I first met Yvette in March of 1968. She was already in the middle years of her life and was the proprietor of a small flower shop, La Roseraire. I recall so vividly my first encounter with Yvette as it was also the first time I bought a birthday gift for my wife of six months, Robin. It was Robin’s love of flowers and her upcoming birthday that drew me into La Roseraire.
I had already purchased a small gold plated locket as a birthday gift but it seemed as though that wasn’t quite enough. There wasn’t a lot of money that could be spent but I knew the locket itself wasn’t sufficient, at least in my mind. I entered the small shop and immediately felt as though I could have been standing in a Parisian merchant’s store, possibly located below the family’s living quarters. A lady, then unknown to me, came from the back room and, speaking with a distinct French accent, said, “Hello” and asked if she could help me.
I told her I was thinking of buying flowers for my wife and explained that they were for her birthday, the first of our marriage to one another. The lady with the exotic and captivating accent asked what type of flower I was looking for; almost before she finished the question and without thinking I said, “Roses, red roses.”
When the price of a dozen red roses was given I knew I couldn’t afford them. Although I was too embarrassed to tell the kind woman the price of the gift was far too much, I believe that by the expression of disappointment on my face she understood my dilemma. “My name is Yvette,” she said. “If I may suggest something to you, it’s not the number of roses that makes the gift special, but the rose itself. Might I suggest giving your wife one rose only?” I took Yvette’s advice and purchased one red rose and a slender clear glass vase that would envelop and display that one special flower.
That evening, and when the time seemed just right and before the family gathered to celebrate Robin’s birthday, I gave her the locket and the rose. I remember so well the smile on Robin’s face as she placed the locket on a chain already worn around her neck. But, I also remember that the look on her face transformed into something much different as she placed the vase and the rose on the nightstand next to her side of the bed. It was a look that seemed to have originated deep within her soul itself and the birth of that look caused her eyes to tear.
Our lives moved on, as did the years and Robin’s birthdays came and went but I always remembered that look as she accepted that single red rose on the evening of her first birthday with me. I wanted to see that look again and every year I purchased a single red rose. There were other gifts, as well, and as the cost of gifts came to be of less concern the rose was accompanied by clothing, jewelry or other seemingly more valuable items. I believe that over the years most of the gifts found their way into drawers, closets and jewelry boxes rarely to be seen again.
While the choice of many birthday presents was random and purchased with very little thought, the gift of the single red rose became a tradition. Robin always put the rose in the old clear glass vase that was used on that first birthday and placed the vase on the nightstand near her side of the bed.
The rose remained there for several days, untouched and unmoved, until the fragile petals darkened and fell from the flower. I noticed that it wasn’t until the last petal fell that the rose would disappear and the vase would be returned to its place of storage.
I returned to the same flower shop each year on the last day of March and was greeted by the cordial Yvette who I came to discover was the shop’s owner. It seemed to me that for all those years she was always there and would surely always be there. Yvette once told me that she came to America from her homeland of France. Throughout all those years of late March encounters she continued to speak the most beautiful French tainted broken English. After we came to know one another better she began telling me stories of Paris and her apartment which overlooked the River Seine and the beautiful Pont Neuf Bridge. She talked about the roses in the flower shop across from her small upstairs loft and how beautiful were the red roses there.
Yvette always remembered me and knew what I wanted to buy, “Une rose seulement,” she would say as she smiled, “yes, please” I always responded, “one rose only.” I never asked for another variety of flower, a different color of rose or a vase to put the rose into.
Then there came a time, and it was on the last day of March, when I went to the shop, La Roseraire. The door was locked and a paper sign taped to the inside of a window read, “For Sale.” I recall pressing my face against the glass in the door to get a better look inside. Everything was gone and only bits of flowers lay scattered about on the unswept floor. I continued the birthday tradition but the single roses I purchased each March were found at indiscriminate florists.
Robin is now gone and I find that I have added a new tradition to my life. Every year during the Christmas holiday season I gather up all the old photo albums and look through them. This past year, however, I found an album that I had not previously seen. The book had the odor of old paper and the corners of the pages were frayed and worn. As I turned the old tattered fabric bound cover, there on the first page was the very first birthday card I ever gave Robin, and attached to the card, with yellowed and brittle tape, were several rose petals.
As I turned the pages of the album, I found that every page was the same; a birthday card with rose petals under tape was attached to each thick paper sheet. There were forty five pages, forty five birthday cards and forty five bits of red rose petals; one entry for each year of our marriage and each birthday celebrated.
Sometimes, the most simple of gifts becomes the most well received and most precious. I still buy one rose on the last day of March each year and place it in the clear glass vase. I then place the vase on the nightstand near my friend’s, no longer slept on, side of the bed where it remains until its life has passed and the petals wilt away. This tradition which began in the mind and heart of someone so youthful, unlike the inevitable fate of Yvette’s one rose, must live on, and on, and on in the mind of one who has seen so very many years pass away. As long as I live, there will be Une rose seulement.