Mable Joseph is missing

her folks are worried

Sought: One aunt and Flower Lady, whose relatives wonder why they haven't heard from her in so long.

January 05, 2000|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Anthony Joseph tried Kinko's, but got a better deal at Sir Speedy. So he splurged and had 100 fliers printed up showing a picture of his distant aunt, the woman who helped raise him, the woman who made spaghetti sauce of black pepper and oil, the missing Flower Lady, Mable Joseph.

He and his wife, Marie, passed out fliers to dozens of businesses this winter. "But they took the fliers down the next day," she says, "and that's not right."

At least one is still up. Anthony, a delivery truck driver, was dropping off film at the Charles Theater in December when he saw the theater's bulletin board. Why not pin up a flier? True, his Aunt Mable doesn't come around these parts -- she mainly sells her feathery flowers and smiley-face jewelry in Brooklyn. But maybe somebody coming to the movies has seen her.

"MISSING: The Flower Lady," says the flier. "Mable Joseph. She sells flowers door-to-door around South Baltimore area. Last seen Memorial Day '99." Two phone numbers are given: 410-553-0000 for the Josephs of Glen Burnie and 410-222-3588 for a Corp. Steve Morgan at the Anne Arundel County Missing Person's Section.

But last seen Memorial Day? That was more than seven months ago. Only now has Mable's family gone looking for her?

It is, quite naturally, more complicated than that. Families are complex businesses -- especially when one member lives on the fringes of a so-called normal life. Patience wears thin. Charity is tested.

Mable Joseph, with her door-to-door street salesmanship, might be considered a "character." One of those people you see walking alone, wearing the wrong clothes for the weather, struggling with something in her head or heart. Someone you do not stop to talk with.

But Mable Joseph has relatives, all kinds of relatives, all over the place. In their own ways, they have tried to help her, tried to lend a dollar or two, provide a temporary roof, a meal, a sweater for Christmas. Mable lived with the Josephs in Glen Burnie for a while last year. But it was just a two-bedroom apartment, Anthony says, and with his wife and two daughters and mother living there, there wasn't enough room.

"It was kind of hard to have her there," Anthony says. "Everybody needs their own space." He does miss spotting her while making his truck rounds in south Baltimore. It was a way to loosely keep tabs on his aunt's whereabouts, to know that at least she was safe.

Anthony last saw Mable in February at one of her haunts, the Dunkin Donuts on Ritchie Highway in Brooklyn Park. She looked all right, Anthony says. By then, Mable had moved into a small apartment. But she would always call around the holidays, no matter how many months had passed between visits or sightings.

"When we didn't hear from her at Christmas, then forget about it. I knew something was wrong," Anthony says. "I think she thinks she's a burden to everyone and doesn't want to come around."

Mable's cousin, Diane Joseph of Annapolis, last saw Mable April 29. Mable, who had also briefly lived with Diane, had uncharacteristically asked for $100 from Diane. Mable said she wanted to buy art supplies to make her Styrofoam flower designs. Said she had given up some dump of an apartment in south Baltimore.

"I think about her all the time. Every time I drive around I kind of look for her," Diane says.

"She's kind of a lost soul."

Mable's brother, 68-year-old George Joseph of Jessup, hasn't seen his sister in he-can't-remember. They are not close.

Yet, a biological tug remains. He hasn't seen Mable for many months, but knows the sister missing from his life has been missing from everyone's.

"I just hope she's safe and well. That's my main concern," George says.

From family members, we know this about Mable Joseph: She is in shaky health. She has high blood pressure and arthritis. She's a big smoker -- a two-pack habit, Salems. She is not a drinker. She is not a panhandler. "She's a small step above a street person," says Diane Joseph.

"She never bothered anybody. She'd just ask for a glass of ice water," says Terry Courrier, a barmaid at the Rockin Robin Cafe in Brooklyn, a place the Flower Lady would visit trying to sell her flowers for a few bucks. Mable was a regular visitor along South Hanover Street. All the bartenders know her by face, if not by name.

"Is she still missing?" Courrier asks the week after Christmas. "We put up the flier in the back."

Mable wears many layers of clothes, regardless of the season. She has trouble reading and writing. Has trouble even dialing a phone. She has a habit of falling asleep frequently when taking city buses, her cousin Diane says.

Mable never had an official identification until Diane arranged for her to get a Social Security card. She also arranged for Mable to receive food stamps and Social Security supplement checks.

If she's been hurt, at least chances are she'll have ID on her, Diane says.

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