“It was serendipity!” My grandfather always started the story the same way. When we grandchildren were little, we would ask about that big word. Grandmother always answered with a smile. “He means love at first sight.”
“She was standing under a giant tree dripping with purple wisteria. That pale pink dress of shimmering silk, that white flower tucked in her hair – what a picture she made. I was almost too shy to talk to her.” Grandmother would always blush when he got to this part. He had conquered his shyness, introduced himself, and the two of them had talked for hours in a nearby tearoom. Later that same day, he said, they returned to the wisteria tree, where an unknown passer-by took their picture.
None of us had ever seen the photograph of those two young strangers falling in love under the glorious wisteria. Grandmother shook her head when we asked about it; Grandfather retreated into silence. We finally realized their reticence was probably related to the war. Grandfather had just gotten back from Korea when he met Grandmother. Perhaps the traumas of war were something they didn’t want to remember.
After the war, the two of them had made a wonderful life together and were still deeply in love even now, in their early nineties. Their romance is part of our family legend.
Last week I was searching the attic for some of grandmother’s old clothes, when I found an ancient album, covered in dust, faded with age. I opened the cover, and there it was – the photograph.
Grandfather was achingly young and handsome in his uniform, holding hands with the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Not my red-haired Irish grandmother, but a delicate Korean woman in pale pink silk, a white flower in her lustrous black hair. I turned the picture over and read “Serendipity!” in my grandfather’s distinctive calligraphy, and “We will never forget you” in my grandmother’s elegant handwriting.
I gently closed the page and replaced the album, careful not to disturb the dust, then quietly went back downstairs.