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Violets

My grandmother and grandfather have been happily married for 60 years, but they never tire of telling the story of how they met.
Grandfather’s first job was a sailor aboard a merchant ship. Every two weeks, his ship would come into the harbor. As he unloaded the crates, he’d wink at all the pretty girls watching the young sailors. One girl, however, caught his eye especially. She hung back from the other girls, not giggling or staring at the men. She stared, inside, towards the horizon.
That girl was my Grandmother.
One day, when Grandfather was done with unloading and he had some time to get dinner, he walked up to Grandmother in that swagger all confident young men have.
“Hello, miss. Would you like to have dinner with me tonight?” Grandfather may have swaggered and winked, but at his core, he was polite.
Grandmother turned away from the horizon to look at him with eyes of the deepest blue. They reminded Grandfather of the ocean, and he felt unsettled as she looked at him, as if she was weighing him up on great invisible scales in her mind.
Finally she said, “All right, sailor boy, I’ll go to dinner with you. On one condition: we only talk about you.”
This surprised Grandfather, because most girls he’d met only wanted to talk about themselves. He wondered what was in the girl’s life she didn’t want him to know. But he smiled and agreed.
She did not take his proffered arm but walked briskly ahead of him, saying,
“The best place to eat in town is Ma Woolsley’s. It’s out of the way and not too expensive. Follow me.”
They ended up having a lovely dinner together, where Grandfather entertained Grandmother with stories of his adventures at sea, and stories he had heard from older sailors, and stories he had made up. But he never learned a thing about Grandmother.
Two weeks passed, and when Grandfather came back to the harbor, Grandmother was there waiting for him. This time, they went for a walk around town. The one thing Grandfather knew about Grandmother was that she loved flowers. They passed a flower stand, and he bought her a bouquet of violets.
She accepted them from him with those soulful blue eyes, took a deep sniff, and then said,
“Mr. Tadd, if you were to ever bring me back flowers I had never seen before from one of your salty sea adventures, I’d marry you.”
Grandfather was both delighted and a little shocked at this. He’d only known the girl for two weeks, and now she was talking about marriage?

“It’s hard, being married to a sailor,” he cautioned her. “You never know when he might come back.”
Grandmother took his arm and smiled, the first time he’d seen her do so.
“Oh, I have faith in you.”
Grandfather left that evening, and did not return with the ship. Grandmother waited all through the summer, the sea spray cooling her sweaty forehead. She stared onto the horizon, but no longer without purpose. She was looking for Grandfather.
The autumn was cold, but still she waited, leaning on the pilings, sometimes feeding the seagulls, sometimes rubbing the petals of a faded, dry violet.
In late autumn of that year, the ship arrived. My grandmother, holding a sign with a single word written on it, stood at the dock waiting.
Grandfather was the last man to get off. He did not look at Grandmother as he helped unload. Grandmother did not look at him. She stared at the rigging of the ship, still clutching her sign. One could only imagine what she was thinking.
Finally, the men were let free for a few hours, and Grandfather swaggered down the dock, holding a bag. He smiled and winked at the other girls, who were looking winsomely at all the sailors, as usual. Then he came to Grandmother. He read her sign.
“Faith, huh?”
Grandmother dropped the sign and stepped so close to him that their chests touched.
“And faith I still have in you, though I waited all summer and all autumn, Mr. Tadd.” She breathed.
He dropped the act.
“Oh, Miss Katherine, it took me so long to find flowers! I asked all around the ports we went to, and all the flowers you’d heard of. But then there were these…”
He drew from his back a bunch of tiny, creamy yellow flowers and handed them shyly to her.
“They’re from these islands called Hawaii. They fellow I bought them from called them plumeria. He said that they symbolize perfection, and new beginnings.”
Grandmother smelled them. Their scent was strong and beautiful—much more exotic than the flowers she bought in town. She dropped them to the dock, onto her sign. Grandfather was hurt. But she took his hands in hers.
“I still like violets the best,” she whispered.
They kissed, and the rest, as Grandfather likes to say with a chuckle, is history. We never tire of that story. But my favorite part is looking into Grandmother’s twinkling eyes, still deep and blue.



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