Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine Roses

I would like to share a moment of Valentine heart with you.

My husband comes from a Dutch immigrant family. His mother, whom our children called Oma, was a tall, robust woman with a big heart. Loud voiced and opinionated, her actions sometimes surprised me with a gentleness that belied her more usual stance.

Once, many years ago, she took me with her to visit an elderly Dutch lady from her church. This venerable woman, in her mid-nineties, was wonderfully spry. In addition to keeping a small vegetable garden and attending her flower beds, her little house was meticulously clean. That day, as I got out of the car, I saw a tiny, white-haired creature busy painting her fence.

My mother-in-law admonished her a little, "Minnie, you shouldn’t be doing that. Can’t your son-in-law do it for you?"

The little, stooped figure straightened up, made a dismissive gesture, and said something in Dutch, which was translated to me as, "He who has butter on his head, should stay out of the sun."

I must have looked baffled, because she attempted an explanation, "Da son-in-law be only 70, but he be tired all da time. Och!"

As she motioned us into the house, we passed the rose bushes which had been the especial love of her husband, Henk, who had passed away several years ago. Minnie took a pair of scissors from her apron pocket and snipped two blooms.

Perched on an aged wing chair in the living room, I watched as she placed the richly red roses in a vase next to a picture of a smiling old man holding a small dog. For a moment, her hand trembled against the velvet labyrinth.

"Yah. Old fool love da roses.", she said.

My eyes met those of my mother-in-law, who was unloading the almond cookies she had brought with her, and putting the kettle on in the adjoining kitchen. She was smiling, and her eyes were full of an unaccustomed softness.

Later, as we drove home, she told me that Minnie had once told her that several months before he died, Henk, fearing a heavy rain storm would destroy his last roses of the season, had gone outside to cut them. "Minnie told me she followed him out into the rain and held an umbrella over his head while he did this."

I was nineteen and passionately, newly married. I couldn't imagine anyone old being romantic. That is, until that moment, listening to my mother-in-law's words.

That benediction of late roses lives in me, still.

May each of you seek always  to discover the joy and beauty of your own Valentine moments.


  1. Nana JO: what a lovely story. I enjoyed it so much. And love the pictures of the roses. I grow a variety myself, yellow is my favorite and I am not from Texas either. Lol :)

  2. Great piece of writing Jo.

  3. each component of this is lovely: the original story of an elderly couple tending their garden, an old lady honoring her partners memory with a small but meaningful gesture, oma's appreciation of the story and her final sharing of it with you.

  4. each and every component of this story has it's own beauty and i love the proverb about the butter.
    an added dimension for me is that my own grandmother was norwegian so while i didnt call her oma but nana, the use of the word oma is a part of my heritage and my pa, her husband, used to tell me a story involving a boy out in the sun with butter on his head.
    i guess the link is all pretty tenuous but it strikes a chord with me.....

  5. Beautiful words and roses. I loved it.