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by: Bill Greer, Chicken Soup for the Veteran's Soul

"She was the prettiest thing I'd ever seen," recalled my grandfather.

My brother and I were sitting cross-legged on the living room floor. Doug was watching a western movie on the television, and I was idly looking through one of my grandparents' photo albums. One of the photographs of my grandmother had caught Grandpa's attention. His usual hearty, buoyant laughter was gone, and his demeanor was quiet and reflective. Suddenly, Grandpa's story had our full attention.

In his earlier years, my grandfather had been a tall, big-framed and muscular man used to working outdoors. The man in front of us was still larger than life to me and my five-year-old brother, but now his shoulders were stooped and his hands knotted with arthritis. He sat on the edge of the couch and studied us both, as if trying to determine whether we were old enough to fully appreciate what he was going to tell us. His gaze then turned to our grandmother sitting a few feet away. His eyes softened as he related the story of how they met.

His first glimpse of his future bride happened while she was in the company of her father and two of her sisters. Her father was conducting business, and the girls were sitting nearby in the back of his old pickup. As he warmed up to his story, Grandma's hands become still, and her crochet lay in a colorful fold on her lap. She listened to the familiar old story, caught up in the tale that we were hearing for the first time. She smiled warmly back at him.

"While her daddy was busy with some other gentlemen," he said, "I was busy watching her and her two sisters. They were sitting there in the back of that old pickup, feet dangling and swinging, giggling and whispering to each other. She had the reddest hair, and she was about the prettiest thing I'd ever seen. I just couldn't help myself..."

Grandma was beaming with pleasure by this time. It wasn't too often Grandpa was this romantic, and she was enjoying the compliments. "...and so I just ran right over there, and bit her on the hind leg."

A thunderous frown knitted my grandmother's forehead, and her dainty fine eyebrows drew close together. Her mouth rounded into a horrified "Oh" as her blue eyes flashed. "Merle, you did not! Mercy, don't you be telling stories like that to these grandkids!" But the damage was done. My brother and I clutched our middles as we rolled backwards in the floor, unable to control our laughter. Her tirade continued, to no effect. Grandpa laughed as hard as the rest of us.

Appearing miffed, Grandma picked up her crochet and started threading the yarn through her fingers, but I saw the quick look she sent my grandfather, complete with a wink. It was the same expression captured in the photograph in front of me.

I was reminded again years later of that look. It was a few months after my grandmother's death. I was sitting in their living room once again, visiting with Grandpa. I picked up an old photo album and began flipping through the pages, and came across the same photograph of Grandma.

She must have been about eighteen in the picture. She had a little hat perched on her head, and was tossing a saucy look back over her shoulder. She was laughing, and I was struck by how beautiful she had been.

Then I noticed that Grandpa had become quiet. He was sitting next to me, leaning over to look at the photograph. He reached over and placed a callused finger on the page. He studied the image a few moments longer, before saying softly, "That there...that there's the reason I fell in love with her." Then he turned to me and grinned. "Did I ever tell you about the first time I saw her? Prettiest thing I'd ever seen..."




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