Glurge: Wartime penpals arrange to meet at Grand Central Station: he will know her by the rose in her lapel, and she will know him by how he reacts to it.
Example:[Collected on the Internet, 1996]
John Blanchard stood up from the bench, straightened his Army uniform, and studied the crowd of people making their way through Grand Central Station. He looked for the girl whose heart he knew, but whose face he didn't, the girl with the rose.
His interest in her had begun thirteen months before in a Florida library. Taking a book off the shelf he found himself intrigued, not with the words of the book, but with the notes penciled in the margin. The soft handwriting reflected a thoughtful soul and insightful mind. In the front of the book, he discovered the previous owner's name, Miss Hollis Maynell. With time and effort he located her address. She lived in New York City. He wrote her a letter introducing himself and inviting her to correspond. The next day he was shipped overseas for service in World War II. During the next year and one month the two grew to know each other through the mail. Each letter was a seed falling on a fertile heart. A romance was budding.
Blanchard requested a photograph, but she refused. She felt that if he really cared, it wouldn't matter what she looked like. When the day finally came for him to return from Europe, they scheduled their first meeting - 7:00 PM at the Grand Central Station in New York. "You'll recognize me," she wrote, "by the red rose I'll be wearing on my lapel."
So at 7:00 he was in the station looking for a girl whose heart he loved, but whose face he'd never seen. A young woman was coming toward him, her figure long and slim. Her blonde hair lay back in curls from her delicate ears; her eyes were blue as flowers. Her lips and chin had a gentle firmness, and in her pale green suit she was like springtime come alive. He started toward her, entirely forgetting to notice that she was not wearing a rose. As he moved, a small, provocative smile curved her lips. "Going my way, sailor?" she murmured. Almost uncontrollably he made one step closer to her, and then he saw Hollis Maynell. She was standing almost directly behind the girl. A woman well past 40, she had graying hair tucked under a worn hat. She was more than plump, her thick-ankled feet thrust into low-heeled shoes.
The girl in the green suit was walking quickly away. He felt as though he were being split in two, so keen was he desire to follow the girl, yet so deep was his longing for the woman whose spirit had truly companioned and upheld his own. And there she stood. Her pale, plump face was gentle and sensible, her gray eyes had a warm and kindly twinkle. He did not hesitate. His fingers gripped the small worn blue leather copy of the book that was to identify him to her. This would not be love, but it would be something precious, something perhaps even better than love, a friendship for which he had been and must ever be grateful. He squared his shoulders and saluted and held out the book to the woman, even though while he spoke he felt choked by the bitterness of his disappointment. "I'm Lieutenant John Blanchard, and you must by Miss Maynell. I am so glad you could meet me; may I take you to dinner?"
The woman's face broadened into a tolerant smile. "I don't know what this is about, son," she answered, "but the young lady in the green suit who just went by, she begged me to wear this rose on my coat. And she said if you were to ask me out to dinner, I should go and tell you that she is waiting for you in the big restaurant across the street. She said it was some kind of test!"
It's not difficult to understand and admire Miss Maynell's wisdom. The true nature of a heart is seen in its response to the unattractive. "Tell me whom you love," Houssaye wrote, "and I will tell you who you are."
The characters' names shift from Hollis Maynell to Hollis Meynell and John Blanchard to Lieutenant John Blandford.
The time of their appointment also differs: 6 p.m. or 7 p.m.
In one version, the narrator throws the reins to John Blanchard to tell his story, shifting the tale from third person to first. Some Internet versions garble things by returning the narrative shift willy-nilly to the first person, leaving us with: "He felt as though he was split in two, so keen was he desire to follow her, and yet so deep was my longing for the woman whose spirit had truly companioned him and upheld his own."
The version that stays in the first person circulates in two forms, long and short. The long version is stretched out to cover more of the man's thoughts while waiting for the woman with the rose. His memories of battle, his thoughts that an approaching girl might be Hollis, his musings about King David and fear, and his recall of Hollis' reasons for not wanting to send him a photograph, all fill the time before he first spots the girl in the green suit.
Some versions end with the older woman saying, "She said it was some kind of test. I've got two boys with Uncle Sam myself, so I didn't mind to oblige you," while others go from "...some kind of test!" directly into, "It's not difficult to understand and admire Miss Maynell's wisdom. The true nature of a heart is seen in its response to the unattractive. 'Tell me whom you love,' Houssaye wrote, 'and I will tell you who you are.'"
