The Art of Story: The Red Rose

Red Rose for Love.
Red Rose for Love.

(This story originally ran in and is posted here on Memorial Day in honor of all those who have served and their families.)

The car pulls up to the grocery store and stops in front of the no-parking sign by the entrance. It idles as shoppers come and go with their groceries in plastic bags carried by gloved hands. The winter air shouts and throws itself about trying to get into any corner it can.

Marie sits in the passenger seat. Her face, framed with beautiful grey and white hair, is barely visible through the foggy window. Opening the door, she steps resolutely but still tentatively out into the frost. Her favorite purse, soft beige leather, given to her by her husband years ago, hangs on her left arm where it shelters a small album of all the family and friends that she loves, her favorite pink lipstick, matching wallet and coin purse and her mother’s comb, now hers, the one she had used to fix her hair with that morning. Cane in her right hand, she walks slowly into the store. She’s in great shape for 87, but since she fell and broke her hip a few years ago, walking isn’t the great adventure it once was.

She knows exactly what she wants to bring her friend. A nice plant, maybe something Christmassy, and one beautiful red rose. The plant for cheer and the rose to let them know they are loved.

As the electric door opens, a blast of warm air hits her and she makes her way towards the floral department. She stands in the middle of the rows of flowers looking from side to side. There it is, the perfect flowering plant abloom with white daisies, like snow on green grass. It smiles at her and she knows this is the one.

Now all she needs is one red rose to put in the middle. This is going to be perfect. White Christmas flower plant in hand, she keeps looking. No single red rose anywhere.

She goes to the very busy floral clerk and says, “Excuse me, where can I find one red rose?” “We don’t sell just one rose, you have to buy a bouquet,” says the clerk not even bothering to look over.

Marie really wants this rose.

She goes back to the flowers and waits until another employee comes by. “Excuse me, is there any way I can buy just one red rose?” They keep walking, obviously very busy, and say, “talk to the person in the floral department over there.”

But she isn’t going to give up. This is a woman, the oldest of four children, who survived WWII in Belgium and who would walk for miles across the border to the Netherlands and back to get a 50 pound sack of potatoes with a ham hiding inside. If she could carry that sack across the border back to Belgium in the sub-zero weather, wading through snow with dogs patrolling the woods all around her, she could surely handle this situation.

Then from the back, a young man, finished with his workday makes his way towards the door, car keys in hand and is about to pass her. She has to try, just one more time. So she stops him and says, “Can you please help me? I want one red rose and they’re only selling them in bouquets. Could you please help me take apart one of those bouquets?”

The young man can see she is upset. He says, “M’am, if we pull apart one of those bouquets, I wouldn’t know what to charge you and when you get up to the cashier they won’t know what to charge you either. I’m really sorry.” And he continues out the door.

Marie, cane leading the way, makes her way to the end of the line so she can pay for her white Christmas flowers.

Her friend will wonder why she has not brought a red rose because that is their tradition. It has always been their way of saying, “I love you. You are special.”

But Marie is not feeling very special right now and she knows she is going to disappoint her best friend that she has traveled all the way from Pennsylvania to visit. She has lost this battle. Tears are pushing their way up. She is determined not to cry in front of these people. Her heart is pounding and she is feeling faint.

At the front of the store, the electric doors open, a gust of warm air blows and the young man comes back striding over to the cashier and says, clear across the grocery-laden counter and over the other customers, “M’am, do you know what? I’m going to go over there and buy my wife a bouquet of roses and I’m going to give you one.”

He goes over to the indoor garden, picks out a huge bouquet of beautiful red roses, reaches into his pocket and counts out enough bills to pay for the flowers. He walks to Marie, who is by now so touched she is crying, and hands her one red rose. Then he’s gone, bouquet in hand.

Later that afternoon, Marie walks down a long row of graves at Arlington Cemetery overlooking the Pentagon where the plane crashed on 911. She remembers how the country rallied together that day and the days after. She remembers that there are warriors in the world. She knows that some of them fight wars and some of them give one red rose to a stranger in a grocery store.

Marie places the potted plant of white Christmas flowers, with its beautiful red Christmas rose standing tall in the middle, on the grave of her best friend, Colonel Alfred J. Catania, and says, “I love you. Merry Christmas.”


Marie and Al Catania, best friends forever, taken in her home town, Herve, Belgium, in 1945.
Marie and Al Catania, best friends forever, taken in her home town, Herve, Belgium, in 1945.

Best Friends Forever, Marie & Al Catania
Marie and Al Catania, Friends Forever

“A Red Rose for Christmas” is inspired by a true story, as told to me by my mother, Marie Catania, about a small miracle that happened to her on November 26, 2010 at the Giant Food Store in North Arlington, Virginia, USA. The young store employee is a man named Devand. My family is grateful to him for what he did and hopes that this story will inspire those who read it to take a moment to think about others during this holiday season and throughout the coming year.

Cirina Catania, from Berlin, Germany, December 10, 2010.