Nothing annoyed me more when we were newlyweds than my husband buying me roses. “Don’t buy me roses!” I would exclaim as he handed them to me, apparently deaf, smiling broadly. He was pleased. I wasn’t. He knew we couldn’t “afford” roses. Student loans were unpaid, and we shared a car. I was gone all day, anyway. Who would see these roses? I just didn’t get the whole roses thing. I’d be happy with wildflowers picked in the meadow. I’d be happy with no flowers, in fact. But there they sat, an opulent arrangement of ruby roses. Their velvet petals potently filled our 3 room apartment with their aroma.
To the left of the game was a hunter green netted bag with a big banana yellow label, bold block letters like painted ketchup that spelled P E A N U T S. There was a larger silver bowl, basic aluminum ware, and a smaller pale yellow Tupperware bowl sitting ready beside, it, waiting to be filled. I took my turn by flipping my primary-colored playing card and counting out 4 blocks with my little blue playing piece. While I took my turn, my grandmother deftly reached into the bag and pulled out a few peanuts. By the time I rested both hands on the table in front of me, signaling the end of my turn, she had cracked open several peanuts and flipped them into the plastic container.
When my work was done, the absolute last thing I would do for anyone was shell their peanuts!
I was the only daughter in my home, and it was the 70’s. I had chores. A lot of them. When my work was done, the absolute last thing I would do for anyone was shell their peanuts! Couldn’t my grandfather shell his own? “Yes,” she always replied, even when I asked her over and over again.
“Then why do you do it?”
“Because I don’t mind, and he likes them.” That ended her explanation. She was a woman of few words. It never satisfied me as an answer, though. This was unapologetic selflessness. I watched the ritual, many times. I adored my grandfather. But I wouldn’t shell his peanuts. It was a ridiculous thought to my ten year old brain. What amazed me more was that my grandfather accepted the peanuts nonchalantly, every time. He never acted like she had gone beyond the call of devotion, which I believed she had. He just ate his peanuts.
My grandfather was something else. When I grew to my full height, I was 5’ 2” and I towered over him, more and more each year as he aged and stooped. He shaved intermittently, so his face was frequently covered with peppered gray stubble, but his mustache was full and covered some of his smile. He was bald with pale eyes that literally twinkled behind simple gold rim glasses. When he spoke, French idioms frequently slipped out. I’m told many were curses.
My grandfather’s name was Sam, and he was a good, Catholic, churchgoing man. He even flew to Italy and visited the Vatican, his only international trip beside flying to see the Bruins play in Canada once. He was a butcher, and had a small farm. He rarely went far because of my grandmother’s physical limitations. God preserved her life through a polio epidemic that claimed many lives. He never forgot that. He was her provider and protector, and that these were his primary life roles was evident to all,
He was not a quiet man; his opinions were known to everyone around him, spouted in two languages. If he hated the color green (which he did), everyone who knew him knew it. He was a true character, but we all loved him. His larger-than-life personality knew its place. He had scored in life, and my beautiful and elegant grandmother had been his prize.
I was witnessing something so rare that I had never seen it closely, and failed to understand or recognize it.
I didn’t see shelling peanuts as an act of frugality, or as an extension of cooking or preparing meals. It went beyond that. She wanted nothing back. Neither was the task subservient. My grandfather honored her, and would never expect this from her. It wasn’t that. Looking back, I realize now that I was witnessing something so rare that I had never seen it closely, and failed to understand or recognize it. It was love.
Many of us understand that different people express and receive love in different ways. (See The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.) But this was not just love demonstrated by a woman doing things for her husband. Most of what she did was for her husband. Her world was very small by today’s standards. This was beyond that. After a half century together, she really, really loved him.
My grandfather took the peanut shelling for granted. That part didn’t bother me. I knew that, overall, he didn’t take her for granted at all. I know now that what messed with my mind was the unveiled, if sometimes subtle, devotion that my grandparents showed for one another. He was loud and temperamental. She was gracious and lovely. Somewhere along the line the kids grew up and moved out, and alone together, this couple thrived. They knew each other intricately, and their mutual acceptance had accomplished a harmonious rhythm. As a kid, this seeming over-generous display of affection unnerved me. Now I understand that I witnessed the uncelebrated and uncommon demonstration of true love.
I’m happy to say that my husband knows better than to buy me roses these days. I have daughters who would enjoy them for me, but they have their own special occasions where he can indulge. Even in the years when we can afford them, they just aren’t me. But he has learned the things that I do like, and he remembers them. I hope I do the same for him.
Magazines, billboards and Hollywood all have many of us believing that true love is best, and primarily, represented by a dozen of luxuriant red long-stemmed roses. But I know better. I have witnessed, first-hand, a love that truly lasted. Roses are good for some, but I understand that for others, true love is best expressed through a faded yellow plastic bowl full of freshly-shelled peanuts.
“Love is kind.”–I Corinthians 13:4