tears soaking the bedclothes. "Oh, please, Mother Mary," she sobbed and prayed, "Pix never even had her cake. Please, Blessed Mother, a cake with jimmies, it's all she wanted, don't take her yet!"
"Dosie?" the weak whisper startled Josie out of her prayer. Peggy's eyes were burning brightly above a pale, strengthless smile. "I'm going ...to my bursday, Dosie." The child paused for a pained breath. "With her."
"Wh-who, Pix?" Josie asked, lifting her head in amazed confusion, rubbing her eyes with the back of her sleeve.
"The lady. In the blue dress. With no shoes. She's taking me, Dosie. To my bursday. To my cake. You'll come, too, Dosie, soon. The lady says."
Josie stared at her sister for one wild-eyed, uncomprehending moment. But then she knew, for in the next moment she, too, felt the presence there in the room, hovering gently above them both. "Wait, Peggy, oh wait," she cried, rushing off to the kitchen for the gay little chocolate-sprinkled cake. "Here, Pix," she whispered lovingly, kneeling next to her sister's face, "take your cake with you."
If the doctor had returned and entered the bedroom with Mrs. Foy perhaps he, too, would have witnessed the moment. But as it was, only she saw the vision of her two children caressed in the wide arms of the lovely lady draped to her bare feet in sky blue.
The vision lasted only half a heartbeat, and had already ascended back to its source in the time it took for their mother to cry out and fall to her knees. Josie rose slowly from the side of the bed.
"It's all right, Mama," she said softly. "Peggy's fine now."
"Yes," her mother whispered.
And as the sun rose that morning on tears of worldly sorrow and heavenly faith, one more soul shed its cocoon and rose on delicate wings to the realms of eternal delight.