a few years ago, i was at edward’s flowers in winnetka perusing a selection of tussy mussies to present to my then husband maximillian for valentine’s day. winnetka is a small town and everybody knows a little too much about everyone else ergo i knew this much to be true:
1. etta had never married
2. etta had two cats
3. etta was approaching retirement with the foreboding of one who has seen one’s fondest dreams unrealized
while i regarded my choices, she allowed as how she hated valentine’s day.
“is it because it’s such a busy holiday for florists?” i asked.
“no, it’s because i was asked to marry on that day,” she said. “i was going out with a boy and he asked me to marry him and i got so scared i said no and ran home. the next day, i regretted it and wanted to marry him, really i did. but he had up and joined the navy and was already gone. i never saw him again.”
at that very moment, i became etta’s secret admirer. waiting until etta was out of earshot, i asked the manager to make sure etta got a sweet something for the special day. now, you can’t really give a florist flowers for a holiday because it’s a little like giving candy to a chocolate maker. etta loved limoge boxes so that’s sort of what she got from her secret admirer. a few weeks later, the manager slipped me a letter from etta.
“oh, yeah, she quizzed me,” the manager said. “i told her i couldn’t tell her who it was. but she thinks maybe it’s an older gentleman. married. too honorable to directly approach her.”
“tell her she’s right.”
so for the next years, i made sure that etta got a valentine’s day gift, a little something for may day, a halloween treat, a christmas surprise. just before edward’s manager left her job, she informed her replacement of the unusual arrangement.
and a few weeks after every holiday, i received an envelop addressed to her secret admirer. often she wrote about her cats and what she had been doing outside of work. one year she even made me–er, well, the elderly gentleman who was too honorable to declare himself–a christmas ornament out of silk thread and a styrofoam ball. and in person, etta never once betrayed that there was an admirer in her life and treated me no differently than any other customer.
i have left winnetka but stopped in at edward’s one last time to pick up flowers and to talk to the manager about how to long distance this relationship.
“i have these for you,” she said.
so now my relationship as her secret admirer is over, but i believe it was her perfect romance. quiet, restrained, delicate–just like etta herself. i hope she always and forever thinks of herself as loved.