When I first came up with the idea for the Mrs. B series, I knew Mrs. B would be Polish. My mum and my grandma both grew up in a little Pittsburgh neighborhood called Polish Hill, a microcosm of the “old country.” In Polish Hill, school lessons were in Polish, as was Sunday Mass, and you could order groceries at the butcher shop without knowing a single word of English.
At the center of that little town was Immaculate Heart of Mary Church (http://www.immaculateheartpolishhill.com/) and its accompanying school, built in the late 1800s. The church still exists—I went to Mass there with my family this past Christmas Eve. (If you click on the link above, check out their photo gallery. The interior of the church is breathtakingly beautiful. I can only imagine the dedication and devotion of the poor immigrant families who gathered together to build this church.)
Mrs. B is like so many older women I have known. I grew up in Pittsburgh, a city proud of its immigrant heritage. These women—many of those I knew were Eastern European—were smart, strong and incredibly resilient. Their husbands worked, but it was the wives who took care of everything else—the children, the home, and the finances, often to the point of signing their husband’s paychecks and taking them to the bank. They could squeeze a nickel until Jefferson’s eyes popped out, yet everyone who crossed their doorstep was fed. No matter how little food they had that day, they were always willing to put another cup of water in the soup so one more person could join them for supper. And they made time to watch out for not only their own children but for every child on the block.
When I created Mrs. B, it made sense to me that she and her husband would have wanted to raise their children near a church and school. So I created Burchfield and, at the center of town, St. Mary’s.
So, how does Mrs. B become an amateur detective?
In the basement of St. Mary’s Church lies the heart of Mrs. B’s social life, the local senior center. Each morning she plays pinochle with Don, Vic, and Old Mike, followed by lunch with her closest friends: Myrtle, Anne, and Rose. The rest of her day usually involves a good book, a cup of coffee, and dinner watching the classic movie channel.
Mrs. B’s life would have stayed that way, quiet and comfortable and uneventful, if it weren’t for Myrtle’s tears. How could Mrs. B refuse to help her dear friend? Before long, her phone is ringing off the hook, a neighbor’s child is doing homework in her living room, and the entire town is on a trajectory that could change it forever. Someone needs to come to the rescue to make things right again. And that someone, of course, is our own Mrs. B.
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