When we are young, few of us believe our most heartfelt desires will follow us far into the future. Some of our actions and decisions would best be forgotten, but my story today is not about any such thing.
It begins in 1917 when my grandmother Florence (who I always saw as a loving but no-nonsense woman) was wed to Joseph, my artistic, continental grandfather. Their union lasted until he died in 1958. But it turns out that Granny was not just being practical when she decided to marry him. In fact, she was an adoring and romantic woman who married the great love of her life.
He was born in the Netherlands in 1880 and apparently said he’d escaped “Cupid’s arrow” on every continent (including Antarctica). However, when his work took him to the USA, he met my grandmother, and eagerly relinquished his bachelor status. In a letter to his brother, he described her as “a passionate, spirited redhead”. And I guess she must have been.
He was 20 years her senior, and unlike most other young ladies of the time, she worked. In fact she was a legal secretary, and her employer was the President of Royal Dutch Shell in North America. Grandad worked as a geologist for the same large petroleum company, and along with his brother, he had been contracted to survey the U.S. central continental oil basin.
Granny’s parents did not approve of her dating a much older and more-worldly man. But apparently, she accepted his invitation to join him for dinner. When he arrived at the family home, he wooed both daughter and mother – with a bouquet of red roses for his date and a bunch of red bananas for her mother – The fruit was rare and it was her favorite.
The courtship was a short one. The couple married at St. Mary’s Cathedral, on February 20, 1917 in San Francisco, California. Congratulatory telegrams arrived from the groom’s colleagues in East Africa, Borneo and Tierra del Fuego.
Granny created a wedding album that included a copy of their invitation, greeting cards and best wishes received, newspaper articles, photographs, and a list of gifts that arrived from all over the world. She also included private notes the two of them wrote, dried orchids and a silk cord from her wedding bouquet.
I felt moved and grateful beyond words when Granny gave me this album five decades ago. The flowers were intact, the photographs still glossy. But when I moved to Mexico in 1976, I gave the album to my mother for safekeeping. I worried that Yucatan’s humidity would destroy the seven-decades-old treasure. Mom in turn passed it on to my sister-in-law who has lavished it with care for almost fifty years.
Over the weekend my brother, his wife and I had dinner together and she returned the album to me. I felt overcome when I saw the little orchids, faded but definitely intact. I loved my grandmother deeply and I am so grateful to have this memento of her.
I feel inspired to make something similar for Emma, so that she too will remember me, her grandmother who adores her.