A number of years ago I happened on a nonfiction account of the 1937 London, Texas, school explosion. I'd never heard the story before, and despite the horror of the event, I found myself thinking about it often in the days that followed. I was fascinated by the idea that this wealthy oil-boom county lost an entire generation of children, and wondered how the families left behind coped with such devastating loss.
I became a little obsessed with the story, so much so that I traveled to Texas two summers ago to tour the tiny museum, talk to the locals, visit the monument, and—most affectingly—spend time in the cemetery, where row after row of headstones bear the same date, the stone lambs and angels weathered by time. I knew that I wanted to explore this chapter of history through fiction, but as so often happens when I write stories inspired by actual events, it was the question of what happened after the event that haunted me. History has left us many accounts of the minutes and hours leading up to the fateful spark of a power drill in the shop in the basement of the school, where deadly gas had gone undetected. And the devoted volunteers at the museum have assembled artifacts and ephemera that bring to life the days that followed, as the entire world grieved along with Rusk County, Texas.
But after that, the trail grows cold. No one could blame the heartbroken town for not chronicling the years of grief, the empty seats at dinner tables across town, the silent ball fields and idle school buses. I found no accounts of the birthdays observed in private sorrow, of scout uniforms and school papers and favorite toys packed away in attics. A new school was built. The oil industry thrived a little longer. Fortunes were made and lost, until the boom years too receded into history, and Rusk County settled into the modest economy that sustains it to this day.
The Daisy Club in this story is pure fiction. I don't know if the mothers of the children born after the tragedy gathered together, separated and insulated from the bereft—or whether these "replacement" babies grew up sensing that they were meant to heal invisible wounds. I do know, however, that tragedy seeps down through generations, its effects outlasting even the memories of those who were there. And I know that my words are as faithful to the palette of grief as I could make them.
Also—there is joy. Sometimes, the most broken of human souls clamor the loudest for redemption, and the characters in this book—well-meaning, all of them—love as hard as they are able, despite their scars. Caroline, Margaret, Georgina, Katie, Scarlett—each mother wished the best for her daughter, and each daughter tried her hardest to escape the shadow of history and hold fast to the lives they created.
The details of the town of New London—its streets and shops, its backyards and stoplights—are all made up, as are the names of characters and places. Please forgive me that indulgence; it allowed me to let my imagination take the lead.
When I finished writing The Daisy Children, I felt as though I could finally put the tragedy to rest. I no longer lie awake at night wondering how the citizens of New London, Texas, found the will to go on. There's been another development, as well: my own daughter just graduated from college, and I'm discovering that my love for this young woman has deepened and changed and grown even as I wonder where the cherished child has gone.
A mother's job is never done. The child takes root in her mother's soul, and her presence is eternal. She changes her parents in ways that can't be reversed. I feel privileged to know the story of the New London explosion, its victims and its survivors, the courage and love that helped them survive. —Sofia Grant