Origins: This story first appeared on the Internet in April 1996; it was originally published in a 1943 issue of Collier's magazine, and its author is S.I. Kishor.
Inexplicably, it appears without attribution and with the characters' names slightly altered in the 1992 Max Lucado book, And the Angels Were Silent. One is left wondering if other Lucado stories presented in that book were written by someone else, too. By contrast, in its appearance in the 1996 Canfield and Hansen collection, A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul, the original author (Sulamith Ish-Kishor) is given credit for the
The tale's huge cyberspatial appeal isn't difficult to comprehend: online friendships are formed sight unseen, and this process gives rise to quite understandable anxieties about the other person. Questions of physical appeal aside, we're left wondering whether the people we're corresponding with are every bit as wonderful in real life, or whether they're putting on a clever act and taking us in. This uncertainty leaves us with the uneasy feeling that although we think we know the other person, we're never sure. A legend about this anxiety being faced and the situation working out in fairy tale fashion is therefore going to fall upon very receptive ears.
It's a touching tale, one that tries to convey an admirable moral (i.e., personality and character above beauty), so I find it bitterly ironic that it actually delivers the opposite message. Note the man's reaction upon deciding to approach the woman he presumes to be Hollis: "This would not be love, but it would be something precious, something perhaps even better than love, a friendship for which he had been and must ever be grateful." On the strength of a correspondence, a romance had been budding in this man's mind; upon catching sight of his penpal, he promptly discards any such notion. His decision is made purely on the basis of the woman's physical appearance — he writes her off without so much as first speaking to her.
Society places a premium on attractiveness. As much as we decry the unfairness of this valuation, we do little to change it, even within ourselves. Look again at the story and how touching it is. Now look inside and ask why it felt right that the soldier who greeted the older woman instead of running away should be rewarded with the pretty girl he'd ached for. If we truly believed the love of a good woman was its own best reward and that looks didn't matter, we'd have had the hero walk past the blonde almost without seeing her in his haste to reach the woman he'd lost his heart to. That he has to fight a moral battle within himself — indeed, that we applaud his ending up with not just love but beauty, too — speaks volumes about our attitudes. Were love the important thing, we'd have been quite happy to have the 40-ish, frumpy woman turn out to be the real Hollis and for the story to end with the two lovers walking away arm in arm.
What's wrong with the unintended message of the short story is perhaps best expressed through a rewrite penned by James A. Whitney. In his version we see into the heart of the woman who waits. If you thought the original was touching, you'll find tears in your eyes by the time you finish this one.
In the autumn of 1998, an updated version of this tale appeared in the little-known "true life stories" magazine For Me. In this modern retelling, Gwen and Brian meet in an Internet chat room for writers, and the denouement takes place at the airport in Sydney, Australia. Thought the story has been moved forward fifty years, there's the same refusal to swap photos, same yellow rose, same old lady to direct the hero to where his beautiful lady love awaits him.
The fable of a young man paired by circumstance with an ugly old crone, showing her kindness, and being rewarded for his gallantry by ending up with a beautiful young woman isn't a new one. One of the Arthurian legends (mid-15th century) has King Arthur tricked by an evil knight into having to solve an impossible riddle: what do women most want? An old hag finally offers the one true answer (her own way, if you were wondering), but her price is one of Arthur's knights as a husband. Sir Gawain and the hag are duly churched, and this flower of knighthood treats the old woman well despite her huge floppy ears, wrinkled skin, and bleary eyes.
On their wedding night the crone transforms into a beautiful maiden only to pose this question: would Sir Gawain prefer she be beautiful by day or by night? Unwilling to dictate the fate of another, he tells her such an important decision has to be her choice, thereby demonstrating that he has learned the value of treating women as people, not property. The lovely maiden announces that this was the last test and that he'd passed. Now, she would be beautiful all the time, forever and ever. Gawain's gallantry and understanding are rewarded in classic fashion.
A similar story is found in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in the "Wife of Bath's Tale." The earliest expression of the "loathly hag" theme (as this motif is known) was John Gower's 1386 Tale of Florent.